Staged in a loading dock behind a dormitory, the orchid beauty shop ‘s production of Rachel Ganz’s The Queen’s Eulogy is without a doubt one of the strangest plays at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. An absurdist piece set in a futuristic world of garbage, there is a faint whiff of its inspiration Pygmalion amid the manic dialogue and bizarrely naïve characters as red wine simply rains down from the sky.
Essy and Allan are a couple: a couple of drunks, a couple confused by the world they live in, a couple who don’t fully understand the terminology of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ but uses the language anyway. They reside in the underground portion of the two-tiered set.
Essy (Dayna Buonastella) clearly is not fond of Allan (Joshua Browne) and asks the sky for ways to kill him. On this day, Gerrard (Niko Ouellette) lands from above, cast out with a bottle of scotch and his encyclopedic knowledge gained from a past-life as a set of books. In fact, he regales us with the origin of mattresses aboard ships – which had me laughing quite hard.
Gerrard doesn’t really offer help but instead insight. And a trunk. Containing Bloody Woman and Horse Head.
The initial deadpan delivery of Bloody Woman (Joella Crichton) and Horse Head (Dustin Luck) during their pleas for help amuses but is ultimately quite strange. What type of help do they need? What are they escaping from?
This is a world you’ve never visited before.
Ultimately, we’ll learn that the Horse belongs to Prince – not the singer. And Allan will try cooking Horse Head as the head croons “It Was A Very Good Year” from the cauldron. Which – ever so slight spoiler – is about when Prince (Ellie Ellwand) comes to the rescue.
Some of the gags in this show are hilarious, like Miracle (Emily Bitton) on a skateboard or the prop propelling Prince’s entrance, built by Kira Hall.
The set design from Jinjia Zhang impressively spreads garbage everywhere in a controlled, evocative way that demonstrates how this could be the home of a weird couple.
Back to the couple, Buonastella and Browne go beyond dedication these roles. They shout and stumble and berate as they struggle to figure out what these new disturbances mean for their lives. It feels as if they have inhabited these deranged roles in their outside lives.
The tie to Pygmalion comes from how this is a piece about the definition of words like help or wife and our relationship to those words, people and concepts in society. Much is said in The Queen’s Eulogy about ownership – specifically of women – and the play often questions the agency that a woman should have over herself. As it should, it favours self-discovery and female empowerment with mantras like “Look at my pussy!”
And just as it seems like the play has become a political screed, multiple characters start singing “Ain’t Misbehavin'” as advice to Essy. To advice her to do… something.
See, ultimately, this absurdist piece lost me somewhere along the way. I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t follow it completely. That said, it definitely has places to go – even if they don’t make a lot of sense. The ideas behind this show are plentiful, and I thank director Tanya Rintoul for making them seem as coherent as they appear. And, of course, writer Rachel Ganz for offering us the roadmap to arrive in this possibly futuristic garbage world.
It should be noted; this is an outdoor show with ramshackle chairs and cushions laid out on a tarp. Initially, we were planning to review the show a few days earlier, but rain cancelled the performance. So choose a date with sun in the forecast if you plan to attend.
- The Queen’s Eulogy plays at behind St. Hilda’s Residence (U of T). (44 Devonshire Pl.)
- 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; Sexual content; Smoking; Outdoors.
- 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.
- Wednesday July 4th, 7:30 pm
- Thursday July 5th, 7:30 pm
- Friday July 6th, 7:30 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 7:30 pm
- Monday July 9th, 7:30 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 7:30 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 7:30 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 7:30 pm
- Friday July 13th, 7:30 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 7:30 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 7:30 pm
Photo of Joella Crichton by Tanya Rintoul