Montreal Fringe Festival part 5

Three more shows at the Fringe yesterday. Should have been four, but “Miranda and Dave Begin Again” was sold out when I got there. I should have gotten tickets in advance, I know, but sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you want. In any case, I caught “Sleeping in Chairs at the Gates of Valhalla”, “Me, the Queen, and a Coconut”, and “Atomic City”.

I think I’m all Fringed out for the week. I plan on staying home (or home-ish) today. I need to focus on the crowdfunding campaign for “Murder at the Veterans’ Club”.

1. Sleeping in Chairs at the Gates of Valhalla

A one-woman monologue about grief and loss, dealing with the impending death of a loved one. Rosie, our heroine, is watching over her lover, Adrian, as he lies unconscious in a hospital bed and gradually falls apart.

The story starts out a little dry, full of technical details of equipment, hospital procedures, and the illness that’s killing Adrian. It’s nothing quite so simple as “cancer”; it’s all complications from personal history and mononucleosis and so on. So the technical side can get pretty involved. The story does get emotionally heavier as it progresses, though, and those dry, technical details begin to come to life in the process.

I did think that the show could have benefited from some introduction of Adrian prior to hospitalisation, perhaps a short scene of interaction between Adrian and Rosie–how they met, what they mean to each other, some pointless(?) anecdote demonstrating his character, that sort of thing. I get that Rosie is in pain over Adrian, but for a lot of the play, I was just an outsider holding her hand rather than an intimate sharing her grief. And for all the talk of Valhalla (it is mentioned that Adrian feels an affinity for his Viking heritage) all the fighting we see is on Rosie’s part rather than Adrian’s.

Still, it manages to hit the right emotional registers. The pain feels real. Those technical details are not merely informative: they give the story that all-important sense of verisimilitude, allowing the pain to really come through. Though I might not have felt particularly close to Adrian, I did find I felt close enough to Rosie to reach the verge of tears on her behalf.

2. Me, the Queen, and a Coconut

A one-man monologue. At the surface, it’s the story of Mr. Bailey’s journey along an ecclesiastical career path; deeper down, it’s about his struggles with faith, with the potential for ecclesiastical accolades heaped upon him in contrast with his professed lack of belief in God. It’s about being faithful as opposed to having faith.

The whole thing is told with a lot of humour and excellent comedic timing. It’s a really funny story, and Mr. Bailey does these caricatures of the people he meets really well. Even if the deeper philosophical questions of faith and faithfulness don’t interest you, the humour is sufficient to make this a really entertaining show. And I rather suspect that ecclesiastical journeys are pretty unique to the experience of the average Fringe-goer.

Although, you might want to consider the philosophical aspect if you want to understand the point of the coconut.

(At one point, Mr. Bailey talks about the theological reasoning as to whether, when bearing the cross in a procession, to lift it high or carry it low. Speaking as someone who has done this, I lift it high–so that the bottom won’t bump into my shins as I walk.)

3. Atomic City

Unreliable narrators ahoy! The story takes place in the later years of World War 2, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee–a real place and a real piece of history, where top secret research and development for the Manhattan Project took place. We begin with a meeting between a physicist with “clearance level 5”–someone who actually knows what the work at Oak Ridge is for–and the woman who becomes his assistant. But then … one of them disagrees with the details of how they met, and the scene gets replayed with a very different spin and very different motivations.

This continues throughout the play: it’s almost like two plays running concurrently, with the same characters, but different characters moving the scene or reacting to events. A little like Rashomon. A great deal of the humour comes from the differences between a scene and its replay, and how each character tries to make himself or herself look better than the other in the scene told from his or her point of view.

Of course, neither is entirely truthful.

The banter is fun, the performance is excellent, and the performers are engaging. The visit to the world of the early 1940s is carried out with a wink and a nod to more modern sensibilities, and this somehow completes the immersion in the setting. For all its comedy, the play really does have a subtle touch, and sometimes the things left unsaid matter as much as the things actually said. Unreliable as the narrators are, it’s left to the audience’s imaginations to supply the places where the two stories meet, and what lies in the silence between them.

If this is my last show from the Fringe, I’m glad to have ended on a high note.

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