Fringe 2016: Mooney on Theatre’s Hot Tickets

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Every Fringe, we ask our contributors to prepare a personal shortlist of the shows which interest, excite, titillate and intrigue them the most. And between our 24 Fringe writers, we’ve got a broad range of ages, tastes, expectations and interests: we’ve got retirees and college students, working theatre professionals and moms with “real jobs”, academics and burlesque performers.

Because of that breadth, we figure that, when a show appears on multiple shortlists, it’s probably gonna do pretty well — and if it appears on 8 or 9 or 12, it must have something truly special going on. Our Hot Tickets are those shows: the Fringe productions which attracted the most interest and attention from our staff.

Of interest: 8 out of our top 9 this year are #FringeFemmeTO, and most of them deal specifically with female characters, female experiences and female-focused stories. We aren’t the first to report it, but this is shaping up to be a banner year for women at Fringe!

Presented in no particular order:

Birthday Cake

When Sarah Marchand turned 13, she threw a party — and nobody came. In Birthday Cake, she revisits this moment in her childhood, telling the story and mining the experience for comedy, drama and pathos. There’s something deliciously askew about this production, like a Chuck E Cheese house band playing Helter Skelter. Our writer Catherine Jan is ready for her slice:

I got excited about seeing Birthday Cake because of the first line of the play description:

“On my 13th birthday, no one showed up.”

I knew this was the play for me because I’ve had my share of feeling left out. I’m ready to hear the character out. It’s hard being a 13-year-old girl, given our changing bodies, our need for friends’ approval on everything, our desire to be treated like adults.

Birthday Cake plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.) between June 30 and July 10th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Daughters of Feminists

Daughters of Feminists will be rocking The Boat with a cabaret about millennial perspectives on what it means to be girly, womanly and feminist. Inspired partly by Nancy White‘s seminal “Momnimpotent” (an album-length skewering of parenting in the early 90s), featuring a new special guest every night, and starring the co-creators of last season’s Summerland and YPT’s all-new Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, we’re sure that this short-run production (just 6 performance!) will be packing them in. As Managing Editor Wayne Leung puts it,

I’m definitely a feminist ‘cuz you know your bae is woke AF as the kids say these days. But other than the subject matter the big draw for me with this show is the writing team of Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston, and Suzy Wilde who were the creatives behind Summerland, the show I was telling everyone to see at last year’s Fringe.

Daughters of Feminists plays at The Boat (158 Augusta Ave.) between June 30th and July 7th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Everything Else

Our writers have consistently loved sketch troupe Dame Judy Dench’s previous Fringe outings, and we have every expectation that this summer’s Everything Else Is Sold Out will keep it up. Indiscreetly, I think Dench (the Denchers? the Judies?) were robbed of a Patron’s Pick last summer: these whip-smart comics deserve their acclaim, and Ilana Lucas is looking forward to their all-new revue:

I’m a big fan of biting social commentary and self-deprecating humour, and I appreciate the irony that this is in fact a hot ticket! The sketch troupe Dame Judy Dench made serious waves last year with their well-reviewed “That’s Just 5 Kids In a Trench Coat!” – which I unfortunately didn’t get to see, so I’m atoning for my bad decisions. Plus, I can’t resist the show’s grandiose promise to cover “everything from situations to other situations.”

Everything Else Is Sold Out plays the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George St.) from June 30th to July 10th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Witches

Weird: The Witches of Macbeth is an attempt to tell an old story in a new way, drawing on aerialism, circus arts and original text and music in order to take some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and language in a different direction. This show did extremely well at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe, and Wayne Leung’s got his ticket booked:

This show combines two things I love: Macbeth, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays because of its dark, occult elements, and Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobatics, a physical performance discipline that’s both thrilling and beautiful to watch. I’m curious to see how successfully this show will marry those two elements.

Weird: The Witches of Macbeth plays the Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst St.) from June 30th to July 9th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Pirate Queen

The Pirate Queen of the Stars combines so many of our favourite things: a rich, promising theme; a company with an outstanding Fringe pedigree; a sense of humour which is apparent from their promo materials; and a show which explores love, space battles, and smashing the patriarchy. What’s not to love? Our editor Lin Young is totally on-board with the whole project:

This show just hit a dozen of my pings in one fell swoop: lady pirates, space opera, lovesick robots, and musical theatre! It’s just a perfect combination of things we need more of in the world. Plus, I can’t resist any show that promises space battles on stage!

The Pirate Queen of the Stars plays the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.) from July 1st to 9th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Skyler James

Local wunderkind Jordan “Governor General’s Award For Drama Before He’s Even #$^%ing 28” Tannahill‘s script for Get Yourself Home Skyler James explores the real story of an American soldier who, after getting outed, fled to Canada to escape a months-long barrage of harassment and threats of violence. Our government fought her at every turn, and her story is a potent exploration of dignity, identity, self-respect and safety. Chris Klippenstein, one of our new correspondents, can hardly wait:

I can’t wait to see this show! I love playwright Jordan Tannahill’s works (I’ve read all of his published plays, including this one) — they’re very edgy and contemporary, often exploring queer themes. Get Yourself Home, Skylar James is beautiful and heartbreaking on the page, and it’ll surely be a treat to see onstage.

Get Yourself Home Skyler James plays the 918 Bathurst Centre (918 Bathurst St.) from June 30th to July 10th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Adam Bailey

At Fringe, we’re used to seeing Adam Bailey as a director: perhaps you’ve heard of The Assassination of Robert Ford, Saint Francis Talks to the Birds, or 2012’s The Enchanted Crackhouse? But we can’t wait for his solo show, Adam Bailey is On Fire: he’s got the comedy and storytelling chops to put something incredible on that stage, and we expect something much sharper and cleverer than your mundane growing-up-gay, fish-outta-water one-man show.

Adam Bailey is On Fire plays the St. Vladimir Theatre (620 Spadina Ave.) from June 29th to July 9th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Bright Lights

Jiminy Christmas, have you seen the team behind Bright Lights? I won’t even bother listing the credits: suffice it to say that, if you remember a funny Fringe show, odds are pretty good that at least one person in this cast starred in it. And this all-new character-driven dark comedy about the logical conclusions of illogical beliefs is keyed up to blow the top off the lot. Wayne Leung, a braver man than I, takes a crack at name-checking:

The team behind this show constitutes the Toronto Fringe equivalent of a musical supergroup. Playwright Kat Sandler is a Toronto Fringe/indie theatre superstar and the cast includes Amy Lee, and Heather Marie Annis of Morro and Jasp, as well as Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson, aka Peter N’ Chris. With that calibre of the talent in the room, I’m expecting this show to be a hit.

Bright Lights plays the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave.) from June 29th to July 9th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Bitter Shrew

Okay, so I’m cheating: A Bitter Shrew wasn’t on the list when we started scheduling shows. But the instant Gillian English’s award-winning one-hander blew in the door (a late entrant, joining the festival about a week ago), ears perked up all over the place. Packed full of weird experiences and told with an edge every bit as sharp as her sword, this one is set to take Fringe by storm. Jess Gillis was the lucky writer to land this assignment, and she’s stoked:

Reading the description “… farted myself awake in a stranger’s bed…” gave me a sense of kinship, and also re-ignited my inner adolescent boy. I feel like I can relate to everything I’ve read about this show: awkward pregnancy tests, bitterness, and stressed-out boyfriends. Plus a bird-flipping lady with a sword? Yes please. I’m looking forward to a fellow bitter shrew imparting some needed wisdom.

A Bitter Shrew plays the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room (30 Bridgman Ave.) from June 29th to July 10th. See bottom of article for ticketing information.


Tickets for all Fringe shows are $12 at the door or in advance. They can be purchased 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.

Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.

Production images provided by the companies. Header image provided by the Toronto Fringe Festival.