Birthday Cake (Alma Matters) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Sarah Marchand Time for Birthday Cake at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2016! From Alma Matters Productions, Birthday Cake is an unusual and touching story by courageous actor Sarah Marchand. Come see it at Theatre Passe Muraille as long as you’re not on your first date with someone or with your straight-laced parents. This play will make you uncomfortable.

Birthday Cake is sad, hilarious, heart-wrenching, deviant and memorable. An actual birthday cake gets eaten, but there are things that get done to that cake that go beyond standard usage. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say that it went from awkward to out of this world, and that the stage required heavy-duty cleanup after the show.

Birthday Cake does not follow your usual linear story in which characters meet conflict and then find resolution. Instead we are invited to a party with the birthday girl, and there are monologues, gestures, dances, shadow puppetry, and a long pre-recorded conversation that all combine to reveal the main character’s struggles.

From what I understood, a traumatic childhood event led to feelings of loneliness and a loss of self-confidence: no one shows up at the character’s thirteenth birthday party.

We find out that the character later discovers the world of theatre where she feels somewhat in her element. On the downside, it’s a world where acting students can be criticized non-stop and where beauty has insanely significant value.

The theatre world is empowering but objectifying: perhaps this is what she’s communicating when she does bold things with cake on stage. She has our full attention when she’s doing her silly, outrageous moves. We are in awe. But she also seems to be a material good to be consumed.

There are sad and serious parts to this play. We learn that she is suffering from an eating disorder. Why would a beautiful young woman have bulimia? Because being skinny means being pretty. Because sweets are something to look forward to after doing things wrong all day. Because no one showed up at her thirteenth birthday party.

If you want to see a unique play that is bravely performed, go see Birthday Cake.

Details

  • Birthday Cake plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Ave)
  • 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.
  • Tickets 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.
  • Content Warning: Mature Language.
  • This venue is NOT wheelchair-accessible.

Performances

  • Friday July 1st, 10:00 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 01:00 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 04:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 10:15 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 03:30 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 08:00 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 05:45 pm

Photo of Sarah Marchand by Andrew Johnson

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3 thoughts on “Birthday Cake (Alma Matters) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. Catherine, thank you so much for this beautiful review. You made opening night a birthday party worth celebrating 🙂

  2. I got to see this one yesterday, and I’m still rolling it all around in my head. It’s an utterly confounding show, not just for its content, but for how it tweaks and shatters the formula we’ve come to expect from Fringe productions of this character. We talk a big game about “I can’t believe she went there!” and “I like how this one went to some really dark places!” and “this performer made himself so vulnerable!”, but Birthday Cake turns all of that out on its ass. This is genuinely like nothing else you’ve ever seen on any stage in the festival.

    And living with it rattling around in my head makes it feel like I’m going around with a secret.

    When people ask me “what’s your favourite Fringe show”, Birthday Cake isn’t the first one on my lips. It’s a dark, grisly, challenging and demanding piece of work. It is, emphatically, not a nice show for nice young ladies and gentlemen to enjoy on a nice day at the theatre: there are probably people in your own life who, if they knew you’d been to something like this, would think lesser of you for it. (And if they knew you’d ENJOYED it…)

    But there are also people in your life (and mine) who need to see this: who will enjoy the storytelling on its own merits, and appreciate the unconventional approach to a Fringe staple; who will relate to Marchand’s industry experience and the things it’s pushed her to do; who will see themselves in the darkest corners of Marchand’s story, and — I hope — will find something approaching commiseration and validation in a profoundly unexpected place.

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