Fort Isabel (Blood Orange Theatre and Deviant Productions) 2013 Toronto Fringe Review

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Fort Isabel, presented by Blood Orange Theatre & Deviant Productions at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace is haunting and sincere.

The venue itself creates a very specific dynamic between audience and performer. It is narrow and high. No matter where you are sitting, you are essentially looking down on whatever is happening and whomever it’s happening to. In such a position, characters always seem trapped and scrutinized. This is entirely appropriate in the context of this particular story.

Sarah Miller-Garvin’s simple and naturalistic script concerns the relationship between two friends, Jen and Clinton, and how their friendship changes as the result of terrible secrets hidden from each other and an oppressive community.

As children, they built a fort in the woods and it’s their secret hideaway. As they get older, the fort becomes a symbol of their bond. That bond is threatened when they discover a beaten and dying transgender woman lying by the side of the road (whom they first mistake for a man).

They decide not to tell anybody and let the body be discovered by others. They tell each other that it is because they do not want their secret fort discovered, but we eventually learn, as secrets are revealed, that the real reason is far deeper and darker. They don’t want to deal with how deeply resonant and symbolic the murder is for them personally.

The script deals with the difficulties of growing up gay in a rural community. This particular perspective, in and of itself, is no longer particularly intriguing to me despite the fact that it relates quite directly to my own childhood. In Fort Isabel, the specifics and framing of the story resonate, and the subject matter seems fresh again.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of Jen and Clinton’s story is its examination of the way relationships change when secrets are revealed, how it forces us to re-frame our understanding of someone and re-define a relationship.

Jennifer Krukowski is honest and guarded as Jen, a young woman with a tough persona, protecting herself from an intolerant community. Victor Pokinko, as Clinton, evokes a quiet desperation. This is a young man who has the desire to be open, but his attempts are thwarted by his own timidity.

The performances and stagecraft effectively suggest the unseen details of these characters’ lives, and the community that has shaped them. But the second half of the play does get tedious.It isn’t sufficient for dialogue to just be natural; it must also build character and advance the plot. There is a good ten minutes where the conversation circles itself without much purpose.

The play does end well though. And by that, I do not mean happily. It just plays its final note brilliantly, and leaves you satisfied yet unsettled. Clinton and Jen have chosen two very distinct paths, and we are left to imagine where they will end up.

This is very good theatre. With a tighter script, it could even be great theatre.

Details:

  • Fort Isabel is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.).
  • Performances:
    July 3 – 10pm
    July 5 – 4:45pm
    July 6 – 5:00pm
    July 8 – 11:00pm
    July 9 – 8:30pm
    July 10 – 3:00am
    July 12 – 7:00pm
    July 13 – 4:30am
  • Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10 ($5 for FringeKids), cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
  • Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows

Photo of Jennifer Krukowski and Victor Pokinko provided by Blood Orange Theatre & Deviant Productions