Montreal Fringe Festival part 3

I seem to have only picked winners so far at this year’s Fringe Festival. Last night’s entertainment: “Naked Ladies”, “Mostly Scripted”, and “Rose of Youth”. I had intended to catch “McSorley and Chung”, actually, but that show was sold out when I arrived, so I went to catch “Naked Ladies” instead.

1. Naked Ladies

This was a serious discussion on the nature of female nudity, peppered with relevant personal anecdotes, couched in an attitude of good humour, highly engaging, with a bit of performance art thrown in. Also, Ms Fitz-James spends the majority of her time onstage naked.

The show begins with Ms Fitz-James, naked, staring at each audience member, individually, grinning, nodding, chuckling perhaps … I believe that the point was the awkwardness engendered by the fact of her nakedness–the idea that naked women are meant to be stared at rather than to stare themselves, that they’re not supposed to challenge. I thought this sequence went a little too long for comfort, but again, that was probably the point.

The anecdotes are touching and amusing, and easily relateable. This “relateability” goes far towards illustrating the concepts discussed. If you just want to hear funny stories about one girl’s relationship with her body, you won’t be disappointed, and you might come away a little wiser in the bargain; and if you want to hear serious discourse on the political ramifications of woman as “other”, you won’t be disappointed either, and you might come away a little entertained as well. It’s a nice balance, and a good show … and not because of the public nudity.

(There is an interesting point made about how revealing one thing means hiding another; that, by baring one’s body, one in fact disguises something else … perhaps a Freudian secret. I’m reminded of Agatha Christie’s “Evil Under The Sun”, in which Poirot holds forth that it is in clothing that a woman’s personality and individuality is best expressed, and that the near-nudity of sun-bathing reduces her to a slab of meat. I wonder what Ms Fitz-James would have to say about that idea and about how it relates to her own thesis.)

2. Mostly Scripted

A pair of producers have gotten themselves a Fringe slot, and now they need to fit a play into it. So they start interviewing. What follows is a series of three excerpts and one wholly improvised skit, with the story of the producers’ relationship forming the framing arc.

I could tell that there was a different hand behind each of these excerpts. This was confirmed later when I asked one of the performers about it. The whole thing is, in effect, a showcase of previews for works in progress. They are, for the most part, excellent previews: slickly staged and choreographed, and excellently performed. There are a couple of musical numbers as well, which were most enjoyable.

The first preview struck me as the strongest of the three: a grim reaper (just an agent of the actual Death, apparently) and her new intern conspire to set a girl on the path to serial murder and, in so doing, usurp the throne of Death. The second–a Victorian country-house murder, each character apparently associated with a different Deadly Sin–seemed comparatively weak: it was, after all, basically an introduction and not much else. The third involved the personification August lamenting how she does not have her own particular holiday: a cute, snappy piece that manages memorable characterisation for twelve characters in double-quick time. Also, there was a lovely song attached.

I can’t really say much about the improvised skit. After all, it’s going to change from performance to performance. But what I saw was funny and, for something thrown together backstage in the time it took to present the three excerpts, pretty well-done.

The whole thing is tied up with a song. I’m not sure that this worked quite as well as the musical numbers from the excerpts. Performed a capella, it felt a little rough without the music to smoothe out the edges. Of course, by then, the entertainment value of the overall production had everyone’s energy up so much that it still worked as a sort of “you’re allowed to see the woodwork behind the scenery now” wrap-up, appropriate to the theme of the show.

On the whole: highly enjoyable, and great fun in its variety.

3. Rose of Youth

This one is a more serious drama, about three childhood friends in what appears to be rural Canada (Manitoba, I think) dealing with the outbreak of World War 2. Jimmy is eager to go off to fight: he’s been dreaming since he was a child of following in his father’s WW1 footsteps; John is the intellectual pacifist, filled with moral angst about the issue. And Simon, in between, seems to be the resident goofball….

While it is tempting to see this as an indictment of war in general, I don’t believe it speaks of war so much as it speaks of our relationship to it.

As such, I feel that Simon best exemplifies the struggle of the ordinary person with the concept of war. For him, this is a morality play in which his friends Jimmy and John represent the two sides of his conscience–but which is which? Of course he goes off to fight–I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that–and the argument he has with John just prior to his leaving demonstrates that, underneath the happy-go-lucky flakiness, he has been giving the issues some very serious thought, perhaps even moreso than John. I would even go so far as to say that he wins that argument … and then he gets to Europe and things go beyond even what he’d ever considered. Not that John was necessarily right in that argument–that’s debatable–but that there are aspects of the reality that neither of them could have thought to consider with the seriousness of “actually being there”, not while they were safe in their peaceful Canadian paradise.

This is not to say that Jimmy and John are functions of Simon’s story. Each has his own story arc, and each has his own struggles as reality impinges on their ambitions. The three characters share the focus equally,  a sign of a good ensemble piece. Although, I do feel as if I may have missed a scene in Jimmy’s struggle to discover his father’s past.

The development of these three characters is sensitive and affecting; very well done, and very well acted. The story: thought-provoking and well worth discussion. The venue is kind of remote, relative to the rest of the Fringe, but I think it would be well worth it making the trek out to Henri-Julien for this play.

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