The 2oth anniversary of the Ottawa Fringe Festival is now underway. Covering a massive undertaking like the Fringe requires some agility. ARTSFILE’s theatre writer Patrick Langston has covered as many bases as he could over the past few days offering his takes on up to a dozen shows in this year’s lineup. As Langston knows, you never know what you are going to find at the Fringe. Here is his take on four shows currently on view. They were seen on Sunday. For more information on all Fringe shows, times and places of performances and tickets, please see: ottawafringe.com
Theatre Arcturus, Huntsville, Ont.
Air and earth collide, join forces and wind up in a bad relationship with a powerful magician in this gorgeously wrought show inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Lindsay Bellaire plays Ariel, Phillip Psutka is Caliban, and through aerial and physical theatre they embody the limits and possibilities of humanity. Using long pieces of fabric, Bellaire’s Ariel drifts blissfully above the earth until she meets Caliban and he points out that she has neither roots nor a home. She in turn teaches him to stop scrabbling about on the ground and seek instead a higher perspective. “O brave new world!” he exclaims when, clambering up a rope, he sees the vista for the first time. Bellaire and Psutka work superbly together, their movements and words a dance between earth and sky that suggests we can erase the boundary that makes us fear the “other.” Ariel’s final words, “Freedom is a thing worth living for,” hold special resonance for an era that often seems in danger of forgetting that.
Szeretlek: A Hungarian Love Story
The Grand Salto Theatre, Toronto
Agreed: on Sunday, The Grand Salto Theatre ran into technical issues beyond its control. The recorded music failed to play. A spotlight seemed to shine in the wrong spot. Such things can throw off a show. But even if everything had gone swimmingly in the technical department, it’s unlikely the show would have been a roaring success. A post-war love story set in Hungary, Szeretlek is based on the real-life courtship of the grandparents of one of Salto Theatre’s two performers. There’s dance, mask work, a distracting recap of the formation of the Axis alliance in the Second World War, some audience participation including a lesson in Hungarian pronunciation. But there are also frequent flubbed lines, a balancing act that may intended as a lesson in trust but instead feels gratuitous, and a mostly uninteresting script that meanders more than it grips. The show has potential but needs a lot more work.
Nick Di Gaetano, who co-wrote and acts in this show, is no stranger to unusual creations. Many remember him in particular as one-half of the charmingly odd 2009 Ottawa Fringe sensation Countries Shaped Like Stars. However, with Unbridled Futurism, Di Gaetano plunges into new dimensions of strangeness and the unexpected. The multi-media, mostly solo show finds him hurtling around the multiverse – which is way more complex than the universe – as an astronaut-cum-rock-musician who just wants to get back home to his wife and cat. That’s easier said than done, what with multiple versions of Earth and even of Nick floating about the multiverse. Plus there’s the self-satisfied Puff, a cat wizard from another earth; a cellphone-wielding gang of interstellar racoons intent on turning everything everywhere into a gigantic pile of garbage; and the huckster CEO of Alphabet, a company which promises to build shiny, beautiful cities everywhere. Funny and fleet, the show is also a dark warning to bridle our foolish ways or we’ll unleash an ugly future.
At last year’s Fringe, Madeleine Hall was one half of the memorable, clown-based show Cardinal, about Alzeihmer’s. This year, Hall is solo with a sweet and profound storytelling piece about the decline and demise of her grandmother, Ethel. There’s nothing unusual about Ethel’s fate: having fallen and broken her hip, she went from hospital to nursing home to the grave, her granddaughter a regular companion on the journey. But Hall, who has an eye and ear for the telling detail – a bristly mole, a characteristic gesture – and possesses a lovely sense of movement, creates a full, compelling portrait of the ever-practical Ethel. In doing so, she shows us the ordinariness and enormity of death amid the ordinariness and enormity of life.