To procreate, or not to procreate? In All KIDding Aside (Christel Bartelse/DutchGirl Productions), currently running at the Toronto Fringe Festival, Christel Bartelse (creator of previous Fringe shows Chaotica and ONEymoon) takes to the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace stage to make the biggest decision of her life.
The show chronicles Bartelse’s angst over whether or not to have children; at 37, it’s a decision that must come sooner rather than later. She analyzes what effect a child might have on her career and her life, and the fear that the choice may be taken away from her; she may not even be able to have children due to an incurable condition called endometriosis. The show can be raw and honest and sometimes quite funny, but it relies a bit heavily on some well-worn ground.
The promotional imagery (see above) led me to expect a more purely comedic exploration of the topic, but this is often a very serious and moving show; the kidding, in a way, really is an “aside” to the existential questions Bartelse poses. That doesn’t mean there’s no humour; from Bartelse’s dramatic entrance via “womb” to her impressions of baby showers from hell or mothers who have completely lost their identity, there were plenty of chuckles.
Bartelse also gets very creative with an umbilical cord prop, which literally and figuratively tethers the show, becoming the phone with which she calls her mother, a gynecologist’s stethoscope, or a straphanger’s lifeline. She’s a brave performer, and isn’t afraid to get into awkward positions, or to tell us the gory details of what giving birth really entails.
When I reflected on my experience of the hour, that’s what I found I really wanted: more details (not necessarily the gory ones). When the show gets specific, such as Bartelse talking about her mother, her personal experiences with health issues, or a hilarious story involving being paired with a child at a commercial audition, I was all ears. In these moments, it came alive.
However, a lot of time is spent on much more generalized fears, concepts, and musings that wind up sounding more than a little cliche. This isn’t because I didn’t identify with those fears; in fact, paradoxically, maybe I identified with them a little too much, so they all seemed like something I’d heard before or that had floated through my head at some point. Perhaps this would have seemed fresher to an audience member who didn’t have experience thinking about the topic; some of the “pregnant women are smug”/ “men don’t have to prepare for children”/“it’s tough to give up drinking” were a little stereotypical for my taste.
Sometimes, the shifts in tone between personal vulnerability and comedy club routine are effective, sometimes less so. I did question one (mild) joke made near the beginning at the expense of potential IBS sufferers in the audience during a show trying to deal sensitively with health issues. It wasn’t actively offensive, but seemed quite tonally off for a throwaway line.
On the other hand, a routine where Bartelse tries desperately and literally to juggle a baby and a comedy performance spirals out of control in a wonderful way that’s both painful and funny. It’s quite something.
I appreciated the fact that Bartelse didn’t offer any easy answers, because that’s life; the show acknowledges that each choice is a little loss, and you can regret not having what you don’t even want. The show also dares to ask whether artistic creation, in its own way, can be as satisfying and worthy a choice as procreation. As children are still seen as the default mode even today, it’s a question worth asking, and a discussion worth having.
- All KIDding Aside plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Tickets are $12 at the door or in advance, and 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. 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.
- Content Warning: Audience Participation.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Friday July 1st, 02:45 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 03:45 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 07:15 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 01:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 02:30 pm
- Friday July 8th, 11:30 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 09:15 pm
Photo of Christel Bartelse by Neil Muscott with design by Kurt Firla