Desperate Church Wives (Under the Blood Productions) 2011 Toronto Fringe Review

Grandma Word (Diane L. Johnstone) greets you at the door with cookies and a dish of gossip. I am inclined to give any production that begins by feeding me cookies a warm reception (I really love cookies).

I have to confess though, one-handers have always been a tough sell for me. There are notable exceptions of course (d’bi.young’s Dora award winning performance comes to mind) but in general, I think holding an audience’s attention all by your lonesome for an hour is an ambitious undertaking.

By the time I was finished sipping my juice I was heartily impressed by the creativity and the work-ethic demonstrated by actress Diane L. Johnstone in Desperate House Wives, despite the above mentioned bias. Johnstone does a laudable job of bringing to life six different characters involved in a community imbroglio. The story is based on the biblical tale of the prophet Hosea, who was married to Gomer, a sex-trade worker.

Of course, I don’t believe that was the term that was in use at the time, and it’s certainly not the term the church women are using at the community meeting that we are all invited to participate in.

The show is quite funny and Johnstone’s comedic accent work is superb. Johnstone cleverly leaves the door open for touring. The characters and accents suggest the setting of a Southern American black church. By making “Jarvis and Gerrard” a key intersection reference, Johnstone was able to bring the story a lot closer to home and elicit a laugh from everyone. If mounting the show elsewhere, one need only discover the name of the key intersection in the relevant locale.

While transposed into the modern day, the ethos of the show is fairly consistent with traditional interpretations of the biblical narrative. Judge not lest ye be judged, let the sin-free throw the first stone type stuff. The characters were sufficiently engaging and funny that I was much less annoyed than usual by the sermon.

– Desperate Church Wives plays at Venue 23 College Street United Church – Ladies Parlour Room (Site Specific at 425 College Street).

– Playing:

Fri, July 15 8:00PM 2307
Sat, July 16 2:30PM 2308
Sun, July 17 2:00PM 2309

– 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