I was quite the theatre hopper at the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival, witnessing two shows back-to-back that may be polar opposites in delivery, but are equally packed with innovative punch lines.
First thing’s first: a history lesson with poet Jem Rolls that is actually worth staying awake for. As both the writer and performer in The Inventor of All Things, Rolls condenses the explosive tale of atomic bomb mastermind, Leo Szilard, in 60 minutes of hysterical impersonations, wild stage prancing, and all-around cartoony charm.
This monodrama managed to accomplish many-a task in one fell swoop, by recovering a calamitous time period from obscurity in an educational show, dressed as a stand-up comedy of sorts. Rolls’ performance was tantamount to a zealous explorer who always has a fascinating story to tell.
His speech consisted of many forms common in poetry, from staccatos to onomatopoeias, to place emphasis on the gravity of the situations within the story and bring them to life. His sudden and resonant movements successfully matched his vocals. He knew exactly when to make certain gestures in order to avoid predictability, while repeating others for comedic effect at the right times. His overall stage presence felt very natural, almost to the point where it seemed like he decided last minute to toss out the script and improvise the whole thing.
The set was all but an empty Tarragon Theatre main space, allowing Roll to move freely, and spotlights that would alternate depending on where Roll travelled to perform his next stretch. Music would play in between scene transitions, ranging from ‘30s and ‘40s tunes to fiddles. This definitely livened up the atmosphere, but there was a flute solo that I felt was a little scratchy – not sure if it was intentional or not, but it made me cringe a fair bit.
If it wasn’t history class you signed up for, don’t worry – this lesson will undoubtedly enlighten and entertain you.
I then paid a visit to dating gurus Meghan Chalmers and Franny McCabe-Bennett at the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace for XOXO: The Relationship Show. Written, directed and performed by these two lovely Juliets, this is an hour-long comedy cabaret that satirizes the difficulties of love and relationships in the modern era from a young female perspective.
I really enjoyed how these girls poked fun at relationship stereotypes and standards young women hold. The pair was successful at challenging societal norms surrounding sex and gender.
Their singing voices were absolutely stellar; they incorporated many popular songs that were creatively reimagined with new lyrics to fit their skits. I will say however, that there were times when the background music was perhaps a little too loud, drowning out their voices and distracting from their play. Nevertheless, everything about these two was absolutely endearing, from their seductive club dancing to their equally attractive cough fests.
Although the piece does target an obviously specific demographic, others might find something relatable in it – they’ll almost certainly be reminded of girls in their lives who behave this way.
Sprinkled with sarcasm, bombastic drama, and brash, obnoxious fun, these are crazy chicks you’d actually want to date.
For more information about The Inventor of All Things and XOXO: The Relationship Show, visit www.fringetoronto.com.