Personal stories, like Irv Production’s One Legged Dancer, are a staple of the Toronto Fringe Festival. These tiny wee autobiographies, when done well, offer insights and flavour that wouldn’t work in bigger, brassier projects: anyone remember Zehra Fezal’s Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, or Cameryn Moore’s Phone Whore, or Andrew Bailey’s The Adversary? These shows all needed a delicacy and intimacy in order to work, and their creators’ careful efforts to set and maintain that tone is what set them apart from the competition.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem I have with One Legged Dancer.
Ardith Irvine has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 14 years, and she doesn’t flinch away from it: this isn’t a show about overcoming or triumph, this is a show about how much MS fucks up your life. At moments when Irvine takes us into her confidence, there’s a clarity and purpose to her words: a story which ought to be heard, and a determination that it will be. Her observations are often as startling as they are insightful.
But these moments are less frequent than I’d hoped. For much of the show, she adopts a broad-caricature persona, a sort of sad clown. While this creates a distance between her and her on-stage presentation — which, in turn, may allow her to go further than her comfort level would otherwise allow — it also pushed me away from the story and broke the connection which formed during the more lucid and personal moments in the performance.
The narrative struck me as a bit of a jumble, with 2-3 plots competing for air. In a half-hour show, you need a strong focus on a single plot, or you’ll never reach the level of emotional intensity necessary for a real payoff at the end: instead of coming down on a high note, you run the risk of slowly deflating. I fear that a lack of focus draws this production towards the latter.
The musical numbers are, in my view, superfluous and a distraction from the story — especially as the plot often gets mangled in order to lead into a song.
Irvine has a lot to say, and a lot worth hearing. But in my judgement, this show suffers from a lack of focus which prevents it from attaining the level of intimacy and intensity necessary to work as a one-hander, and frequent shifts in tone and message rip through the delicacy of the stronger moments. There are at least three half-hour-long shows here, which might have been fine on their own; kludging them into a single performance was, in my opinion, a mistake.
One of the marvellous things about personal theatre is how readily it can accommodate “hard” emotions: the sheer unbridled rage in last year’s Jackie’s Not A Real Girl haunts me to this day. Irvine wants to take us to some dark and necessary places, and she has enough material to get herself there. I’d like to join her on this journey, but One Legged Dancer wasn’t the ticket.
One Legged Dancer plays the Tarragon Solo Room. (30 Bridgman Avenue, near Bridgman and Bathurst.)
July 05 at 03:15 PM
July 06 at 04:30 PM
July 07 at 07:30 PM
July 09 at 03:00 PM
July 10 at 06:15 PM
July 11 at 10:30 PM
July 12 at 06:15 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 Ardith Irvine provided by the company.
2 thoughts on “One Legged Dancer (Irv Production) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review”
I don’t know Mike, I get what you’re saying but I have to disagree. The journey to the dark place you’re describing has to happen more within OURSELVES rather than on the stage. I don’t think there was any more poignant way for Ardith to bring her message forward. Was I uncomfortable? Damn right. Was I worried when she paused just long enough for me to fear she may have forgotten her line (a common symptom of MS is forgetfulness – but I didn’t know that before I saw the show) OH yes! And I don’t understand how one could miss seeing a once beautiful and talented younger woman in her current struggled performance at her “audition”? DISmiss it? Yes, I can see us all doing that but MISS it altogether? No way. I couldn’t help but FEEL during those moments and as far as I’m concerned, like you, FEELING is what theatre is supposed to be all about. Yes, it is a basic performance and it might even seem “unpolished” too … but in many ways, I truly liked the way the production paralleled the disease itself. The polish all worn away and a real, metaphorically bare human standing before you with all the stuff that makes us squirm in our seats and face the way we’ve possibly been treating the MS human in the past. I changed because of this play and I think that’s worth everything. I give it exactly what it deserves two thumbs way up and I challenge you to go back and see it one more time so you can hopefully undo the potential damage you may have done to her cause by discouraging attendance. Two more shows – tonight, July 11th at 10:30 pm and tomorrow the 12th at 6:15. I hope you see it this time.
If you meet me in real life you would see I am exactly the person you see on stage. I have not adopted a persona of a sad clown. I have never shed a tear over MS. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and I never shed a tear about that either. I just deal with things as most who get this diagnosis do. Facts are facts. I hope you are never diagnosed with any illness, especially a chronic one but if you do feel free to contact me. I will introduce to you a whole community of people who cope with humour and have neither the time nor the will to go to the dark side. I do agree however that the flow is a problem, something I struggled with. But trying to get a lot of info out in half an hour in an entertaining way, I just had to accept that that was how it was going to be.
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