Montreal Fringe Festival part 1

It’s been years since I made it a point of sampling the shows at the Montreal Fringe Festival. I’d intended to attend opening night of “Star Trek: Discovery” yesterday, but timing issues got in the way. Never mind, I shall catch it tomorrow.

Tonight, I made my way out to Venue 3, Salle Pauline McGibbon, to catch “Fridge Horror” and “The Freeway Strangler”.

1. Fridge Horror

Here’s a cute little fable, told mostly with puppets, about a tomato and an apple who fall in love, while the fridge that contains them provides commentary laced with existential angst.

This could have gone a number of different ways. There’s the theme of forbidden love, of course, between fruit and technically-fruit; that’s a story that never seems to grow old. There’s also the larger question of life, death, and purpose, as posed by the rotting chunk of meat and the immortal square of cheese food product–two characters whom our heroes meet on their quest for private time away from their disapproving parents. But these are touched upon very lightly; or, more precisely, they are played for laughs. Perhaps it’s the serious philosophical questions that provide the best sources of humour….

I suppose anyone is free to sit down and dissect this piece for Philosophical Truth, but the show’s primary appeal is its absurdist humour. This it pulls off with aplomb. We’re not looking at Jim Henson levels of puppetry, but the show manages to turn even its limitations into strengths, milking some of the “cheaper” looking effects for laughs.

Short as it is, I think it is in fact a perfect length: long enough to not feel rushed, but short enough not to drag. I don’t know if I could take 45 minutes of the same sort of humour, but 20-25 minutes was ideal for a rollicking good time.

2. The Freeway Strangler

A fantastic character-driven piece. Pam and Mark are a married couple in Hollywood, both of them actors. Chris is a waiter at the restaurant where the story begins, and Amy is Pam’s ditzy but much more successful sister. The story follows their lives as things fall apart for Pam and Mark.

It’s really Pam’s story, I think. It’s her character arc that stands out the most, even though Mark is the one with the personal epiphany. One powerful theme appears to be the destructive nature of the competition that exists between struggling actors, and the extent to which it isolates them from each other. In spite of his supposed epiphany, Mark doesn’t seem to go anywhere with it; in fact, he seems to exchange one destructive relationship for another. Pam, on the other hand … well, Pam learns.

And Alina Gotcherian positively shines in her role as Pam. It is amazing that she is able to come off as a screaming, self-centred harridan, and still arouse sympathy for herself. Her treatment of Mark and Amy is abominable … and yet you understand. Mark isn’t entirely blameless, of course, while Amy’s ditziness can be a bit maddening; but Ms Gotcherian gives Pam a certain vulnerability … an understanding that she’s not so much bad as she is broken.

The dialogue feels natural and realistic, especially in the mouths of the actors who make up the cast. I’ve already sung the praises of Ms Gotcherian, but the rest are a talented bunch in their own right, with an excellent feel for their characters. But I did think that a couple of the face-to-face conversations felt a bit static: I’d have liked to have seen a bit more movement in those scenes.

I’m afraid the Freeway Strangler, despite the title, has little bearing to the plot. They’re a bit of a deus-ex-machina, in a way. Of course, in the manner of Chekhov’s gun, you know that the Strangler will show up in some manner, but anyone expecting a mystery thriller out of this will be disappointed. The Strangler exists, perhaps, as a symbol of futility: for all that the various characters run around chasing ephemeral glory, they are, in the end, of no more significance than another statistic with the Strangler’s name on it.

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