A few years ago, I saw Jon Bennet’s Fire In The Meth Lab and quite liked it, so when I saw his name again in the 2019 Toronto Fringe program, I clicked on My Dad’s Deaths: A Comedy. I expected tenderness, nuance, hilarity and a few of the kind of cheap jokes where you know it’s not kind to laugh but it’s still really funny. Though this is billed as a comedy, I was ultimately underwhelmed.
Bennet’s stories are about his dad, an accident-prone pillar of the community who looms large (very large) in young Jon’s life. His father, who should never have been allowed near a ladder or a soft drink, was his schoolteacher, coach and minister — casting a very, very long shadow. These stories are interspersed with stories of things somewhat related to his dad, including his dad’s favorite poet and the Facebook statuses of his Dad’s foster child’s best friend. Most of the stories are illustrated with slides.
But they fly past in such a relentless flow of words, so similar in their shape (“Dad injured himself badly with a common or ridiculous object, appeared to be dead, but lived!”) that the feelings can’t catch a break. I longed for him to slow down and take his time. The stories in My Dad’s Deaths: A Comedy weren’t very detailed, which made me long for a kind of organizing mega-story but that also didn’t arrrive. Instead, save for the last three or four minutes, I didn’t feel like Bennet did what I’ve seen him do before — describe a complex and nuanced character and let us ride shotgun with them on some journey.
I’ll confess that I am also not wild about the powerpoint slides. There are a few that give us visual jokes, but I didn’t care for the way they affected the pacing of this piece. It felt jumpier and more frenetic than I think it had to be (even besides my ongoing feeling that I’ve forgotten about a quiz). I wondered if the small and relatively quiet audience was speeding him up, as I’ve seen happen before, especially on an opening night. Bennet also makes a choice to include — in dramatic reading a la Poetry Night — the misspelled and grammatically questionable, expletive-studded Facebook statuses of (I made a discreet note) his Dad’s foster child’s best friend.
Honestly, I think Bennet rushed this piece out to have something new for Fringe season and shouldn’t have. It doesn’t meet the standard of his other work. There are some giggles here, but I’m not sold on the subtitle.
- My Dad’s Deaths: A Comedy plays at the Streetcar Crowsnest Mainspace. (345 Carlaw 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 (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; audience participation; for adult audiences.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday July 4th, 8:15 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 2:45 pm
- Monday July 8th, 4:15 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 5:45 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 2:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 10:15 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 2:15 pm
photo of Jon Bennet and his Dad provided by the company