My third day at the festival was a morning-to-night affair. While many of the Fringing public prefer wandering the grounds in the evening, I can honestly say I like arriving on site early. To grab a coffee and a paper, walk the alleys before a single vendor has opened, and appreciate the quiet before the storm has become a personal tradition for me. I haven’t been as fanatical this year about needing to secure those coveted front-row-centre seats, but I do remain tied to lining up somewhat early alongside fellow die-hard Fringers.
My first show of the day was The World’s Wife (Stage 2), which features two of my favorite actresses – Davina Stewart and Leona Brausen. Adapted from poems by award-winning Carol Anne Duffy, the play cycles through solo vignettes of wives of famous figures throughout history. I have never before seen a Fringe production with such elaborate costumes; the price of admission is easily recouped based on the wardrobe changes alone (Stewart’s showstopping Medusa gown garnered a few gasps from the audience). Beyond aesthetics, the perspectives on sacrifice, love, sexual power, and subordination are portrayed perfectly by the three women (Brausen’s incredibly astute Mrs. Darwin was my hands-down favorite). Trevor Schmidt’s direction was notably creative – casting Eurydice (Orpheus’s tragic love) as a stand-up comedian complete with a laugh track was inspired. A likely candidate for the post-Fringe holdovers, The World’s Wife is a fun and intelligent play.
Later that afternoon, I headed to Stage 6 (Catalyst Theatre, and in my opinion the best of the Fringe venues) for Madagascar. It is without question the best play I have seen at the Fringe so far this year, and one that I almost don’t want to write about for fear that I will not do it justice. The premise, as presented in the program, is simple, “three Americans find themselves alone, in the same hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome.” Operating on different timelines, it took some time to piece together the story, but believe me, it is worth the effort. Haunting, sad, tragic – Madagascar asks difficult questions about family, identity, relationships, and personal needs in beautiful prose illuminated by the exceptional ensemble of Vanessa Sabourin, David Ley and Coralie Cairns. Sabourin and Ley in particular shone – the audience felt their pain, confusion and frustration on every step of their journey. I will stop there, but like Esther’s Hands and The Bone House from Fringes past, Madagascar has left an indelible impression on me.
That night, I met up with a friend to watch David Belke’s The Head Shot of Dorian Grey (BYOV C). As my friend remarked, Belke’s productions are reliable, his name nearly synonymous with “romantic comedy” at the Fringe. This incarnation involves two young actors (Jesse Gervais, Katherine Fadum) who first meet at an audition, but don’t discover their chemistry on stage until a joint reading of Romeo & Juliet. Setting the play in the world of theatre allowed Belke to share his inside observations gleaned from personal experience, but it seemed to get out of hand at times – the one hundred minute play felt long, with each crazy audition coming off like filler and like another stall tactic to keep the two would-be lovers apart. Gervais has never blown me away before, but here he was very natural, good humored, and likable. And oh, that gaze – did I ever want to be on the receiving end of that stare. Also a Belke standard, the supporting characters, or in this case, the supporting actors cast in multiple roles, were superb. So much so that the play could have germinated from a decision to test the deft versatility of Linda Grass and Glenn Nelson in a series of quirky but forgettable characters. Overall, Dorian Grey is cute, but not as memorable as many a Belke play.
We ended the evening with a quick bite at Murietta’s. The high ceilings might be nice to look at, but had an echo-chamber effect, with the room reaching a surprisingly-high volume. I ordered the portabello mushroom ravioli, and while it reached our table in no time at all, the dish itself was nothing special. The slightly pricey menu matches the elegant setting, but I’d much rather head to the more casual Dadeo’s or Cafe Mosaics anytime.
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