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.