FRINGE FOUR: Rules Control the Fun, Lemons, Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up, The Teeny Tiny Music Show

Melissa Domingos and Milica Marković

Bad Baby Presents: Rules Control the Fun

All photos: Toronto Fringe

All photos: Toronto Fringe

*Warning: this review contains spoilers*

Bad Baby Presents: Rules Control the Fun is pure fun and Janelle Hanna is a standout comedy star in this one-woman show. This production is a meta-theatrical look at the creation and distribution of a Toronto Fringe show from the point of view of Bad Baby. She discusses the rules of the Fringe, the kinds of scenes that are necessary in the show and the advertising techniques required to promote the show. Bad Baby also outlines the reasons she wants to be an actor (to sleep in and kiss boys, of course). Before the show begins, Bad Baby comes out to the pre-show lineup to hand out flyers to the awaiting audience members while also explaining the process of flyering.

Hanna is crazy funny, donning a red nose and black rimmed glasses, as Bad Baby. She excels at a comfortable mixture of script preparation and improvisation, which keeps the show engaging. The funniest bits are when she pushes the improv as far as she can. For example, Bad Baby informs us that there is a kiss in the show despite the fact it is a one-woman production. The lights then come up on the audience and she picks out a man and keeps her eyes and energy on him throughout the entirety of the show. Also, when she fails to deliver her “surprise" to the audience, the audience erupts into a resounding “There is no surprise,” to which she quickly replies, “Hey guys, whose show is this?”

However, the most heartfelt moment is the last 15 minutes of the production where Hanna removes the disguise and sits in front of the audience as herself, the artist. Here, she discusses the stereotypes and limitations attached to solo female shows versus solo male shows, as well as the difference in topics and audience members who view these shows. It is a completely unexpected ending, but one that brings forth an ongoing and important conversation in the performing arts and entertainment industry.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons

Imagine being limited to 140 words a day. What can you say within those limits and what can you express without the use of words? That is exactly what Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons explores (I promise the title has meaning!).

Bernadette (Ruth Goodwin) and Oliver (James Graham) meet just as a new law is enacted that confines every person to 140 words daily. Lemons flashes back to the time they could freely engage with one another and flashes forward to look at how they struggle to develop a relationship under the complicated law.

Sam Steiner’s play is hilarious and extremely timely, providing a glimpse into the surveillance and censorship we endure today. Bernadette and Oliver are in a constant state of comical paranoia where they are always being notified of when their word limit will end, even to the point where they begin to count how many words they have left. Steiner explores the miscommunication in relationships as well as the ways in which we speak to one another (in abbreviations, sounds). The show never investigates what happens when these characters push the 140-word boundary, but the thought of what could happen is haunting.

Goodwin and Graham have fantastic and refreshing chemistry throughout the show, whether they are fighting or using their daily word limit to rap “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song just for the heck of it. Their comedic timing is strong as they try to work out the kinks of Bernadette and Oliver’s relationship.

Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up

In what should have been a comedy duet, Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch play an ex-couple that tries to get back together while reminiscing about the reasons why they probably shouldn’t.

Instead, this was Eric’s very own stand-up show, with the script written mainly in Miinch’s favour. His character has all the dynamic, prissy energy that I love, complete with golden punch lines. Robson’s character, meanwhile, seems to have fallen into the “straight man” trap that many modern girlfriend roles are stuck in. It’s not a bad trope by any means; we’ve just seen it before. I would’ve liked to see them both written as full-on screwballs with some more balanced character development.

There are also times where them breaking the fourth wall is like beating a dead horse. They rely on it a bit too much, to the point where they even break out of character. Genuinely tense moments end up being unintentionally humorous as well, which really ruins the authenticity for me.

I still enjoyed the show and how creatively relatable it can be in spite of these less crispy setbacks. I think with another rewrite it could definitely be a contender in theatre comedy.

The Teeny Tiny Music Show

This is a show I’ve been dying to see all year, in which Sneaky Sneaky Production’s Artistic Director Hayley Pace pulls a Lemon Bucket Orkestra with her wacky nonet and tells us about her real love affair with a Detroit-based saxophonist in Balkan-esque cabaret fashion.

I had a lot of fun watching this show; the sheer dynamism, folksy spirit, and unpredictability of everyone involved makes you feel like you’re at an actual Balkan party – something I can relate to for sure. Pace, a born performer, makes this breakup story sound like a tale for the ages, sprinkled with her signature kookiness.

I don’t think Pauper’s Pub is conducive to the size and sound of this show, however; moving around and constantly doing different things didn’t always look comfortable for the performers, and the sound mix does need to be refined given how stylized and boisterous the music was. Speaking of which, while I know Pace to have a beautiful musical theatre voice, I think her vocals do need to be improved for the kinds of contemporary songs she’s selected for the show before she can inject her magnetic personality into them.

For more information on these shows and more, visit fringetoronto.com.

FRINGE FOUR: Perfect Couples, 4.48 Psychosis, The Resurrectionists, Weaksauce

Veronica Appia and Melissa Domingos

Perfect Couples

all photos: Toronto Fringe 

all photos: Toronto Fringe 

Perfect Couples is a millennial-minded piece centred on the concept of what love means in a society and generation straying further and further away from commitment and monogamy.

Written by emerging playwright Mitchell Janiak and produced by Pencil Kit Productions, the show straddles two distinct storylines: one that follows four different romantic relationships – all falling apart in their own ways – and another that deals with the ever-present stigma surrounding mental illness. While both intertwining plots are undoubtedly topical, especially in the world of Generation Y, it often felt like Perfect Couples was trying to be too many things at once.

Rather than listening to copious amounts of bickering and whining, a stronger focus on our protagonist’s mental illness and the way it changes the dynamic of an intimate relationship, as well as multiple friendships, is what would be intriguing to see a more in-depth exploration of.

4.48 Psychosis

4.48 Psychosis was British playwright Sarah Kane’s final work before she took her life in February 1999. The play lays bare the darkest corners of her mind and her struggles coping with clinical depression.

Performer Elizabeth Whitbread is absolutely a force to be reckoned with, tapping into this dark, deeply layered and complex role.

While the piece is quite clearly a depiction of Kane’s own specific experience dealing with mental illness, trying to seek help, and ultimately failing, the Toronto Fringe rendition (directed by Kendra Jones) pushes past the surface of the script to transcend Kane’s words. The result? A moving and actionable piece on learning to properly address and communicate about mental illness, and the repercussions of stigmatization and a lack of necessary aid. 

The Resurrectionists

Presented by House of Rebels Theatre, The Resurrectionists follows two young doctors who are caught up in the challenges of starting a grave-robbing business in 19th century Ontario. It is a dark farce that explores the comedy of miscommunication with unexpected twists and turns.

The premise is undoubtedly hilarious and Ross Hammond’s script is promising in its comedic flair. The cast also has great comedic timing, specifically Anthony Di Feo who strongly performs the clueless James.

However, there is something lacking. Perhaps it is the venue choice (the Randolph Theatre is huge for such a small set) or the stagnant staging that adds to the already slow pace; or just the fact that, after 60 minutes, the production and its characters fail to remain memorable for me.

Despite this, The Resurrectionists is a fun and lighthearted show with a great ending moment that provides substance for Hammond’s character to understand the difference between a corpse and an identifiable dead body.

Weaksauce

Watching Weaksauce has taught me one thing: I can listen to Sam Mullins talk for days. The show is 75 minutes long, but who's counting. Mullins has you locked in a storytelling trance.

How could the most basic of tales about uncomfortable pubescent encounters and falling in love be so riveting? Well, because Mullins has a way with words and his performance is timed to comedic perfection. He hits you with the punch lines and one-liners at just the right moments, and his content is so refreshing and honest that it’s easy to see your awkward teenage self bumbling around in each of his stories. This is a brand of comedy that can be appreciated by a variety of tastes and ages. It’s just, quite frankly, a ton of fun. 

For more information on these shows and more, visit fringetoronto.com