The Royal Flush (Wild Hart Productions, Ottawa)
Did dear old Dad leave a fortune in casino winnings secreted in a lonely cabin before he died? That’s one of multiple plot points in this comedy by Ottawa children’s author (and former Citizen reporter) Kate Jaimet. She also packs in an old love interest, greed, a rustic outhouse, a stripper with a flakey name, family feuds and more, making her decision to stick with a clear narrative trajectory a smart one. The show’s farcical elements mean Jaimet was also wise in avoiding anything more than skin-deep characters. And she tidies up everything in crisp fashion at the end. Problem is, the story feels constructed, not natural: you sense the writer’s hand at work throughout. Maybe that’s why the production, directed by Jennifer Ford and featuring five actors, is so self-conscious. As well, the show is in the echo-plagued hall of Knox Ottawa Presbyterian Church, which the Fringe should have immediately nixed as a venue. The Royal Flush is not a winning hand, but Jaimet has clear potential as a playwright, potential she’ll achieve once she gives the story more freedom to follow its own direction.
I am the Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (and Other True Tales from the Emergency Room) (Melissa Yuan-Innes, South Glengarry, Ont.)
If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital emergency room, you were likely less than curious about the doctor providing the treatment. Fair enough: you had plenty to occupy you without also wondering about a stranger’s world. Yuan-Innes, an emergency room doctor and novelist, lifts the veil on those ER docs with a series of stories from her own experience. A joyful birth, a terrible death she can’t prevent, an illness in her own family: Yuan-Innes, with the occasional assistance of an accommodating skeleton, uses stories like these to reveal the emotions that she, when wearing her medical garb, keeps concealed for the sake of others. She even shoehorns in some spirited dancing (it goes on too long) along with ample humour and compassion. Yuan-Innes is not an actor, but her artifice-free approach is surprisingly disarming, endearing and in a couple of instances, very moving. All of which means she has succeeded in showing that, like us, ER physicians are human.
Beyond the Pale (Sherri Rose, San Carlos, U.S.)
“I feed on fear and suffering,” says the Evil Eye, and she’s not kidding. Adept at spotting vulnerability, she torments a Jewish family from Lithuania in three linked fables by Sherri Rose, who draws on her own ancestry for her nicely executed solo show. Whether the Evil Eye actually exists or not is irrelevant to Rose’s purpose, which is to explore themes of family, outsidedness, persecution and resilience. Rose’s characters are rich and taut, and the situations they find themselves in, including emigration from the old country to New York City in search of a better life, are resonant because stories of immigration and disillusionment are perennially true. And while not literally true, the embodiment of the Evil Eye circa 2019 proposed in the show is both funny and chilling. Rose’s stagecraft sometimes lacks finesse (she spends too much time trying to use the entire acting area, for instance), but her commitment, dark sense of humour and sharp sense of storytelling more than compensate.
The Last President of Canada (Yukon Artists Collective Theatre, Whitehorse, Yukon)
Writer/performer Doug Rutherford started with a good idea: dramatize the now largely forgotten story of Paul Chartier who, in 1966, decided to heave a bomb onto the floor of the House of Commons, make a speech about his endless grievances, and declare himself the president of Canada. A lifelong screw-up, he bungled his mission and died in the process. It’s an intriguing story, but Rutherford’s rendering misses the mark. He dutifully assembles all the facts: Chartier’s history of drifting from job to job and town to town, his conviction that corruption permeated everything including the federal government, his belief that everyone was out for themselves and that his own lousy life was a casualty. But Rutherford never gets beyond that tiring litany of victimhood, never really digs beneath Chartier’s skin, never elicits our empathy for this guy he’s sketched out. And without some empathy for the only character in the show, we just don’t care about him and his endless whining.
Not: A Bev Oda Memoir (Clara Madrenas, London, Ont.)
Who knew? Bev Oda, Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation under Stephen Harper and a fan of pricey orange juice, was actually born in 2036 but stumbled on the secret of time travel and plunked herself down in the early 2010s, where she set out to sabotage Harper, who killed communists and was eventually succeeded by television host Ben Mulroney , who in turn took over the world, which became known as Planet Canada. There’s a lot more stuff, including live music by Madrenas, in this scathing but oddly hopeful journey through dystopia, a journey that finally loops back to 2019 and Justin Trudeau (she’s not a fan). Eliding the gap between fact and fiction and moving at breakneck speed, the show isn’t always easy to follow but that, inadvertently, underscores one of its key points: by falling for the quick-talking artifice of political leaders, we lose the trail of what’s real and what’s important. In the end, Madrenas’ show is a flawed but urgent call for political engagement.
These five performances were reviewed June 13 and 14. The Ottawa Fringe Festival continues until June 23 at various downtown venues. Tickets & information: ottawafringe.com, 613-232-6162.