Theatre review: Mixed bag now open at the Ottawa Fringe Festival

Randy Ross appears in The Chronic Singles Handbook. Photo: Sue Brenner

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 is covering as many bases as he can over the next 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 three of the shows currently on view. For more information on all Fringe shows, times and places of performances and tickets, please see:

The Chronic Single’s Handbook
Randy Ross, Somerville, Maryland

Earnest to a fault, this solo show is one more of those self-revelatory theatre pieces that prove far more fascinating to the teller than to the audience. In it, Ross recounts how, after losing his job, he embarked on a four-month trip around the world during which he had “weird, short encounters” with women. There’s a meandering, ship-board meeting with an peculiar Russian lady, a predictable session with a Cambodian hooker, a plodding hook-up with a masochist. A therapist back home in the U.S. is thrown into the mix. Turns out – spoiler alert! – that all this time Ross is really just looking for the love of a good woman. Perhaps mistaking low energy for confessional intimacy, Ross makes none of this even remotely interesting. The characters are flat. The jokes elicit little laughter. And one scene involving fellatio is simply ugly. Bottom line? Limp as a spent noodle.

Who, Me.
Rob Lloyd, Melbourne, Australia

Dr. Who on trial? How could this be? It seems that the time and space tripping scientist of the cult science fiction series may be guilty of warping Rob Lloyd’s life by being so intriguing that Lloyd, a fan of all things Dr. Who, has become dangerously obsessed with him. The one-man show is set up as trial, with audience members as the jury and Lloyd playing multiple characters including a younger, nerdier version of himself. Dr. Who references, some of them obscure, abound, and there is nerdy humour galore, but the real point of this storytelling piece is how we wrestle with ourselves and the influences around us to carve out an identity with which we’re comfortable. Lloyd is a fluid actor with a fine sense of pacing, and even if – unlike the group in the front row on opening night – you’re not a diehard Dr. Who fan, Lloyd’s well-oiled show will prove entertaining and insightful.

The Iliad for Dummies
Table Théàtre, Gatineau

Homer would not have been amused. And who could blame him? Sloppily scripted, ill-rehearsed and badly delivered, this two-person show is an irreverent take on The Iliad that uses everyday objects – cream pitchers and a coffee mug among them – to depict the characters in Homer’s great epic set in the Trojan War. There’s nothing wrong in spoofing canonical works of literature: at last year’s Fresh Meat theatre festival, Kate Smith did exactly that in her funny and pointed Burger King Lear, which used fast food to re-tell Shakespeare’s tragedy. And artists have the right to pillory the chauvinism and blind belief in cultural norms that can undergird famous works and ripple down through the ages. But to do it all in half-boiled fashion, to stumble your way through dialogue that you either haven’t scripted or bothered rehearsing fully, to rely on a silly variation of a shoot-em-up space western as your conclusion, well, that’s just dummy theatre.


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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.