As I took my seat for GoodSide Productions‘ Old-ish in theToronto Fringe Festival at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, I was struck with two thoughts. First, “Oh yeah, heat rises, this might not have been the best seat to choose” and second, “This generally a much older demographic than most Fringe audiences.” I hope the latter changes over the course of the festival because Susan Freedman has an interesting story to tell, and its interest isn’t limited by age.
The piece is an autobiographical one-woman show, and while it addresses death and ageing, it isn’t full of angst or regret. There are, of course, moments of lessons learned, but they are always delivered with humour. Despite the title, the story Freedman is telling us is not limited to contemporary times while she is ‘old-ish’.
Stories switch between childhood and adulthood, signalled by subtle lighting changes. Unfortunately, this the only thing that seems to signal the switch. Freedman is an excellent writer, and I could imagine reading these stories and being thoroughly engaged with them, but her performance was missing something for me.
It felt like there was a kind of shield between her and the audience. There was a vulnerability in the words, but I didn’t feel it in the telling. It’s that vulnerability that a performer offers up that lets me engage with them. For me, that’s the intangible element I was looking for.
As odd as this may sound, given that this is an autobiographical story, it felt almost like she was not invested in the stories herself. As though she was not engaging with them. I would love to have seen her relax into the character, to feel like she was really there with us, to feel like she was telling a story to a friend. Perhaps it was simply an issue of first night jitters in a new space.
The seating in the backspace is steeply raked, so if a performer is not used to delivering in that kind of venue, it can be challenging. It felt like those of us in the back half of the audience were being ignored as Freedman delivered much of her story directly in front of her. It left me spending a lot of time looking at the top of her head and her forehead. This could be part of why it was hard to make a connection with her. I imagine that will improve as the run continues and she gets more familiar with the space.
With all that said though, the words were wonderful. This is an excellent piece of writing that I am glad I got to experience.
This review is based on the July 3rd, 2019 preview performance of the production.
- Old-ish plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson 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.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the front row.
- 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.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 6:30 pm
- Friday July 5th, 3:00 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 8:00 pm
- Monday July 8th, 3:45 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 10:15 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 4:45 pm
- Friday July 12th, 5:15 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 1:00 pm
Photo of Susan Freedman by Alan Silverman