The Life Henri, produced by Still Your Friend and playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, takes us on a vivid and touching journey through the life of nineteenth-century French painter Henri Rousseau. However, this show isn’t just for art lovers; performer Adam Bailey, directed by Laura Anne Harris, tells Rousseau’s story with great humour and humanity.
The Life Henri follows the rise and fall of Rousseau’s artistic career, making great use of a slideshow to illustrate the story. Bailey’s one-man performance is clever, compelling, and fun to watch. His enthusiasm for the twists and turns of Rousseau’s life was so infectious that I found it impossible not to be swept up in the story.
Bailey often touches on universal themes, such as the “accomplishment of being average,” yet he makes these ideas accessible by illustrating them through personal and specific anecdotes from his own life. I particularly enjoyed his story about seeing the Monet exhibit at the AGO. There is also some nice crossover between the story and the site-specific performance space; the art gallery atmosphere at the Alliance Française transports us easily into the world of the show.
The Life Henri explores a considerable range of emotions, from good-natured jabs at critics (yes, I heard you!) to tougher moments of adversity and challenge. Yet Bailey moves smoothly from one topic to the next; the flow always feels natural, never jarring, and I found the climax quite moving. Bailey also surprised me by drawing several unexpected but interesting connections between Rousseau’s life and Stephen King’s novel Carrie.
Overall, this is a fun, thoughtful, well-polished show. Rousseau may have had his work “murdered” by critics, but The Life Henri need not fear the same fate — at least not from Mooney on Theatre.
- The Life Henri plays at l’Alliance Francaise. (24 Spadina Rd.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- According to the paper program, the Festival does not consider this venue wheelchair-accessible.
- Thursday July 6th, 07:00 pm
- Friday July 7th, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 07:00 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 07:00 pm
- Monday July 10th, 07:00 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 07:00 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 07:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 07:00 pm
- Friday July 14th, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 07:00 pm
Photo of Adam Bailey by Mory Peterson