Thursday, July 19, 2012

Play Me, I'm Yours Pianos

First we had moose, then snowmen and now pianos have been scattered around Toronto.  There are 41 in total, each decorated by local artists to represent one of the countries participating in the 2015 Pan Am Games.  On each piano is painted the words "Play Me, I'm Yours", encouraging the public to interact with and actually sit down and play the pianos.

As we wandered around looking for pianos, we came across several where people were in the process of playing them.  We passed by the colourful piano in Berczy Park, just missing an impromptu concert by an 8 year old prodigy.  Apparently he gave quite the performance and a crowd gathered to listen and clap before his mother dragged him away.  Hearing this made it too embarrassing for me to try the only thing I know how to play anymore, which is "Heart and Soul".

These pianos are a great way to generate awareness and interest for the Pan Am Games.  We'll have to keep our eyes open for more of them.  I found a map of their locations here:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fringe Festival 2012

Although we watched 14 shows at this year's Fringe Festival, they did not have the wow factor of last year.  There was no clear equivalent to last year's Kim Convenience, which went on to a professional run as part of Soulpepper's 2012 season.  We did see a few shows that we really enjoyed:

Our favourite show was a hilarious comedy called Porn Star, about a mousey librarian named Esther who finds out she has been nominated for an amateur porn award because of a sex tape that her ex-boyfriend had secretly filmed and posted online.  Deciding to spice up her mundane life, she decides to go to the ceremony and en route meets and falls for a lesbian sex advice columnist.  This causes issues with her mother who is an ultra-conservative evangelist with political ties to Sarah Palin.  A final subplot about Esther's sister, who committed suicide at 14 but is now trying to escape hell because she doesn't like it there, just adds to the fun.

Honour Killings was a dramatic portrayal of the events and motivations that might have led to the real life drowning murders of three sisters and their stepmother from Montreal.  Their parents and brother were convicted of the killings, meant to redeem the honour of the family against the sisters' perceived sins.  The girls were portrayed as beautiful, spirited, intelligent young women who were killed for acting like typical North American teenagers, including "wearing revealing clothing and having secret boyfriends".  The play paints a very plausible scenario of what might have happened in this family with conversations and interactions following very closely to what was reviewed in the trials of the accused.

Bad Connections is a tour-de-force performance by actor Paul Costentino, who stood on an empty stage except for a chair and performed all the roles in a play about interconnections. Using only changes to his voice, posture and rubber face, he plays 8 different characters including a black pregnant woman, an angry Italian man, a four year old boy, an old man in the hospital, a middle aged Jewish woman, a sad cardiologist, a gay yoga instructor, and a wisdom-spouting guru.  In the first act, each character is introduced through a series of monologues.  By the second act, the characters start to interact and you begin to see how they are all interconnected.  It is amazing to see Costentino basically carry on conversations with himself, quickly switching back and forth from one character to another.

Help Yourself is a fast-paced, dark comedy featuring Donny, the slick, quick-talking consultant who helps his clients justify whatever illegal or amoral act that they wish to commit.  The nervous and hapless Ted wanders into Donny's penthouse apartment "office, with a dilemma. Ted wants to kill his cheating wife but is also afraid and horrified by the idea.  The balance of the play is spent with Donny cajoling, haranguing, and plying Ted with liquor in an effort to convince him that this would be OK.  A seemingly inconsequential subplot showing flashback conversations between Donny and his girlfriend culminates in a disappointingly abrupt and predictable "twist" ending.

We were entertained by the next set of plays but not totally won over by then.  The solo actor in Charlie the Hockey Story played his guitar and told stories around the real life 1932-47 hockey career of his uncle Charlie Sands.  He spun a good tale but the relentless urging for the audience to sing along to his songs became a bit annoying.

Sharilyn Johnson stars in Fake News Fan Girl, recounting a the true and personal tale of her adulation and borderline stalking of "Fake News" stars Stephen Colbert and John Stewart.  She delivers her story with humour, passion and vulnerability.

The musical 21 days was a fantasy based on the premise that Julie has a rare disease that only allows her to experience and live through 21 extraordinary days.  She needs to decide whether she wants a long life of mediocre days or rather choose to live life to the fullest and enjoy the 21 great ones.

Unfortunately this year, we saw quite a few shows this year that we didn't really care for.  We thought the musicals One in a Million and How I Lost One Pound  were silly and forgettable, while Breaking Velocity was overly self indulgent. Samkon and Francis go Swimming (Part I) started out with an amusing premise but then ended abruptly.. we should have been forewarned by the "Part I" in the title.  I fell asleep during Medicine - enough said?    The final two plays were gimmicky but didn't quite work out.  Spychasers was based on a novel by the same author who wrote "The 39 steps", so it sounded really promising.  All the actors in the play were from a seniors theatre group and some of the "acting" was suspect.  However there was great staging that was reminiscent of a production of The 39 Steps that we saw once off Broadway.  The only thing I remember about The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid was that after the show, we read in the paper that Randy Quaid was actually in the audience on the night that we saw it.

We go to the Fringe knowing it is hit and miss in terms of what shows we'll like, so better luck next year.