It’s hard to believe, but the 32nd annual Edmonton Fringe is already over and touring companies like Naked Empire Bouffon are packing their bags to move on to the next festival, while artists who have finished their runs head for home — whether that’s Australia, the UK, or just North of the High Level Bridge. As at every Fringe, my goal has been to see just as many shows as I can, and in between stage-managing Naked Empire’s run and feverishly making deadlines, I saw 35, which ranged in content and execution from the merely mundane to the inarguably sublime. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites and companies I recommend watching out for should they make over to San Francisco.
1) Best Interpretation of “…the rest is silence:” Grim and Fischer, by the Wonderheads. Haunting, heartfelt, and humorous, Grim and Fischer unfolds on the stage like beautiful French animation, with nary a spoken word passing between the three meticulously-masked characters: the sepulchral Grim, the feisty Mrs. Fischer, and the frustrated Nurse Doug. A classic struggle against the inevitability of death told in movement, allusion, and fart jokes, to a soundtrack of Mozart and Survivor, the impact of the imagery lingers long after the show is over.
2) Best Surrealist Ensemble: The Tenant Haimowitz, by Zygota Theatre. Penned by Israeli playwright Ariel Bronz, this abstract journey through the purgatory of one poet’s worldview is both complex and confounding, but absolutely mesmerizing. Bullied into renting a cheap flat only to discover five unexpected roommates after he signs on the dotted line, Daniel Haimovitz is sucked into a whirlpool of situational farce, at one moment being literally wrapped in bureaucratic red tape, at another forced to play a word association game the rules of which seem not to apply equally to all the participants as the tight-knit, highly-kinetic ensemble alternately defies gravity and gravitas.
3) Best Lo-Budget, Hi-Voltage Costume Concept: Moby Alpha, by Charles Comedy. The staging of this quirky mashup between science-fiction serial drama and Herman Melville is pure fringe, with the two actors (Charlie Stockman and Chuck Armstrong) illuminated only by their inventive space helmets, with switches that allow them to change colors for each character and transporter sequence, while they float through the vastness of space, represented by the otherwise dark stage.
4) Best Canada-centric History Lesson: Jake’s Gift, by Juno Productions. Unless you travel to Canada, chances are you won’t get a chance to see this show about a Canadian WWII vet returning to Juno Beach for the first time in 60 years. While somewhat predictably staged, in a manner most likely to inspire unabashed sniffling from the audience, the script reveals an interesting chapter in Canadian military history, one completely subsumed in the states by our own.
5) Best Whimsical Literary Reimaginings: Poe and Mathews, by Grumble Productions, Innocent When You Dream, by Zeb L. West. What if Edgar Allan Poe was washed up on a deserted island with the now-forgotten author Cornelius Mathews with only a rock to keep them company and a sandwich to stave off the hunger? What if the bulk of the action of Moby Dick took place inside the whale including a long diversion in the guise of Don Quixote? Physical comedy, puppetry, and ukulele tunes take us down those quirky rabbit holes.
6) Best Unscripted Fringe Experiences: Late Night Cabaret, Truth or Dare With Strangers, “The Zackie Awards." Sorry improv groups, the best unscripted performances are almost always those tackled by the unsuspecting in moments of nervous anticipation and heightened awareness. I loved the randomness of the Late Night Cabaret once the “Wheel of Desire” was spun and whoever the night’s special guests were had to perform the action dictated by random chance; the sweet-natured experiment of Tasha Hickie’s “Truth or Dare With Strangers” where, for two Canadian dollars, you could huddle in a tent with people you’d never met and reveal yourself without inhibition; and the slap-happy hilarity of the performer-centric Zackies after a long hard Fringe.
Next stop, Vanvouver. Stay tuned.