Mad Life Imagined (Grey Paper Crane Projects) 2015 Toronto Fringe Review

Mad Life poster

I’m drawn to elliptical narratives, the audience held at the fringes of a story and their imaginations set free to colour in the details. Grey Paper Crane ProjectsToronto Fringe entry, Mad Life Imagined, playing at the Robert Gill Theatre, promises such an experience with its “story told without the main character.” Sadly, I never caught a proper glimpse of this enigmatic central figure.

I figured we, the audience, would discover the disturbed character of Beatty through disparate fragments of art and poetry, piecing her together from scraps of sight and sound. That’s what the promotional material suggests, but that’s not quite what is delivered.

What Bertha Lee has written and directed isn’t really about us finding the lost Beatty, but rather how friends and family members deal with mental illness. She’s posing questions about sanity and individuality, comfort versus passion, that reminded me a lot of Peter Shaffer’s Equus. Like Equus, it’s not very subtle, but Equus has a certain intense poetry and haunting atmosphere.

The actors give it their all, but their efforts are misguided, I’m afraid. Lee has them deliver their lines with abstract and continuous motion. Characters walk circles around each other and twirl a hoola-hoop that is constantly passed back and forth. I can tell there’s an idea lurking behind all of this, but I didn’t find it evocative; I found it distracting.

Claren Grosz gives the most realistic performance as Beatty’s mother and her friend. Unfortunately, neither of her characters are particularly well defined by the script.

The other two performers were more stylized, with Julien Hemmendinger’s over-the top style contrasting against Eden Rabi robotic style. Though both seemed intentional I couldn’t understand the purpose of either.

Every aspect of this show is highly stylized, even cartoonish—the script, the performances, and all of the sound and lighting effects. Some artistic decisions had obvious meaning, while others mystified me.

I love the ideas this play is trying to explore. I wish that more time had been spent developing the personality of this mysterious Beatty. I’d like to see her in some dark corner of my imagination, but I just couldn’t find her in all of the broad strokes.


  • Mad Life Imagined is playing until July 11 at the Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)
  • Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
  • Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.

Remaining Showtimes
July 04 at 09:45 PM
July 05 at 01:45 PM
July 06 at 01:15 PM
July 07 at 10:45 PM
July 08 at 11:15 PM
July 11 at 07:00 PM

Image provided by the company.