Hamilton Fringe 2014 is almost over and it had been incredible to see the work of so many talented artists. As an enthusiast myself, I am so happy that each year the audiences seem to be a little bit bigger and awareness seems to reach a little bit farther. It has certainly been a whirlwind two weeks trying to attend as many performances as we could– we are a modest-sized staff here at Happening Hamilton
Though the festival has reached its conclusion, we still wanted to provide critique for the shows we attended.
A final congratulations to all artists, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and everyone involved for making this festival such a memorable and rewarding experience for so many people. Until next year!
*Be sure to check out our reviews on Life Through Fire and Bootlegger’s Wife.
Romeo & Juliet: An Escapist Comedy
If you are aiming to understand all of the humour crammed into this performance, ensure you are a university graduate with: general to specific knowledge of (or interest in) philosophy, literature, and drama; a knack for Shakespeare; and a deep-seated love for Woody Allen. Of course, that is what is perfect about this quirky adaptation of Romeo & Juliet—everyone will not “get” all of it, but will laugh their butts off regardless. Jokes are well-timed and whip-smart. The Fourth Wall is appropriately broken as Romeo questions life, death, and escapist notions. Normative theatrical functions are challenged and upheaved. This young company should be proud of a piece that is well-acted and unique. Theatre like this reminds me why I love the art.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Though The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the longer shows in the festival, I was enthralled for the entire performance. That being said, condensing minor scenes and interactions would have improved pacing. In this way the piece was not necessarily gripping or thrilling, but still beautiful and interesting. Mise-en-scene elements worked well together to pull the audience down with Charlotte (Hanah Itner) as she slowly loses her mind. For example, the gobo choice signifying night was perfect and the repetitive use of it mimicked the character’s inner turmoil. Every day is truly the same in Charlotte’s isolated room and the only sources of inspiration are the lovely creatures in the wallpaper. Sarah Granger is a mesmerizing force as Wallpaper Woman and makes us wish we could go to her yellow realm. I was constantly craning to spy movement in the patterns of the wallpaper.
Some big themes were aptly presented by the company: gender relations, scepticism versus faith, and ethical medical practice. Director/Writer Kristi Boulton did a great job adapting the original short story (a series of diary entries told in a singular voice) into a captivating plot with well-developed characters.
Prince Charming: Missing Person
Most of my enjoyment of the humour in Prince Charming: Missing Person came from the medieval puns that were snuck into the dialogue. The company made a commendable effort in bridging the gap between fairly-tale conventions and topical issues. It reminded me of an adult version of the Shrek films. The aptly-named Princess (Laura Kyswaty) is a typical fairy-tale princess, looking for true love with her boyfriend Prince Charming of Ikea (Matthew Krist). When she is suddenly dumped by her beloved, the quest begins to either get him back, scorn true love, or become a “slut” like her handmaiden Maid Mary of Whatnot (Jennifer Wren). The Princess makes a fairly moral decision at the show’s conclusion and there is a feel-good message in respecting yourself and your choices. However, the “correct” way to respect yourself seems to be dictated by the cast’s treatment of Maid Mary and her attitude towards relationships. Though proud of her own open relationship and sexual prowess, it seems Maid Mary is only truly redeemed when she finally gets married (in an presumably monogamous union). This is a tough theme to tackle in a 60-minute comedy, but kudos to Prince Charming: Missing Person for taking some risks in a difficult genre (comedy).
XOXO: The Relationship Show
Meghan Chalmers and Franny McCabe-Bennett have certainly had their share of heartbreak and hilarity on their way to finding love. XOXO: The Relationship Show is a series of eccentric and brutally-honest vignettes that highlight the Millennial dating experience. What is endearing about the show is that a normative depiction of men, women, and dating is replaced with stories and advice that are more inclusive. In her “first kiss story”, McCabe-Bennett tells us of her confusing, passionate, feminist, drunken, and awesome kiss with a girl she liked in university. The laundry list of things women do to get ready for a “first date” are not for men—they are for an individual we respect and admire regardless of sex or gender. Ultimately, though the show highlights the female experience in dating, it was refreshing that these artists are sincere in their depictions of themselves and of their desires.
A Language for Dogs
Reviewed by Krista Schwab
A Language for Dogs is about the power of staying true to your roots. It begins as a quirky walk through James Street North with one of four tour guides. I was accompanied by Bessie Cheng, an insecure real estate agent who is belittled by the other more confident real estate agents. The show quickly takes a dark turn when we arrived at the true venue – an abandoned storefront on James Street North. Although elements of comedy were present, the show is bleak and the real estate agents spend the majority of the performance literally battling over the space. Suddenly, it became a battle over which city is better – Hamilton or Toronto. As someone with no theatre background, I was a bit lost trying to find the meaning at this point. This was partly because my group was late arriving at the venue and I missed the first appearance of the Hamilton character (Hayley Pace), who is apparently shoved down the stairs into the basement and locked away.
Meaning became apparent when the character representing Hamilton emerged – a clumsy and unlucky girl dressed in rough clothing. Pace gives an amazing and convincing performance. We are captivated by her struggles and interesting story, and our hearts are warmed by the ability for her to stay true to her roots. The first half of the show is entertaining but the meaning is overshadowed by dramatic fighting. Most importantly, the second half of the show make us Hamiltonians proud of our strength and perseverance.
Love with Leila
My absolute best friend is from Tehran, Iran. I remember her telling me stories of what it was like to grow up there: she wore her hijab outside of the house; she had to be careful not to be seen out with any of her male friends; and she knew a lot of girls who had received plastic surgery. Now that she is in Canada, she has found a good balance between embracing new customs and hanging on to some from home. I have always admired her gumption and sincerity.
Through the entirety of Love with Leila, I kept thinking how alike this character was to my best friend. A spunky girl from Tehran, Leila (played by creator Izad Etemadi) is looking to make her parents proud by finding love with an ideal man. She is confident in her choices but every so often needs help from the audience. In fact, I was surprised how involved we actually were. From passing out candy to calling audience members on-stage to hosting an impromptu dance party, Leila had us hooked. Etemadi is bang-on in his stylized rendition of a young Persian woman. However, Leila’s painfully earnest moments of clarity are what make the show. Ultimately, it is the coming-of-age story of a girl who learns to love herself. Warning: This show did contain nuts ^-^
For details on the shows and where to find out more information about the companies, a good place to start is the Fringe website.