Women (Martha Rose Productions Inc.) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Isabel Kanaan, Sarah Gibbons, Rafaela Lewis, Shakura Dickson, and Jorie Morrow

What if Lena Dunham had written Little Woman? That’s the basic premise of Martha Rose Productions Inc.’s Women, playing at the Annex throughout the Toronto Fringe Festival. It’s an adaptation, but not a traditional one: the March sisters are all modern girls trapped in the bodies of their 1860s counterparts, and therein lies the gag.

It’s the kind of thing that could go wrong and get irritating so easily. Thankfully, Women is a total blast, mostly due to a clever core script and strong comedic performances across the board.

The writing here is whip-sharp, with a lot of jokes flying by at a rapid pace. If one doesn’t land, there’s another already gearing up to go, which keeps the whole thing feeling quick and fresh throughout its 80-minute run. A lot of the humour comes from hearing the modern-day delivery in a Victorian package, and it’s admittedly pretty funny to hear characters like Marmee or Mr. Brooks keep the old fashioned delivery while that of the March sisters is distinctively more Millennial.

It all rockets along at a quick pace that nonetheless never feels rushed, a credit to Seanna Kennedy’s tight direction. The tone hits somewhere between gleefully callous and winkingly meta, and it hits a nice sweet spot between goofball and irony. I laughed pretty hard and pretty consistently throughout.

Much of this has to do with the cast, which takes an excellent script and makes it soar with their quirky delivery and fast-paced banter.

Rafaela Lewis as Jo is hilariously bro-ish, her mannerisms boyish and her delivery wry. Lewis is adept at playing her lines two ways at once, adding a lot of casual irony to lines that the character means sincerely in order to highlight their absurdity. As the lead she’s eminently likeable and consistently funny, transitioning believably between younger Jo, all boundless enthusiasm and willful obliviousness, and the older Jo, who is a little older, a little wiser, but thankfully never too much.

Sarah Gibbons has a lot of fast talking to do as Meg, and a lot of the play’s best moments come when she’s just allowed to run her mouth off. Her thoughts tend to come gushing out, and it’s hilarious watching her just let them go without making much of an effort at all to stop them. Her line delivery is sharp and pointed, and she’s great at letting the audience know through subtle exaggerations when Meg is saying one thing and meaning another.

Shakura Dickson as Beth has one of the funniest running gags in the play, and she manages to do a lot with the thankless role of the punching bag. It’s hard to make sincerity funny, but Dickson pulls it off by playing up Beth’s patheticness, as she’s constantly trying to navigate around the egos of her sisters. If you keep your eyes on her reactions to the more chaotic scenes going on around her, you’ll see some really great, understated reactions.

Rounding out the gang is Isabel Kanaan as Amy, whose unabashed flightiness and sporadic, half-assed artistry makes for a character who doesn’t really change much–which is sort of subversively wonderful, and certainly hysterical. Kanaan’s Amy goes through life knowing what she wants, even if it’s just “being pretty, I guess.” I love how unapologetic she is about it.

Despite a strong cast and an excellent script, I did feel that the ending was somewhat weak. The show itself sort of acknowledges that it’s trying to wrap itself up quickly and easily, but the resolution of the “romance” between Jo and Professor Bhaer felt a little forced and fast. It’s the one spot where the structures of the original work seemed to shackle the adaptation somewhat–and to the show’s credit, I think it sort of acknowledges this. I just wish the last scene had been a little more willing to twist things around.

Really though, this is a minor complaint when taking in the show as a whole, which is so wry and funny and unapologetic that it’s endlessly entertaining. Go see this sharp and clever show–but maybe consider buying in advance, as opening night was packed full with a laughing, cheering, clapping audience.

Details

  • Women plays at the Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst St)
  • Tickets are $12. 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.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible provided you arrive early (at least ~20 minutes) and notify the House Manager you require an accessible route.

Performances:

  • Thursday June 30th, 08:15 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 02:15 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 02:45 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 04:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 08:45 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 04:00 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 12:00 pm
Photo by Seanna Kennedy/SK Photography.