Plays in Cafes has returned to this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, this time with three new short pieces all set within the confines of Free Times Cafe on College.
The concept is simple: three plays that take place between two people while surrounded by an audience partaking in Free Times’ fare. This year Alex Karolyi returns with one piece, while Chris Widden and Sheila Toller bring new voices to the program. It appears that this year Shadowpath decided to step away from the domestic themes of 2015 and instead chose a more surrealist approach.
First off, if you’re planning on seeing this show, arrive early. Free Times has a fantastic menu plus is a licensed establishment, and half the fun of Plays in Cafes is experiencing the cafe atmosphere while the show happens. I got into the show 10 minutes before curtain and therefore wasn’t able to order anything substantial, and I felt I missed out a bit (I also love Free Times, so not getting to eat their great grub made my stomach mad).
The show started with the piece Roaring Robert (Chris Widden’s submission), a sweet little piece about confidence and a stuffed lion which, while a bit predictable, was charming and funny and really lifted by Miles Meili and Katherine Fogler. I was impressed by Meili especially as I tried to sit with him when I was coming into the show: he never broke character when he explained that the seat I wanted was taken. I was actually quite shocked when their scene started as I honestly hadn’t realized what was going on at first.
Next up was Alex Karolyi’s The Nudes, which was a very interesting exploration of subverting expectations. Every time I thought I had a handle on the roles a new twist was introduced, keeping me laughing and waiting for the next shift. It was also the only piece that worked the specific location into its script, something I appreciated as it added to my immersion.
Finally was Sheila Toller’s Be Careful What You Wish For, which was probably the strangest piece of the three, with the other two staying somewhat in the realm of reality. When you get into the concept of having three wishes thanks to a latte purchase, however, you have to just strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. In a twist, I found it had the most down to earth characters that, while archetypal, had enough nuance that I actually believed they were real people in a strange situation as opposed to the somewhat programmatic characterization of the other two pieces.
One thing that all of the plays suffered from was simply their limited time; I think all of them could have benefitted from an extra 10 or so minutes to explore their characters and ideas a bit more, but it’s hard to ask for that when 50 minutes is the majority of runtimes available for Fringe shows.
When I signed up to review Fringe, one of my editors recommended I take at least one site specific show and now I know why. It’s an experience that in many ways is representative of Fringe as a whole: strange, anarchic and unique. If for nothing else than the experience, I strongly recommend you check out Plays in Cafes.
- Plays In Cafes plays at the Free Times Cafe. (320 College St.)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday June 30th, 09:00 pm
- Friday July 1st, 06:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 05:00 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 05:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 06:00 pm
- Friday July 8th, 06:00 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 05:00 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 05:00 pm
Photo of Vesna Radenkovic and Mandy Roveda courtesy of Greg King