Plays in Cafes (Shadowpath) 2018 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Mani Eustis, Rosanna Saracino, Coco LaRain from Plays in Cafes by Laura Katherine HayesShadowpath Theatre Productions have been staples of the Toronto Fringe scene for years with their Plays in Cafes. This year is no different and they’ve brought their ‘order your own entertainment’ style of theatre to the Poetry Jazz Cafe in Kensington Market for the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Settle into the chic and cosy bar and peruse the menu. Plays in Cafes does involve audience participation so be prepared to possibly be called on. The menu provides a teaser of what’s in store — are you in a bitter or sweet mood? Spicy or rich? Based on the flavors of choice for the audience of the evening, the play takes shape. For our evening, the audience eagerly called out Sweet and Spicy.

For Sweet, Maxine (Coco LaRain) is the jazz singer in a bar about to go on stage when she sees her boyfriend Joe (Asante Tracey) acting sweet with another woman. Her accusations flare and so does her rage.

Interluding the two “acts” comes the Dry and Bitter waitress played by Mani Eustis, who is sick of the cat calls and is ready to marry, on the spot, the love of her life.

Spicy takes the form of a night of speed dating with a twist – Steve (Scott McCulloch) has to list his desires in a match in terms of flavors and ends up getting far more than what he ordered.

Though I will commend the actors for their commitment and dedication to their roles — especially Eustis — I couldn’t connect myself to this show. I found the mini plays rather simple, with uncomplicated stories that lead to one predictable ending, and I wish they were further thought and fleshed out. I wish that there had been a bit more improv involved and that the two ‘flavors’ called out by the audience would have been used within the same play – a Sweet story with a Spicy ending or something to that effect.

With Spicy in particular, I found the use of the “flavors” as personality traits far too literal for my taste and found I lost interest quickly.

I didn’t expect the waitress to take over the narrative as quickly as she had, though when she did she proved to be the most entertaining. Her random pick from the audience as family members during her ‘wedding’ served up some good laughs and, as I mentioned, she committed herself to that role which sold it.

The concept for Plays in Cafes is a lot of fun and I see potential in a variety of ways that the concept can be taken — hopefully in the near future. Right now, it’s just not my jam.

Details

  • Plays In Cafes plays at the Poetry Jazz Cafe. (224 Augusta Ave.)
  • Tickets 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.
  • Content Warnings: Mature language; Audience participation; No minors admitted; Unconventional venue.
  • The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.

Performances

  • Thursday July 5th, 7:00 pm
  • Friday July 6th, 7:00 pm
  • Saturday July 7th, 7:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 10th, 7:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 11th, 7:00 pm
  • Friday July 13th, 7:00 pm
  • Saturday July 14th, 7:00 pm

Photo of Mani Eustis, Rosanna Saracino, Coco LaRain by Laura Katherine Hayes