I lost my Fringe virginity this year, finally going to see not just one play, but nine, over the course of a little over a week. Much like losing one’s real virginity, if it’s good, you’ll wonder what took you so damn long. But as is also true with sex, some occasions are better than others.
The first play I saw, God is a Scottish Drag Queen IV now ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. I liked it better than my boyfriend did, but I went in with no preconceived notions of what a great play should be, and he’s been to the Fringe before (the sex analogies stop here). Being the fourth in the Drag Queen series inevitably means that most of the great material was delivered in parts one through three. Creator Mike Delamont acknowledged as much, stating at least three times that he’d had no intention of bringing back his “God” character to the Fringe until he was implored to by festival organizers. Overall, it was a humorous show, if somewhat desperate for new material.
Still, it was light years ahead of The Golden Smile. Wow, what a heaping pile of excrement. To say that I hated this show is an understatement. It was painful. The performance started at 12:15 and by 12:25, I was already checking my watch. I struggled to understand the point of any of it, though on paper it seemed fairly simple: a comedic take on patients in a mental hospital in the 1950s. Apparently they put on a play. So there was a play inside a play. How meta. After that, they lost me. The actors tried valiantly to save this mess, but as they say, you can’t polish a turd. At one point, my boyfriend turned to me and asked me if I understood what was going on. My response? “No. I was hoping you did.” I almost walked out, but felt bad that I’d be leaving him behind, although when I confessed this, he assured me that he would have been right behind me. What a waste of an hour.
Over the course of the week, we also saw passable to almost-there productions, including Vasily Djokavich: Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian, The Taxi Driver is Always Watching and Led Zeppelin was a Cover Band. Djokavich was probably the best of the lot. Creator and performer Morgan Cranny never broke character, and witnessing his dry humour was an enjoyable way to spend an hour. Conversely, Zeppelin was like watching a rabid fan rant about, well, his favourite band, for an hour. It was good in the sense that I learned a lot about the roots of rock music and about the history of the blues, folk, and R&B, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the lesson while it was happening.
The first great performance I saw was Paco Erhard‘s 5-Step Guide to Being German. While Mike Delamont tried to be timely with his mentions of Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau in Drag Queen, Erhard succeeded. The show felt current and fresh, despite relying on old tropes about residual German guilt over the Holocaust. Erhard has lived in many places in the world, and as a result, his guide was more about how to be a conscientious and observant world citizen, taking on the differences between a multitude of cultures as material for his show. I loved it.
I also loved The Flying Doctor, a translation and adaptation of Molière’s “Le Mèdicin Volant” by Edmonton theatre company Empress of Blandings (yes, named after the Wodehouse pig). Steered by the capable Celia Taylor, with a terrificly talented cast, this play felt like spending some time with an old friend. I’m looking forward to more from this company, and I hope to see them at the 2017 Fringe.
The last good play that I saw was Icarus, a one-man marathon by the superbly talented Rob Gee. Taking on multiple characters and making them distinct enough to stand on their own seems difficult enough but to take seemingly divergent storylines and tie them together coherently takes real skill. Then to make it entertaining is icing on the cake. I was exhausted by the end of the hour… I can only imagine how Gee felt. At any rate, it was worthy of both my time and money, and I’d see his work again.
Rounding out Fringe 2016 was Hip. Bang! Presents: The History of Romance. I was looking forward to this after reading positive reviews and seeing that its showings were quickly selling out. We managed to get tickets to the final Sunday performance and… it fell flat. Some parts were silly and entertaining enough but it seemed like it was a good idea on paper that didn’t translate well on stage, and it never felt like there was a point to any of it. We probably would have gotten more out of their improv performances also playing during the 10 days of Fringe.
All in all, I enjoyed my first “real” Fringe adventure and I think it’s probably one of Edmonton’s better festivals. I’d probably do a little more research next year before picking my plays, but as these things go, I have no regrets.