The Devil and Billy Markham (Chaos Theory Theatre Company) 2010 Toronto Fringe Review

By Megan Mooney

If you don’t already know Shel Silverstein’s piece The Devil and Billy Markham, picture a raunchier, graphic, and more profane grown-up version of something like Casey at the Bat set in good ol’ Mudville. Because of the rhythm and flow it feels similar, although, it’s certainly not something you’d be teaching your children to recite in grade school.

The piece is billed as ‘storytelling’, and it makes sense with this as the text they’re working from. Storytelling differs from ‘traditional’ theatre because the person on stage is actively talking to the audience, and although different voices are used, there isn’t the same focus on ‘developing a character’. In fact, for me, when it works best for me is when it feels as great as it did when my dad would read to me when I was a kid, using all sorts of different voices for the characters.

Storytelling for me is often a more intimate feeling performance than traditional theatre. More intimate, and more personal. Unfortunately, that’s where this one fell short. There is no denying that Tom McGee has some great talent as a storyteller (how could you not with a name like that? It’s the perfect story-teller name!), but there were a couple things in this performance that worked against him.

The first was the location. Fringe is an amazing festival that gives artists an amazing opportunity to produce their works, but when you’re dealing with 150+ shows, you can’t give everyone everything they want. Which means, as an artist you can state preferences for which venue you’d like, but there are never any guarantees. This piece is playing at the Royal St George Theatre. It’s a nice space, with good air conditioning. The thing that posed a bit of a stumbling block for this production is that the stage is raised, and the floor flat. It’s a format that works fantastically for a lot of theatre, but in this case, the result was a really strong feeling of separation between the audience and McGee.

I’m not sure there’s a way to address this, but I found myself wondering what would have happened if some of the piece was delivered with McGee sitting on the stage. It would bring him that teeny bit closer to the audience, which may have made a difference.

The other thing that proved to be a challenge for me was that there was no introduction, nothing inviting the audience into the performance. The beginning felt abrupt. I wanted to be welcomed, invited to enjoy the story, you know, all the stuff you expect when sitting around a campfire. Without it, I found it took me a very long time to engage with the story.

Eventually though, eventually I did engage with the story. I got into it, I got interested in it. McGee brought it to life and I started feeling like I was sitting in the livingroom with my family while my dad read to us. It just took me longer than it should have. Basically, I enjoyed the piece, I just feel like I could have enjoyed it *more*.

If you’re looking for a nice way to spend some blissfully air-conditioned time, you could do a heck of a lot worse than spending your time with The Devil and Billy Markham.

Details:

– The Devil and Billy Markham plays in Venue 3 Royal St. George’s Auditorium

60 min.
Wed, June 30 8:45 PM – 302
Sat, July 3 9:45 PM – 318
Mon, July 5 1:15 PM – 327
Tue, July 6 4:30 PM – 335
Thu, July 8 1:45 PM – 347
Sat, July 10 5:15 PM – 363
Sun, July 11 9:00 PM – 370

– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by Phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 ($10+$1 convenience fee)

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows