This year, Mooney on Theatre is bringing a team of more than 25 correspondents to the Toronto Fringe Festival. With a team this big and diverse, no matter what you’ve got to show us, we have someone who wants to see it — and we will! As always, Mooney on Theatre will post a longform review of every show in the festival (~160 shows in all!) by the end of opening weekend.
But for now, a little buzz: our Hot Tickets are the shows which excited, attracted, intrigued and interested our team more than any others. These are the pieces which turned our heads, tickled our brains, and caused stampedes at scheduling time. Presenting, in no particular order, Mooney on Theatre’s Hot Tickets for Toronto Fringe 2018!
This ambitious drag musical, helmed by a Dora-winner, looks colourful, political and off-kilter. A queer fantasia set in 1990s Toronto, where artists have gathered to imagine a “magical world of power, beauty and sisterhood” in contrast to a drab reality. Our correspondent, Sam Mooney, can’t wait to visit:
The Ding Dong Girls is based on one of the playwright’s experiences running a drag troupe in Toronto in the early 1990s and I always enjoy plays that are based on real events, or that use real events are a starting point. That alone would probably be enough to make me want to see it but it’s a musical. I love musicals, the songs, the singing, the dancing! There might even be tap dancing; I’m a fool for tap dancing. There’s definitely drag so the costumes will be flamboyant and the makeup, over the top. It all sounds so wonderful. I can’t wait,
We don’t see a lot of grotesque at Fringe, which is why this spine-tingling tribute to classic horror has us all excited. The ambitious premise (classical circus acts with terrifying twists) has a few of us running for the exits, screaming as we go — but if this is up your alley, rejoice: you’ve found your people. Our writer Istvan Dugalin counts himself among them:
The promo image for this show has the word “HORRORS” written in bright red and dripping blood—like those VHS tapes I rented back when I was a teenager, thrilled to have some campy, grotesque, shrieking fun! Put the promise of that experience on stage with acrobatics thrown into the mix and—well, take my money!
And my, isn’t this one delicious: the moment we saw the promo shots, we knew what a decadent treat CARMILLA would be. Drawing inspiration from pre-Dracula vampire fiction, this gothic tribute to creatures of the night is packed full of song, dance, burlesque and ribaldry.
Lin Young, our editor, will be packing a mirror to check reflections:
I’m teaching a course on Victorian horror fiction this fall, and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s lesbian vampire novella Carmilla was one of the first books I put on my syllabus. It’s sexy and tragic and super atmospheric, so I was super excited to see how the world of that novel would transfer to a local Toronto bar, with burlesque and cabaret elements on the side. This one was top of my list, no question: it looks stylish and romantic and appealingly gothic.
Oh, do I love a good farce — and evidently I’m not alone! While they have a reputation as scarcely more than a protracted excuse to do spittakes and get women in and out of improbably skimpy costumes, they also demand a timing and precision which few actors can master, and a well-written farce (an Orton, an Ayckbourn, a Feydeau, and — indeed — a Shakespeare) can open doors as readily as it slams them shut.
Seeing two of this city’s best improv and comedy companies (Howland and Bad Dog) collaborating to contrive a new show every night has made my summer. Lin Young, our correspondent, shares my enthusiasm:
The cast of comedians is solid as hell, and the premise of improv built around a core tenant of so many classic farces really grabbed me. I tend to be picky about improv, but a solid gimmick will often prompt me to take a chance, especially if I’m curious about how it’s all going to fit together. I liked that this one came with a neat, intriguing elevator pitch.
Do you believe in ghosts? Rap once for yes, twice for no.
Lago di Lupi Productions certainly does, and they invite you to visit with Nell, who has a certain gift. Finding herself surrounded by true believers and charlatans, all of whom want her her gift to be real, there’s little to do but hold a séance and try to reach beyond the veil.
Our writer, Karen Seeley, hopes to lay a finger on the planchette:
When I learned that there would be a play at Fringe that would feature ghosts, I said, “Yes, please!”I am so excited that I will be seeing Restless Spirits. It is only fair to confess that I believe in ghosts, even though my education has taught me critical thinking. My inner cynic questions those who claim to speak to ghosts, and I wonder how Restless Spirit will deal with this question of whether or not ghosts are real. I have never been to a séance, and I’m looking forward to participating in one with the rest of the audience.I’m curious how it will be done, and I’m open to what happens.
A lot of the shows on this list have a snappy little zing, but Six Stories demands we be pensive. Weaving together several French-Canadian folk tales into a work about friendship and common stories, this journey to the “otherworld” promises to leave audiences with a new perspective on the power of narratives, and how our common inheritance of fairytales and folk stories impacts us all.
Joel Pettigrew’s going to cover it for us, and it’s right up his alley:
Six Stories Told at Night is a veritable checklist of things I love. Faerie Tales, trans-media storytelling, voice acting, a spooky forest; this play has it all! As a fan of the more sinister side of fairytales, (and French Canadian folklore can get pretty dark) I am excited to see how the award winning podcast brought to life by writer KT Bryski and actor Blythe Haynes translates to the stage.
Honestly, I’d watch Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster read the phone book: throw in Cass Van Wyck and I’m completely sold — and the promise of a new script by a marvellous early-career playwright had our writers competing to land this new drama about how we inhabit and think of shared spaces in a world where “sharing” has taken on novel, commercial implications.
Longtime contributor Istvan Dugalin snatched the brass ring on this one, and he’s committed:
I’m a sucker for intense two-handers. A couple of desperate people in a room, simmering tension, the threat of violence—sign me up! I regret having missed two highly acclaimed plays by Michael Ross Albert last year—Tough Jews and MISS—and I’m determined not to let that happen again. Also, I’ve yet to be disappointed by David Lafontaine’s direction.
With nearly as many actors as audience members, this site-specific story of love among the gods will surely charm and tickle theatregoers of all ages. And, hey: even if you mostly show up for the wine tasting, when this many people get together and put all their love into a project, you know there’s something special going on.
Lin Young is looking forward to a little Greco-Italian flavour:
There’s a lot going on in the description of this play, which really grabbed my attention straight away. It’s a little more mysterious-sounding, which is exactly why I wanted to try it out. That, and the promise of Greek mythology, wine tastings, and a site-specific venue were enough to seal the deal. I also can’t resist the lure of live jazz.
We love musicals at Mooney on Theatre, but, I mean, real talk: when I say “dance tribute to Gene Kelly”, that’s probably all you need to know. You’ve either brought a ticket, or you’re scrolled past.
If you’re one of the few who are on the fence, maybe Gene himself can sway you:
Catherine Jan, our writer, couldn’t resist his appeal:
I’m excited to see Anatomy of a Dancer even though it’s way past my bedtime because it’s a tribute to Gene Kelly. I’ve always enjoyed watching him sing, dance and twirl his umbrella to Singing in the Rain.
This sci-fi musical built around colourful shadow puppetry has already toured across western Canada and Japan, and the reviews are out of this world. A satirical cautionary tale about the death of the planet, performed by an award-winning, ocean-hopping, world-class company, you’d be remiss to miss this hippopotamus.
Our Fringe contributor Jaclyn Enchin does not intend to be left behind:
This show already has a lot of hype including best overall show at the Victoria Fringe Festival, but why wouldn’t it? It’s shadow puppets in space! I’ve seen shadow puppetry before and I couldn’t get over the simple magic of it. I knew I had to see this.
Tickets for all Mainstage and Site-Specific shows (including all those listed above) are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
Some productions have content warnings: check the production’s website for details.
This year, for the first time ever, the Toronto Fringe Festival assures us that every venue at the festival, including all Site-Specifics, is both itself wheelchair-accessible and equipped with an accessible washroom.
Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
All production photos provided by the Toronto Fringe Festival on behalf of participating companies.