By: Evanna Folkenfolk, Shakir Haq
Grounded in Fantasy
A woman spirals down so far in her depression she gets trapped in her mind, therein meeting four actors hired to play out her fantasies. However, when she arrives something changes and the actors, much to their confusion, are unable to produce fantasies resulting in happy endings. Despite the vast number of scripted vignettes, the show flowed remarkably well as a result of clever blocking and lighting design, ensuring the audience knew when it was fantasy or reality. The four actors worked extremely well together as if they were a small theatre troupe that had been together for years – their “production meetings”, bickering, and inter-troupe politics were enjoyably idiosyncratic. The original live soundtrack was perfectly composed augmenting the tone and setting of each fantasy sequence without being overbearing. The technique and musicality of the guitarist and drummer performing the live soundtrack ensued in pure aural magic.
Headscarf and the Angry Bitch
The tame premise of the show – a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, Zed Headscarf (Zehra Fazal), is hired to speak about Islam at a local cultural centre – rapidly disintegrates into tales of debauchery and a Muslim woman’s experience growing up in post-9/11 America. Using various props and flashcards, Headscarf candidly shares her (occasionally raunchy) stories intermittently grabbing her guitar and singing (à la Weird Al). Fazal is electric and infects the audience with her zestful energy. Delivering every monologue in a matter of fact way this “everything, but” girl leaves no subject untouched (quite literally). Also the playwright, Fazal has carved her experiences into a script that not only makes the audience laugh (hard), but also makes them think. Towards the end, Fazal’s monologues, lyrics, and performance become brutally honest forcing the audience into reflection. Yet, being the true entertainer she is, Fazal closes the show with a hysterical song-and-dance finale.
Let’s Play House
Based on the real-life stories of the two actor-dancers, Jonathon Neville and Carlynn Reed, the show follows the characters dealing with the ailments of their respective loved ones. Jonathon (“J”) deals with his mother’s worsening Alzheimer’s and Carlynn (“C”) deals with a muscle condition crippling her son. Oscillating between playing the loved one of the other actor and themselves, C and J engage in discussion that is part dance, part dialogue that works through their frustrations. The premise of the show is solid and endearing (made more so by the fact the actors update the audience on J’s mother and C’s son post-show.) The transitions between the dialogue and the dance segments were often clunky and detracted from the overall flow of the show. However, the script and performances were raw and full of honesty, which smoothed over the production’s rough spots.
The Sparrow and The Mouse
One wishes that some of the dark glamour that shrouded Edith Piaf and everything she touched had made its way to this play. It had everything it needed to be incredible – a remarkable subject, her extraordinary story filled with death and les dames de nuit, and the voice of an actress that could have rivaled Piaf herself. And yet, it found a way to fall flat. From the makeshift stage that stank of amateur improvisation, to the choppy transitions between the monologues and needless voice-overs, to the blurry shifts between characters – the play was sloppily conceived and sloppily delivered. A frustrating experience, save for the few moments where Melanie Gall’s voice sliced the room in half and made everyone forget the play and themselves with it.
With the certainty of making one giant cliché, the overwhelming reaction to this play is to swooooon, exclamation point included. Unless, of course, you are dead inside, which must be nice. A bizarrely delivered play about infatuation, love and heartbreak, that beautiful vicious cycle that makes humans out of the most callous of us. Filled with both wild theatrics (think exaggerated Broadwaylike use of props and song) and subtle charms (such as the casual blue hues of the cast’s costumes, peppered with stylized hints of red), this play manages what seems like the impossible: a play about love that is at once splittingly funny and so very devastating, imbued with a warmth that enables us to laugh at our own love-sick follies–all with a little tear in our eye.
Excuse Me, Would You Like To Buy a Bar?
What would existential music sound like to your ears? What kind of music does it take to frame an investigation into the meaning of life? Hearing the first few bars of the soundtrack to Excuse Me, Would You Like To Buy a Bar?, my body told me I had stumbled into something special. My body never lies. From the moment the eerie music began to weave around its capable cast, I was charmed and unknowingly holding my breath. Written by the prodigious Wesley J. Colford, at the fledgling age of 20 (he also plays various characters, as if his talent needed further confirmation), Excuse Me is an examination of those few things that matter in our short lives and how to help ourselves to them. Colford manages to capture the essence of this universal struggle, and creates a play – an experience, rather – to help us find the fight in us, the fight to be happy. Deeply inspiring, filled with a riotous cast, each member funnier and more onpoint than the last, and a theatrical structure that surely seems too complex for such a young man. Unless that man is Wesley Colford, of course.
Well, it delivered on the promise of its name, for stylized chaos we is what we received. An exhausting experience – exhausting on behalf of the one-woman extravaganza that is Christel Bartelse, and exhausting in the way in which the play swivels you from one life-altering decision to the next. Spurred by the playwright’s existential quarterlife crisis upon coming home from her travels, the play is a glimpse inside the frantically confused mind of…well, most of us. Laugh-out-loud-and-slap-the-knee-of-the-person-next-to-you funny, Bartelse is a true performer, a fact bolstered by the ease and humor with which she interacted with the audience. She is the kind of woman you want to laugh with, drink a beer with, become BFFs with – she is you, but funnier. And as Bartelse – the character and the woman – battles with herself and the life she knows not what to ask of, we are reminded time and time again that all the anxiety, all the worry, is what is keeping us from our lives in the first place.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-arts/fringe-benefits/.