My Big Fat German Puppet Show

my_big_fat_german_puppet_show-web-250x375Frank Meschkuleit’s My Big Fat German Puppet Show, which plays through July 12th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival is a hilarious and strange performance which includes puppetry and songs and stand up, but it’s the ways in which Meschkuleit uses his puppets that makes him so unique and magical to watch.

Our host for the evening is a large, portly German fellow by the name of Franz Poopenspiel, and the puppet shows emerge as little vignettes out of his comedic interactions with the audience. The first is a parody of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” (“I’m German”), then there is a very funny sketch about a zombie magician, who also begins a sing a long, a pun-filled sketch imagining Stephen Hawking’s as a physics standup comedian, and a joyful muppet number. Meschukuleit is continually unexpected, has a lovely singing voice, has beautifully command of his puppets and entirely entertaining to watch. I recommend checking this show out, you’ve likely never seen anything like it.

TWISI FRINGE RATING:  5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

My Big Fat German Puppet Show plays at the St. Vladimir Institute (620 Spadina Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 12 at 01:00 PM  buy tickets

Twelfe Night, or what you will

imageI was very confused watching Ale House Theatre’s production of Twelfe Night, Or What You Will, which plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival through July 12th, 2015 because I am unsure why this group of performers are tackling Shakespeare at all.

On their website Ale House Theatre states that part of their mandate is as follows, “can an audience laugh or be moved without understanding Elizabethan culture, fashion, language, and tastes? ….ya.” They state that they are attempting to stage these productions using Original Practices, yet we are inside, women are playing women, the audience is seated and silent, so it’s clear that giant contemporary liberties are being taken with that concept. The biggest challenge this production faces, is that in trying to make Shakespeare funny for those who don’t understand Elizabethan culture, fashion or language, the concept seems to be to ensure that the actors don’t understand these things either.

A truly skilled actor performing Shakespeare, whether dressed in the play’s historically accurate clothes, in Elizabethan dress, or in blue jeans, whether at the Globe Theatre, in the park or at the pub, whether the play is set as Shakespeare set it or in Outer space in the future, the actor is able to communicate Shakespeare’s language to the audience. Even if a joke is an obscure Elizabethan reference, a skilled actor knows how to translate, a skilled actor knows how to make Shakespeare’s text easy to understand. In this production of Twelfe Night the actors recite the words of Shakespeare, without infusing them with much beyond false, “I’m acting!” voices, and the comedy is all silly business that often doesn’t correlate with the words at all, lacquered on top, like someone dubbing the wrong words over a movie. Perhaps the false voices are an attempt to recreate the way Elizabethan actors may have spoke, but they were outside in vast theatres talking over rowdy peasants seducing prostitutes and needing to be understood by the upper classes in the boxes very far away from them. We are at the St. Vladimir Institute so close the actors are nearly tripping over us. It’s also worthy of note that Shakespeare and his actors were using the most contemporary acting style known and wearing the contemporary clothes of their day… so in that way the best way to replicate Shakespeare using “Original Practices” is to do the same.

Arguably the most impressive and revered aspect of a William Shakespeare play is his use of language; if a theatre company is going to deliberately disregard it, I wonder what the point is of them performing Shakespeare at all?

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

Twelfe Night, or what you will plays at the St. Vladimir Institute (620 Spadina Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:

show times
July 09 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 12 at 04:30 PM  buy tickets

Buckle My Shoe

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gina clayton & lily scriven

There is a moment in Alexis Bernier and Nastasia Pappas-Kemps’ play Buckle My Shoe, which plays through July 11, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. where the protagonist, Emma, begins to muse about just how inconsequential everything she has been musing about, at length, for the entirety of the play, really is, which leads to the question, then why should the audience care?

Emma cannot sleep, she is in half-consciousness, having conversations with her 18 year old self in beautiful, poetic language that builds vague images upon vague images, upon vague insinuations and vague suggestions, until she decides not to decide and the stage goes dark. There are words, so many words, it’s incredible that Gina Clayton, who plays older Emma, is able to say so much without actually telling the audience anything. Younger Emma is a bit more specific, but her choice of which memories to ruminate on don’t build on one another in a clear way. She tells us about the day she, as a child, flew, literally flew, while running down the stairs in anticipation of bacon. Then she takes it back and says, she didn’t actually fly after all, she actually fell and there probably wasn’t even bacon. It’s clear we have an unreliable narrator, and it’s difficult to want to engage and to care when Emma tells us so often not to, and makes it almost impossible for us to connect with her.

There are people who will love to listen to the language in this play, and who will be captivated by Clayton and Lily Scriven’s lovely command of it, but for the people who want to know who Emma is and why this story is important for us to hear and who want to know what these playwrights are saying, rather than being given an open-ended opportunity to decipher it however we please, Buckle My Shoe is like a will’o-the-wisp floating ephemeral, like a dream, but one whose message is so muddled, it quickly gets forgotten.

TWISI FRINGE RATING: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

Ergo Arts Theatre’s Buckle My Shoe plays at St. Vladimir Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue) at the following times:

show times
July 04 at 11:30 PM  buy tickets
July 05 at 09:15 PM  buy tickets
July 07 at 01:00 PM  buy tickets
July 08 at 06:00 PM  buy tickets
July 09 at 01:45 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 01:45 PM  buy tickets

SIA: See It.

brendan mcmurtry-howlett, thomas olijade, jajube mandiela
Nicholas Summers, a young Canadian student who went to Ghana to “learn” and to “help” within a Liberian Refugee Camp, has financed his own abduction. This is the beginning of SIA, a fascinating new play by Matthew MacKenzie, which won the 2010 Alberta Playwriting Competition, and is being produced as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
Derived from interviews that MacKenzie conducted during two trips to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp outside the Ghanaian capitol of Accra in 2004 and 2007, SIA is a story about how far human beings are willing to descend into the depths of atrocity and carnage in an attempt to protect the people that they love and to defend the freedom of their country.
Matthew MacKenzie has written a beautiful script which simultaneously tells the story of a boy and his younger sister growing up in Liberia thirsting for knowledge, idealistic for their country’s future and fiercely proud to be Liberian and the abduction years later of a Canadian boy in attempt to protect a witness from testifying against those who raped and mutilated her during a Civil War. All three characters root themselves firmly in the heart and are filled with contradiction, passion and a pursuit for justice. As the ideals of all three continue to intersect one another and challenge and betray each other to the point of putting each other’s lives in jeopardy, MacKenzie encourages us to confront the intricately woven and horrifically tangled political labyrinth that exists amongst many of Africa’s countries and that clouds menacingly over the relationship between the Western and Developing Worlds, regardless of how noble an individual’s intentions may be.
Brendan McMurtry-Howlett gives a performance that evokes immediate empathy as Nicholas Summers, a frantic boy fighting to survive who knows that his condition is that he is white, and therefore, he doesn’t truly understand anything except for the fact that everything is different in Africa, even asthma. Thomas Olajide gives two remarkably strong performances as Abraham, a fiercely protective older brother brimming with love and inconspicuous pride, and a dark, desperate, militant crusader seeking revenge and his own vision of justice. It is Jajube Mandiela, as the young, stubborn sister, Sia, who shines brightest in this play. She infuses Sia with a beautiful bright light that pours forth as she practices giving speeches in front of an audience of representatives from the United Nations, and learns her own history, and the history of civilization with zest and animated innocence. As the Civil War rumbles closer and closer to her beloved Liberia, it is for Sia that our hearts break, as Mandiela throws every ounce of passion into the little girl’s adamant cries that she must salvage all her books from the house, and that she will not abandon her country or her brother without a fight.
Philip McKee directs SIA with expert professionalism and clarity. The scenes transition with complete smoothness into one another and McKee shows fantastic pacing as the tension continues to build toward a truly nerve-racking climatic scene. All the choices in SIA are incredibly strong and all the artists commit with every fibre of their being to every moment of the play and thus the play soars.
The Fringe Festival is an ideal environment for plays to be placed in front of their first audiences as a vital step in the shaping and development of the piece. Yet, it can also be ideal for well-polished plays like SIA to catch the eye of local producers and theatre impresarios. This is one play that needs to be remounted once the Festival is over because it is simply exceptional.
SIA plays at St. Vladimir’s Theatre  (620 Spadina Avenue) Saturday, July 10 at 3:30 PM.  all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.