Geek! (playing at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival) is a love letter to anime and fandom. Set in the final hours of a convention, our two protagonists encounter obstacle after obstacle on their quest to meet the creator of their favourite series, Dante’s Fire. With fate determined to thwart them, will they succeed, and will their friendship endure?
There’s a growing inclusion of live performance at geeky conventions: line readings are showing up in cosplay contests, improv is an increasing presence, and many conventions now prominently feature fully-realized musical tributes or other parody performances in their calendars.
The trouble that a lot of fandom performance bumps into is that even an outstanding, elevating tribute is meaningless to an audience with no investment in that series. And, in my judgement, Geek! runs face-first into this problem.
Geek! is set against the backdrop of a fictional anime series. The particulars of this universe are fed to the audience only in dribs and drabs over the course of the entire show. This would be tolerable if Dante’s Fire were a MacGuffin, but it’s actually a vital component of the “main” plot: audiences are expected to view the motives and behaviours of the protagonists and antagonists through its lens.
This is further compounded by three structural problems:
- I found that Geek! really struggled to differentiate between disposable riffing and vital information. Particularly with a script as dense and complex as this, audience members need strong hints from the cast (supplemented by sound and lighting cues) as to what we need to retain and what we can tune out. I didn’t think we got nearly enough.
- There are too many characters in this script. We could cut out half of them, lines and all, without putting a dent in the main plot. (And even among those left standing by this exercise, a great many struck me as overwritten: the audience doesn’t need a backstory for an archetype who delivers two lines and is then never seen again.)
- The show splits audience attention between three separate timelines (the action on the floor of the convention, a series of fan videos, and the anime universe which underlies all of the action), which doesn’t help with the information overload.
Taken together, these issues left me overwhelmed and increasingly irritated with the show.
There are some fine performances here. I especially liked Basel Daoud, who brings a commendable physicality to a number of challenging ensemble roles, and Jackie Mahoney, who has a way of commanding the stage in a show which desperately needs that kind of clarity. Truth be told, the whole cast is pretty good: none of them are letting the material down, and a number of scenes (particularly a bathroom confrontation) flow quite well.
But, so much of this show would benefit from a rethink. To me, it feels like the company wants to do an affectionate parody of comic-con culture, and a serious treatment of what cosplay and fanworks mean to participants, and a love note to the tropes and practices of the anime genre. With actors this talented, I wonder what they could have done by picking one of these goals and sticking to it.
- Geek! plays at the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst St.)
- 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.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. We recommend checking in with the venue box office at least 15 minutes before showtime.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Thursday July 5th, 8:45 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 2:15 pm
- Monday July 9th, 4:15 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 12:45 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 7:00 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 11:00 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 3:30 pm
Cast photo by Liz Bragg.