This is likely the last of the writing I will get to do on productions I have seen in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to see so many very fine productions, as well as the chance to share my thoughts on them.  My thanks to Allison Jones, for re-sharing them beyond my own web-page.

My intention in writing these has been to help direct audience towards productions that they might not have considered seeing, and to find ideas in them that I responded to.   As I am a director and a playwright myself, I have an opinion on the work I see.  Where that opinion has been constructive and might help some future version of the play, I have tried to share that in the hope that it improves the quality of the script.

So that being said we come to

Written and directed by Olivia Fasullo
Referendum Productions
at The Player’s Guild.

This production, which was the very first one I saw in the festival, presents an original play written by a current McMaster Poly-Sci student Olivia Fasullo.
The story it relates is of a young woman (Emily Wicks) who finds herself as the secretary – (Executive Assistant!) – to the Devil himself, the Dark Archangel, Evil Incarnate, and the demon Beelzebub, most unholy of the unholiest, Lucifer, to give him his full title.

But in this play at least, The Devil prefers being called “Lucy” – and as played by the affable Jack Preston,  he is a reasonable fellow who is tired of an eternity of making sinners suffer.  The Devil is “damned to torment the Damned” so to speak – he is tired of the job of dishing out agony and is looking for a way out of the situation.  As it turns out, Hell is a corporation with a board of directors, and a number of notable sinners are there including Lilith, Charles Ponzi and a gaggle of Lawyers all of whom drive the poor man (poor demon?) crazy.

A tangent – Many years ago I worked on a Theatre Aquarius production of W.O. Mitchell’s THE BLACK BONSPIEL OF WULLIE MACRIMMON.  In that play Macbeth, Judas Iscariot and Guy Fawkes. were the damned that the devil dragged along in tow.  That kind of cultural joke is fun to devise, but can be dated quickly.  A current and more topical list of the damned might have included Ted Cruz, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Donald Trump, with a few suicide bombers thrown in for good measure.   But I digress, so back to the production in hand.

Wicks, Preston and Lisa Weeks are the standouts in what is a strong ensemble. I also greatly appreciated the two lawyers, (from Hell!) played by Daniel Hewko and Chanelle Berlingeri, dressed to the nines they represent the slimy excesses of Wall Street.   It has been said that “Hell is other people” – but in this case Hell is contracts, corporate takeovers and being stuck at a desk for all eternity.

Don’t get me wrong – Forsullo’s play is clever and structurally works quite well in the story it tells.  There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but to have made it more to my taste, I would have liked more specific allusions to Dante, Sartre, and the place of the Devil in popular culture.  The Devil, after all, is one of the most written about icons of all time, in history and religion – only his relatives, “up above” had better press agents.  Twelve of them in fact.

12 press agents = 12 Disciples, 12 apostles…  12 Jewish press agents… Get it now??  It also explains why Jesus Christ was bigger then the Beatles – The Beatles only had one Jewish Press agent! (rimshot).  This kind of humour is slightly offensive – off colour – and is not politically correct, but it can be funny nonetheless…  I really wished some of it was in this play.

The balance between trying to make a specific point about religion and gender politics, about a woman trying to make it in a man’s world, were all hit and that part of the play works.  But I wanted more basic humour in the mix to make the balance perfect.  Perhaps it was just the performance I saw, which admittedly was an early one in the run, but I felt that I wanted more of a connection to the action onstage.  Humour is a good tool to accomplish that.  It is a good rule of thumb, that we tend to like characters that make us laugh – this would also have had us rooting for Lucy and Emily a bit more, which raises the stakes, and pulls us into the performance.

Monty Python, the British comedy troupe from the late 1960s/early 1970s, famously mixed intellectual thought – on society, history and politics – with juvenile school boy toilet humour.  The mix between the two – which don’t really belong together – was what made them so brilliant.  (And I have actually answered exam questions in European History, using the information from Python’s Quiz Show Sketch – the info is academically accurate).

Please add some “Al Pacino”, “Hotel California”, “Spanish Train” and “Linda Blair in The Exorcist” jokes  – indeed a few one liners of almost any kind thrown about every few minutes would have been an improvement in the proceedings.  The play, as it now stands, gives the impression, I think, of taking itself a tad too seriously.   I get that this production is trying to intellectually engage us – which it does – but I wanted to piss myself laughing at the same time.

Hopefully, this Fringe production has a future life.  Writing an original play is not an easy thing to do, I can speak from experience.  I also get that there was some “Millennial” humour here, that perhaps as a Gen X’r I missed.  If so, that is on me.

I really don’t mean to be over critical in writing about this show.  I know for that for director/playwright Olivia Fasullo and her company of performers, that this production is a labour of love for all of them.   I can tell that by their obvious enthusiasm of being part of the festival. I am so very proud that some first time Fringe virgins are at least enjoying themselves so much while performing at the Fringe Festival.  Having met them a few times now, I can also say they are lovely people to have a drink and a conversation with.

Oh and another joke!  Why are opinions like assholes?  Because everyone has one!  Please feel free to ignore mine if you would like.  No malice intended.   And I am sincerely looking forward to your next show.

Carolyn Forbes Productions
At the Player’s Guild.

A different experience was this play, which also springs from the creative energy of McMaster University students.  If John Bandler’s JULI-BEE MOTEL play represents the faculty on campus, then this show full of young, frenetic energy barely contained, represents the student body.

UNORIGINAL SIN, is the work of three playwright/directors, Chanelle Berlingeri, Joel Fleming and Erica Hill, with multimedia from Taylor Caroline.  This production, which also premiered on campus last spring as part of the Honours Performance series, details the experiences of nine twenty-somethings, a mix of men and women, straight, bisexual and gay, and their experiences with “hook up” culture – what we used to call back in my day “getting laid”.   Do they still call it that?

We see a series of short scenes interspersed with some clever dance and multi-media images creating a collage of images and stories about sexuality.  The main story is about a sexually liberated young woman “Kate”, acted by Erica Hill, who enjoys “no strings attached” casual sex, and her latest partner Kyle (played by Tomi Simanie) who after a sexual encounter desires a long term relationship.

Much of the humour in this situation is that it is a reversal of what was expected.  Normally it is young men in university seeking quick and shallow, sexual encounters, and women seeking, what used to be called in my era, an “MRS” degree.

The two other women in the play are more representational of traditional values I think.  We follow Maddie Szlafarski as Brooke, who seeks to lose her virginity within the context of a committed relationship  and Jessica Grossi as Nicole who goes through a succession of boyfriends without finding “the one” that she can commit to.  These women represent a more traditional attitude to sex and this spectrum of response, (see the research of Kinsey for further info on the sexual spectrum), provide the necessary conflict that creates the drama in this show.

Much of the comedy comes from Danny Johnson, as Dylan, who uses apps on his phone like Tinder to find a number of sexual encounters, seeking something in numbers, that he has not been able to find in a single parter.

This is very much an ensemble show, with the entire cast pulling together to transform tiny scenes into a seamless whole;  as a result it is hard to pick out individual performances.  For me, Szlafarski’s vulnerable performance was the most compelling, as I sympathized most with her story, and thought her final decision to get intimate for the first time, without any earth shattering result, felt most authentic to me and true.  It takes practise before you get the hang of it.

Impressive too was the integration of multimedia and video images with the transitional dance sequences.  Of all the shows I have seen in the festival to date, thus production made the best use of the limited repertory lighting plot, in each of the venues.

This production attracted a different audience from any of the other shows I saw in the festival.  Younger, and more curious, perhaps.

Technology has clearly changed the whole seduction experience with apps like Tinder and social media fueling the same old game that is as old as history itself.   It has been said that our time is the most overtly sexual one since the time of Charles the Second of England and the restoration.  I think for young people, the pre-AIDS era of the late 1960s and early 1970s might also vie for the distinction.  The film and and theatre of then seem to reflect that anyway.

I appreciated the program notes for this show, they set the tone for what the show was trying to accomplish.  A very thoughtful show, nicely nuanced with the balance towards drama in the end.

And a few quick mini thoughts about two more…

Attic Window Productions
At the Player’s Guild.

This three hander, written and directed by Collin Glavac, turns the traditional “Rom-Com” on its head.

The kind of one liner, laugh out loud humour, was exactly what I was craving in the first show written about above, is to be found in this production in spades.  Not to put anyone down mind you!

This show deservedly was picked as “best in venue” by VIEW on Thursday.  The cast featuring Collin Glavac, Alexandra Li Tomulescu, James Daniel Keating is very strong, and the show strikes just the right balance between articulate thoughts on relationships, and laugh out loud funny business.

The story, ultimately, surprised me too, in where it ended up, a nice final image.

written by Ryan M. Sero
directed by Tyler Brent
Make Art Productions
at Theatre Aquarius Studio

In a similar bent to LOVESPELL, in that it was also about relationships as well s populist theatre.

Playwright Ryan M. Sero is a Hamilton Fringe Veteran now, having produced a show in every Fringe since his first play MODICUM OF FREEDOM in 2009.  I look forward to his productions each year, as they are clever, funny and articulate reinterpretations of classical texts, or they are original plays that recall the writing of Woody Allen, in a self deprecating and neurotic, stand up style of narration.

Of all of the plays I saw in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, ANYBODY ELSE was certainly the best written script.  It was filled with thoughtful insight into relationships, allusions to classical theatre and enough wry humour and wit to fill three fringe venues.

Pamela Gardner, is a perfect foil to Sero, as the fellow artist, writer’s muse, and lover. Sean Emberley, does a lovely double turn as Sigmund Freud, and the ex-boyfriend of Gardiner that completes this love triangle.   And the staging, using a wonderfully selected psychiatrist’s couch to serve as multiple locations, was most inventive and clever.

This production is indeed one of the stand outs of the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, and its large audiences are well deserved.

NOTE:   Tyler Brent, the director of ANYBODY ELSE, is a friend and is cast in my own show in the festival.   I have no other relationships with anyone else involved in any of these four productions.

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