I don’t know what I was expecting when I first read the description of One Left Hour: The Life and Work of Daniil Kharms, playing as part of the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. The description says “a battle between absurdity and realism” and really, this show is exactly that. Maybe somehow I expected more realism than abstract and absurdity. I was wrong.
One Left Hour is hard to describe. It starts with Daniil Kharms, an early Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist. It’s six different people on stage portraying Kharms, multiple versions and interpretations of him doing everything from babbling, screaming into the void, slamming a drum, running around the stage, dancing, and even miming sexual acts.
And yes, surrealism, absurdity, abstract poetry. It’s exactly as written. This performance is non conforming, bizarre and unusual, an assault on the senses, and all up for interpretation.
One of Kharms’ poems features prominently — a study of how a new idea dumbfounds a person who is not prepared for it. In essence, four different professions declare what they are, “I am a writer.” Their audience promptly responds with “I think you are shit.” And then the reaction – ‘The writer stands still for a few minutes, shocked by this new idea, and falls dead as a doornail.”
In a mock rehearsal, the various Kharms deconstruct this concept. What warrants such a reaction from both the audience and the writer? How is a doornail dead?
The various scenes that follow are cacophonous, disjointed, and lacking in any kind of flow or cohesion. Then again, that is exactly as to be expected. There’s a scene with a man in a trunk slowly dying from a lack of oxygen, while a woman entertaining a guest throws hot tea in their face. There’s one of the Kharm’s using a megaphone to briefly outline details of Kharm’s life. There’s a scene with a babushka lady telling a young man a story about a man that didn’t have a physical form and therefore didn’t actually exist and why is she talking about this?
There’s a moment where one of the Kharm’s declares “I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANY OF THIS!” which resonates profoundly with me because NEITHER DO I.
What I can say is with the subject matter at hand, this team committed themselves entirely to the material. The choreography and staging involved quite a bit of intricate body work from everyone involved and they gave it their all. It certainly created a show full of eye-catching visuals.
They even decided to go the route of being local and political, actually calling out the land acknowledgement announced before every Fringe show as a great way to make people feel good about themselves without actually doing anything to improve the life of Indigenous and other marginalised people. I ended up losing the direction of this rant when it became clear that he was getting a (mimed) blowjob while delivering it.
One Left Hour: The Life and Work of Daniil Kharms isn’t for everyone, I don’t think I’m one of them. I definitely didn’t walk away feeling any kind of fulfilment, more a sense of puzzlement and confusion. Then again, it’s also late.
- One Left Hour: The Life and Work of Daniil Kharms 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.
- Content Warning: Mature language and content.
- 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.
- Friday July 6th, 10:30 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 7:30 pm
- Monday July 9th, 12:45 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 5:15 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 12:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 11:00 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 5:15 pm
Photo of Jack Comerford by Nicole Wilson