Mooney on Theatre Recommends – 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival

These past few days we’ve unleashed our small army of 18 dedicated writers and 6 tireless editors to cover all 141 shows* in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival! With the sheer number of shows available at the festival, picking the ones you want to see can seem like a daunting task.

Of course, one of the best ways to enjoy the Fringe is to not overly plan it out and just go and take a chance on something that happens to be playing at any given time. I mean, it’s only ten bucks and about an hour of your time and you may discover something you’ll think is amazing.

If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of shows at the Fringe and are looking for a place to start, sit down and take a deep breath. We’ve asked our staff to tell us about their favourite shows they’ve seen at this year’s festival so we could provide you with some of our recommendations.

Oh, and if you’ve seen something you think is amazing that you think others should go see please let us know by leaving a comment.

Happy Fringing!

Mooney on Theatre Staff Picks – 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival

Dorianne Emmerton highly recommends With Love & A Major Organ because it was quirky, funny, and from the heart. A subway crush becomes something deeper, intensely emotional but never losing its comedic appeal. You will feel for these characters even as you laugh at them doing whimsical, surrealistic stuff, like carrying their hearts around in coolers.

Adelina Fabiano loved The Canary Wallpaper. Beautiful choreography, talented performers, brilliant concept and direction; The Canary Wallpaper is a multi-sensory experience. Dramatic and moving, this theatrical display of contemporary dance is original and memorable. Although a lover of dance, Adelina recommends this show to all theatre aficionados as there are a variety of elements to this production.

Wayne Leung really thinks you should see RAW. A recently HIV positive man tracks down the man he believes he contracted the virus from. Their resulting confrontation explores the issues of HIV disclosure and personal responsibility. The script is smart and compelling; it blends the personal with the political, humanizes the issues and makes them accessible. It incorporates humour and isn’t heavy-handed with its subject matter but it does challenge the audience to really think.

Mike Anderson left Transit Diaries smiling, and it still brings a grin to his face. The cast are joyful and energetic, the script is strong, and he also found a lot of the material (especially the meeting between Big Spoon and Fork) to be touching and relatable. It’s not the most challenging show at the Fringe, but it’s one of the sweetest.

Joanna Haughton really enjoyed Ladies-In-Waiting.  Being a fan of Henry VIII and his wives, she really enjoyed the in story of all five dead ladies waiting for the arrival of their infamous husband.  Each one waited for something different, but all had a bone to pick with one another.

George Perry loved Greg Ellwand’s BREAD! because it is 50 minutes of smiling from ear-to-ear. Bread, the food, and BREAD!, the play, have so many fun and great things in them. The ingredients in BREAD! are laughter, music, information, making new friends, remembering old family and realizing how great those around us are. George loved that BREAD! is a celebration, not a lecture, and was encouraged by BREAD! Greg Ellwand became George’s favourite baker in less than an hour.

Andrew McKechnie doesn’t like one man shows, he thinks they’re generally dull and self-indulgent. Medicine is not one of those shows, it is a heartfelt quest for some sense of balance and mental health.  TJ Dawe’s delivery oscillates between comic and tragic but remains constantly rooted in truth.  The simple staging of the piece forces (or allows) the writer/ performer to keep the audience rooted with his story.  Andrew laughed throughout and took some heavy considerations out the doors with him.

Kelly Anderson would recommend the witty, wonderful show A Funeral for Clowns. A smooth, professional play with experienced actors – it explores the relationships between The Dead Clown and his family in a funny, but poignant way.  Set in a world of clowns,  contrasting comedy with nostalgia, we are asked a startling question – are funerals for the deceased or the living?

Sonia Borkar really enjoyed the one-woman show Mahmoud for its hilarious jokes and fast-paced storyline but most of all for Tara Grammy’s outstanding acting and wonderful accents. She thought it was a great comedy with a message and has been recommending it to everyone.

Candice Irwin strongly suggests everyone go see Rare. Words do not even begin to do the show justice. The all down syndrome ensemble speaks about love, rage, death, and dreams. Be prepared to be led on an emotional journey by some of the most open and honest performers to grace the Fringe stages this year.

Joslyn Kilborn loved CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST and has been telling everyone to see it – it’s hilarious and genuine, flawless improv supported by unique, planned characterization. Its subject material (three men who believe they are the reincarnation of Christ) also allows for just the right amount of social commentary. It’s thoroughly entertaining and subtly subversive – Joslyn’s kind of theatre.

Katharine O’Brien really enjoyed The No Bull$#!% History of Canada.  Finding that her high school history class was as dull as a ditchwater she found this 55-minute one-man show to be hilariously refreshing.  Who knew history could be this much fun?

Sam Mooney loved The Wakowski Brothers. The show is about much more than vaudeville. The acting is superb, the singing and dancing are great and we get to know the characters. Nothing was over the top, it was perfectly presented. At 90 minutes it’s longer than most Fringe Shows but the time zips by.

Mara Gulens’ hands-down favourite was Camp Schecky; humourous, fun and so-site-specific-you’ll-never-see-it-on-stage. Four counsellors psych up the audience (read: campers) for a singing and laughing participatory trip through the city. The story is clever and the enthusiasm is infectious. Yellow school buses will forever be a reminder of the creativity of Fringe.

Samantha Wu was blown away by ZED.TO: ByoLogyc not only for the intrigue of not knowing what to expect from the moment you stood in line to get in, but by the highly interactive experience throughout the show. She’s drawn to anything that creates dialogue long after the show has ended. This Fringe show requires the audience to  participate, think on their feet and think critically. The audience is part of the show rather than having the show play out in front of them. Come and join the fun and see what everyone is talking about!

Tavish McGregor recommends The Enchanted Crackhouse. Low-budget, surprising, warmhearted, offbeat, it is the spirit of Fringe to a coked-out T. There’s more going for this crude little AlleyPlay than it lets on: a multitalented cast of theatre pros shared in the creative process, and you might just catch the stellar live band laughing along with you at some of the festivals’s best comedy. Head to the heart of Fringe behind Honest Ed’s with a few good friends, grab a beer, and sit down for the kind of show you won’t find anywhere else. Just don’t bring children. Or squirrels.

Crystal Wood is still laughing from the performance of pomme is french for apple that she saw this weekend.  Two women deliver rapid-fire sketches about vaginas that ring hysterical and true.  Whether you have female body parts, or were just born out of them, you’re sure to love this bold show.

Mira Saraf would recommend Eat Poo Love, because rather than over-dramatizing an incredibly traumatic experience, it makes it human and humorous in the way only real life can be. Frank, honest, and open to discussing back-end matters most would prefer to ignore, Eat Poo Love is nothing like its near-namesake, but something much more authentic altogether.

Lauren Stein is a stickler for good pacing and sharp, engaging dialogue, so when she walked out of The Shape of Things having witnessed exactly that, it really was a no brainer. It’s a show that will make you laugh and ponder the truths about Art and the Art of Truth all at once. If the dexterity of the actors doesn’t impress you, Lauren believes you probably are the type of person who would be perfectly content watching moss grow on the northernside of the nearest tree stump.

Chandel Gambles loved the show dirty butterfly. She would recommend this production because it is edgy, socially conscious, and tells a captivating story without bestowing blame. She thinks it is the type of piece you might get if you squeezed Sartre’s “No Exit” together with Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and got George F.Walker to spice up the characters. Chandel is delighted that this Fringe piece allows the audience to both mentally engage and draw their own conclusions.

Jennifer McKinley thinks Of Mice and Morro and Jasp is a delight! She absolutely loved this retelling of the classic Steinbeck story. Morro and Jasp are charming and indelible as the doomed pair. Morro’s naivety contrasts well with the long-suffering Jasp and their love for each other is palpable. The original story ends in tragedy but Morro and Jasp end their show on high note. It’s almost worth going just for the props!

Avi Bendahan recommends Numbers. If you want to sit back and be blown away by great storytelling and awesome group dance numbers, he doesn’t think you can do better than Numbers. WWII and the Holocaust are subjects that are never easy to tackle, but Kokus manages it with ample sensitivity, all the while keeping you engaged and entertained with their imaginative choreography.

Check out our list of Fringe reviews, Fringe Buzz features and our daily free ticket giveaways at Mooney on Theatre.

*The 141 shows we covered include all venue and site-specific shows and Alleyplays. Although the Fringe advertises 155 shows in total, that number includes the presentations in Visual Fringe which we cover separately in our Fringe Buzz.