Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fringe 2015 - Part 3 and Best of Fringe

The show that seemed to generate the most buzz at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival was "A Man Walks Into A Bar", which uses the telling of the universally common bar joke to provide a subtle yet scathing commentary on the dynamics and power-play struggles of male-female relationships. A woman stands on stage and starts to deliver the classic opening line of the bar joke, when her male companion stops her with the feedback that she is speaking too quickly.  She graciously accepts the advice and starts again, slower.  The man continues to interrupt her, asking for clarifications about the bar, the man in the joke and the waitress that he interacts with, to the point where the joke-teller starts to get a bit annoyed but tries not to show it.  She humours him and agrees to act out the scenario of the joke with him.  At this point, the lines start to blur between the role of the woman telling the joke versus the waitress, and the man listening to the joke versus the man in the joke who walked into the bar, until for all intensive purposes, each pair of roles meld into one.

As the joke proceeds, the relationship between the waitress and her customer goes from jovial and slightly flirty to a more ominous situation where the woman feels increasing uneasy and slightly fearful of the man.  The moral of the play seems to be that in certain male-female interactions, the woman needs to be always on her guard for the possibility that the situation could turn hostile or even violent.  The play is written by a woman and a self-proclaimed feminist.  If the intent was to generalize and indict the male population, then it seems a bit harsh, but there is no doubt that the circumstances conveyed in the play are ones that women could and possibly do encounter regularly.  The punchline of the joke is a red herring, since it soon becomes obvious that the woman is never going to be allowed to finish telling the joke.  This was an interesting play that made you think about it long after you left the theatre.

We found our final show, "She Said Yes", to be a bit lightweight and disappointing.  Dealing with dating in the internet age, it trotted out all the usual tropes in terms of plotline (girl looks for love via online dating, speed dating, etc.) and jokes (actors playing the roles of different stereotypical prospective dates, popping up with different wigs, costumes, accents and personas).  The play did not provide any new insights relative to what we've seen in shows from previous years on the same topic and there was not really enough storyline to make you care about the heroine.  The only thing that slightly peaked my interest was the fact that various suitors were played by identical twin brothers.

After this year's Fringe Festival was over, only one show from the Best of Fringe nominees appealed to us.  We watched the sarcastically witty and biting song-cycle musical called "People Suck", which ran through a series of different scenarios where people are found to be annoying, obnoxious or who otherwise "suck".  The first song was called "Disclaimer", warning of the obscenities and lewd topics to follow, and the next few songs in the play were hilarious.  A number called "Where the Hell is Darwin When You Need Him" listed off a variety of losers including ones who put on makeup or eat while driving, while "Of All The People Who I Hate" targeted abusers of English grammar.  As various skits portrayed annoying personality types at the office in the song "Office Drama", we all nodded knowingly in recognition.  My favourite song, which was reprised a couple of times, was called "The Man They Call The Flake", a man so unreliable that he lets down friends, family and coworkers alike.  The best comedic timing was exhibited by the actress who sang "People Suck ... but not when you want them to", lamenting about not being able to find anyone to perform oral sex on her.  The final few songs tried to get serious and the sudden change in tone felt jarring and out of place.  I didn't really understand what some of these songs were about, but they totally deflated the happy mood generated at the beginning of the show.  I think they should have stuck to the humorous songs, which I really enjoyed.

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