Fantastic Extravagance (Steady State’s Best New Play shortlistee) plumbs Toronto’s literary scene, skewering the critics, the authors, the readers, and everyone else who has so much as touched a book in the last century. In this Fringe Festival serio-satire, a neurotic novelist kills off her fifth consecutive protagonist, and finally finds the success she craves — but when that protagonist starts to appear in her apartment, following her around and pleading for salvation, can she coax forth the energy to break out of her pattern, or will inertia and her inadequacies lead to her own final chapter?
The cast is consistently strong: Clyde Whitham and Allison Smiley do supremely evocative work as the author’s aging-boho parents (Whitham also does a brief but delightful turn as a high school English teacher); Jennifer Pogue’s Elle reporter is a show in itself; and Lindsey Clark, as the author who “has an extra brain where her heart should be”, takes a challenging character and makes her sing.
But while Janelle Hanna, as the author’s late protagonist, does masterful and engaging work, I found the role fairly superfluous: we certainly didn’t need her to be in practically every scene, and after awhile I found the performance repetitive — less a problem with the actor and more down to not giving her enough to do.
That’s, by extension, the main criticism I have of this piece: while there are some lovely bits, I walked away feeling it was less than the sum of its parts. The overarching message about difficulty in reconciling an author’s intentions with an audience’s understanding is not lost on me, but I was struggling to access this piece as a whole project, and thought it would have benefited from more linearity and fewer frills.
I also have to make the uncomfortable point that, from the first scene, this play felt like a play. In simple terms, it felt like someone was having such a fantastic time writing marvelous stage directions that they didn’t consider how these might actually work on a stage. I found the staging simultaneously crowded and empty: bits of scenery exist largely to be moved about during set changes, and as the piece doesn’t seem to have been adapted for the Randolph’s jumbo-sized thrust stage, entrances, movements, blackouts and minor business wind up taking an uncomfortably long time, while several bits of business were downright inexplicable — unless you know enough about theatre to guess at what the stage directions were.
However, despite these challenges, James Bolton’s design is a highlight: he has a clear eye for colour, and — holiest of holies for a Fringe-level show — his sets and costumes actually help push the plot along, rather than simply preventing the actors from going naked.
Fantastic Extravagance plays the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst Street, near Bathurst and Bloor.)
July 03 at 07:00 PM
July 04 at 11:00 PM
July 06 at 05:15 PM
July 08 at 05:00 PM
July 10 at 12:00 PM
July 11 at 09:15 PM
July 13 at 01:45 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photograph of the cast provided by the company. Photograph does not reflect final casting.