Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1

Reviews of Chloe and Meraki, Doctor Dolittle, Crime After Crime (After Crime) and Unfurnished

By: Jul. 06, 2024
Toronto Fringe Festival Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1
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The Toronto Fringe Festival is on! Now in its 36th year, the festival, running July 3-14, features 77 shows for kids, teens, and adults, in 16 different venues, as well as the Fringe Tent at the Tranzac Club with events, vendors and food, and a Kid's Club at the St. Volodymyr Institute.

BroadwayWorld will be publishing our reviews of the fest every day, so check back for everything the Fringe has to offer, and be sure to check out a show or two--the Fringe is where many accomplished artists get their start.

Our first day of Fringe coverage features two shows at KidsFest, and two wild comedies.

CHLOE AND MERAKI

Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1

An otter-ly charming, gentle kids’ puppet show about the dangers of pollution, CHLOE AND MERAKI uses some inventive visuals to show Meraki the otter becoming separated from his pack and meeting young Chloe after getting a plastic cup stuck on his head. For her part, Chloe has wandered off after being ignored by her parents in favour of fast fashion, coffee, and cellphones. The meditative show is nearly wordless, as we see trees removed in favour of buildings, and otters playfully splashing around to a quiet, wave-like soundtrack. The children in the audience were clearly responding to the message as puppeteers Lindsay Lee, Maiko Taku, and Robin Polfuss covered the stage with tiny coffee cups and paper bags, letting a carpet of trash descend into the water, and kids seemed delighted with the simple yet ingenious bubbles that often appeared around Meraki.

The environmentalist ideas are stronger than the relationship between the two title characters, which gets a little lost in the litter, and the protracted otter swimming sequences are lovely but perhaps better suited to an audience with a longer attention span. The beautifully crafted puppets and attention to detail speak to the team’s passion and care for their subject, and kids will have plenty to look at and think about in the cool theatre as the summer sun gets ‘otter and ‘otter.

Photo of Chloe and Meraki puppets by Honeyball Puppetry

DOCTOR DOLITTLE

Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1

There’s something moving about the earnest and old-fashioned nature of Humpty Dumpty Puppet Theatre’s DOCTOR DOLITTLE, which takes the classic 1920s Hugh Lofting tales and updates them almost not at all in its musical retelling. The show uses a mixture of puppets and human characters to tell the story of the doctor who could speak to animals (Sergei Kuprianov), traveling to cure a population of monkeys from a mysterious illness while trying to avoid a pirate clown (Yagor Yasau) and his henchman (Denis Lapega). There’s one cute reference to the TTC, but that’s it. Otherwise, the kids’ show has a distinctly retro feel, which sometimes serves it well (in the fun panto-like physical hijinks of the chase), and sometimes reminds us why classics should be reevaluated from time to time (the characters crow over and over about journeying to an unspecified, far-away “Africa” to find “the land of monkeys” within).

Some plot decisions are clever (a medicine in the opening segment, where the doctor treats various fauna, comes back at a crucial time) and some are mystifying (why set up the compelling concept of a cruel ringmaster, only to never have him appear in favour of a completely different villain with no apparent motive?). The tension in the plot releases a little too early, to a slowing ending. The company takes great care in the changing, elaborate painted backdrops and amusing puppets. Fans of Howdy Doody will be charmed.

Photo of Denis Lapega, Sergei Kuprianov, Yagor Yasau by Anastasia Pavlovich

CRIME AFTER CRIME (AFTER CRIME)

Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1

There are few Fringe Festival teams as dependable as newly Dora-awarded Sex T-Rex, known for their cheeky genre pieces filled with rapid-fire jokes, metacommentary, and inventive physical comedy. With CRIME AFTER CRIME (AFTER CRIME), they get ambitious by creating three time period pastiches—film noir of the 1950s, heist movies of the 1970s, and buddy cop films of the 1990s, that examine one family’s repeated run-ins with illegal activity, and the patterns of bad behaviour that cause them to be at murderous odds with each other. The well-oiled machine—or, should I say, fully-loaded gun?—of a company delivers once again; opening night was almost sold out, so book early.

Of the three eras, each presented with an (almost) temporally-appropriate soundtrack of hits, the film noir era is both the setup of the story and running jokes and the strongest parody. Julian Frid shines in black and white as the hard-boiled and colour blind detective Nick Beige, with Seann Murray providing his inner monologue. Running gags about the show’s issues in double-casting, the annoying nature of rain, and the difficulty of defusing a bomb when you can’t see the red wire work every time, and a montage car chase provides sharp physical comedy. Lowen Morrow’s portrayal of heist-master Diamond Stone is ultra-cool, featuring a hot and heavy relationship with Conor Bradbury’s associate, Richard Galore (yes, it’s a sex joke. It’s all sex jokes). Bradbury also makes the most of his clear physical and vocal differences with Morrow when cast as the latter’s twin.

The buddy-cop section is a fun romp through rad ‘90s nostalgia. Its climax is a bit of an afterthought, but after the crowning glory of the simple but ingenious spaceship battle, and after almost an hour of laughs, it doesn’t really matter. The company’s patter, already strong, will surely gel further over the course of the run. That’s a good thing, because you don’t want to miss a single moment of fast-paced wordplay—it would be a crime.

Photo of Julian Frid and Lowen Morrow by Dahlia Katz

UNFURNISHED

Review: TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL: DAY 1

There’s a lot of promise in Spencer Pearson and Luis Sanchez’s UNFURNISHED, a wild farce featuring gangsters who take on a group of university students reuniting after high school to have a party in their former teacher’s abandoned cabin, which the gangsters insist belongs to them. There are a number of good lines distributed among the play’s aggressively wacky characters, a fairly strong understanding of comic timing from the large, youthful cast, and solid moments of physical comedy, particularly from James Goldman’s polite gangster, Pearson’s Niles Crane-esque party host, and Chelsey Bowler’s social faux pas of a guest who’s desperate to be the life of the party through excessive drinking. What the play needs to be furnished (pardon the pun) with is a dramaturg and editor to balance its excesses in off-the-wall construction.

While the script has all of the elements of a farce, it still needs a better idea of why and how these elements are used: reveals can’t come too soon after we meet a character or they lose the element of satisfying surprise, random bit characters still need to factor into the play’s cohesion, throwing in an accent doesn’t necessarily make things funnier, and a clear line must be drawn between setup and payoff over the course of the play to merit a digression’s inclusion. More judicious care needs to be taken with the demands on the audience of suspension of disbelief, as questions about load-bearing logistics prove overly distracting. That being said, director Seamus Tokol keeps all the complex pieces moving smoothly, and there’s a certain joy in watching the next generation of theatre artists find their feet.

Photo of Deslyn Bach, James Goldman, Kylee Martinez, and Le Truong by Ellie B. Mendoza

Cover photo of Seann Murray, Julian Frid, Lowen Morrow, and Conor Bradbury of Sex T-Rex by Connor Low




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