Fairy Fails is the debut solo show for Meander, known to many as the Dot Dot Dot from the Montreal drag family House of Laureen. The show introduces Meander the Fairy, and is the tale of a fairy prince destined to rule, but who sadly cannot fly. It’s a fairy tale that’s sweet and delightful, a joyful reminder of what it’s like to be a child full of innocence and wonder.
Unlike the stereotypical play where all the characters talk, Meander the Fairy is silent, communicating with the audience through facial expressions, gestures, and dance moves. Meander is innocent, endearing and sweet without being annoying.
He is helped along in the play by director and stage manager Sam Jameson, who also provides narration. Jameson and Meander met during Glam Gam’s production of Peter Pansexual, in which Meander played the role of Twinkerbell.
The only other voice in the play is that of the witch, whom Meander plays via swift and hilarious costume changes. The bitter old raspy-voiced witch is a perfect foil for Meander the Fairy’s glittering innocence.
Jameson’s narration is reminiscent of the kind you would hear in children’s television and film. Mature and parent-like while still maintaining the humor.
For those of you who know Meander as Dot Dot Dot, the fariy is a far cry from his drag persona. Meander’s background is in a Canadian style of clowning called Pochinko, which he learned at the Manetoulin Conservatory for Performance and Creation (known as the ‘Clown Farm’). It’s a style of clowning reminiscent of the late Charlie Chaplin, and Meander does it well.
He came up with Meander the Fairy with the help of his clowning teacher Francine Coté, who developed the character’s costume and taught him that your clown character should be an expansion of who you really are. Where Dot Dot Dot allows Meander to explore his fiercer side, Meander the Fairy is cute, demure, and graceful. Meander’s makeup has hints of classical French clown with a few bright colors and some glitter thrown in.
Not everyone will like Fairy Fails. A friend of mine felt it was too simple and childish, but it is for those very reasons that I loved it so much. With all the terrible things going in the news and around us, sometimes we need a show that allows us to shut our minds off for the sheer joy of watching a fairy learning to fly.
Fairy Fails is a show that allows you to do just that. See it if you can.
Dave Merheje is a comedic force to be reckoned with. Growing up in Windsor, Ontario to Lebanese immigrant parents, he worked for a sightseeing company along with other odd jobs, soon after, he got into comedy.
Since then his star has only risen; he’s played at multiple Just for Laughs festivals in Montreal, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Halifax Comedy Festival, and his 2018 comedy special Good Friends, Bad Grammar was nominated for a 2019 Juno Award. This year, Merheje is appearing at Just for Laughs as part of The Ethnic Show and a solo show at Katacombes as part of Off-JFL & Zoofest.
I had the opportunity to sit down with
Merheje at Just for Laughs HQ downtown.
As he’s doing The Ethnic Show this year, I asked if he considers himself to be an ethnic comedian. He smiled, calling it a tricky question and said that he never sought out to be an ethnic comic, but sharing his culture, upbringing and experiences may lead others to perceive him as such.
He considers his comedy to be closest version of himself, on stage as off stage. Early on in his career, he says a fellow comedian advised him to avoid talking about his ethnicity because “everyone was doing it”. It led him to shy away from the sensitive material, until, while talking about his father to another comedian, they suggested he discuss it on stage, now he embraces the subject, and so do audiences.
Merheje portrays his family as this
hilarious dichotomy between his calm serene mother, and his aggressive
matter-of-fact father. I asked him how his family feels about how he represents
them, and he said they’re “dope” about it. Though his father won’t be at Just
for Laughs, he comes to many of Merheje’s shows including the Juno Awards this
“They can take it.” He says, “they understand it’s humour and they’re not offended.”
Merheje says that some people build their own narratives about him when they find out he’s Middle Eastern, and he considers it his job to tell his truth on stage. He has experienced problems with xenophobic heckling before, with one heckler asking what age he learned to detonate bombs, but he rolls with the punches because at least the comments are said to his face.
He said some Middle Eastern people enjoy his comedy while others think he’s giving people the wrong impression about his culture but if they do. It’s on them, and he’s still going to keep doing what he does.
When I asked Merheje how feels about Montreal
audiences compared to others, he said they’re a very comedy-savvy audience.
“It’s a good energy. They watch comedy, they see it every year, it’s the biggest festival in the world so they’re here for it. They’re hip to it.”
Merheje is grateful for all the extra
attention he’s been getting lately but is determined to maintain a proper work
ethic. He knows that you can’t buy into the attention too much or you can get
hurt when it doesn’t go your way.
I asked him if there was one thing he could
say to audiences, what would it be.
“Just have fun. Don’t take everything so personally. It’s just a show. It’s entertainment. Just have fun with it.”
In addition to his set at Just for Laughs’ The Ethnic Show and his solo show for Off JFL & Zoofest this year, Dave Merheje can also be seen on the Hulu show, Ramy, where he plays the main character’s devout Muslim friend (a character he says is very different from himself). Check him out.
A Brief History of Time is a show with a daunting task. It aims to present a heavily abridged history of physics in just an hour. The snippet I saw at Fringe for All gave me high hopes for the show and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s creator and Artistic Director of Théatre du Renard, Antonia Leney-Granger. She said the show was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time and that all the scientific theories in the show are accurately presented.
She added that the portrayal of the historical context of the discovery of those theories should be taken with a grain of salt as they were tweaked to make the show more funny and relatable. Though the show is very educational, Leney-Granger admits that her background isn’t in science or teaching.
“I’ve always had a very curious mind and bucketloads of hobbies and interests: I’m interested in learning the basics of pretty much everything, from pottery making to quantum physics! A Brief History of Time started me off on a path that became the mission of my company, Théâtre du Renard: disseminating complex or seemingly inaccessible ideas to a variety of audiences through the playfulness and poetry of object theatre.”
For those unfamiliar with object theatre – sometimes referred to as object puppetry – it’s a kind of theatre where objects are used to create a story with characters. In the case of A Brief History of Time, Leney-Granger uses everything from troll dolls to paper lanterns to magic eight balls to teach the audience about Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Hubble. The ensuing show is informative, funny, and enlightening.
I asked Leney-Granger what her target audience is and she said it was created with adults in mind, but she has also performed the show for high school groups and even kids age ten and up. She has had physicists and scientists come to the first shows and aside from a few vocabulary changes, they were very happy with it.
It should be noted that there is some content in the show that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for younger audiences. There are mentions of alcohol and orgies that may make parents think twice about letting their kids see it. If Leney-Granger has a tweaked version that leaves these things out, the show will be a definite hit among groups looking for educational entertainment that’s fun, engaging, and available in both official languages.
You won’t just see a woman playing with toys on stage, you’ll receive an education on the theories about our universe, the philosophers and scientists that developed them, and the hidden figures that contributed to their development but were never credited. In addition, the setup of the show is fairly light technically, so it can be done in a variety of settings.
What makes A Brief History of Time particularly special is its timing and use of sound. There is no wasted time in the piece and the audio jokes and pop culture references are everything you’d hope they would be.
Though Montreal Fringe is over, Théatre du Renard is planning to take A Brief History of Time on tour in Quebec and internationally, so you may have a chance to check it out.
Whether science, history, or physics are your thing or not, go see A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.
The Moaning Yoni was a show I was prepared to hate. While I’m all about demystifying women’s bodies, health, and sexuality in fiction and non-fiction, I find the idea of a show devoted entirely to a single body part repugnant. I was however, pleasantly surprised when I finally got to see it.
The show is the brainchild of Joylyn Secunda, an actor, dancer, and singer from Vancouver, who created the piece out of a desire to create a solo show that expressed something personal.
“At the time I had just came out as asexual and was thinking a lot about how I fit into society as an ace, female-bodied person. I began to explore different characters and developed the show through a lot of experimentation and play.”
The show follows the heroine Zoë through a journey of self-discovery during a “Yoni Healing Circle”, a sort of yoga class devoted to honoring and nourishing “sacred feminine organs”.
Secunda, clad in red harem pants and a matching long-sleeved crop top, plays almost all the characters in the play, including Crystal, the class instructor, Zoe – the show’s protagonist, Zoe’s “Yoni”, Zoë’s promiscuous college friends, and the men she’s dated. The only character she doesn’t play is a male voiceover done by voiceover performer Adam Bergquist, who clearly represents the condescending patriarchal voice of ‘reason’.
At the beginning of the class, the Crystal hands the students a magic elixir and asks them to apply a small amount to their vulvas. The effect causes Zoe’s yoni to talk, resulting in the first pleasant surprise of the show.
The Yoni in question is portrayed by Secunda as a Yenta: a shrill, nagging, opinionated old Jewish lady. I grew up with women like this, so while I appreciated the portrayal and found it hilarious, those unfamiliar with Jewish culture and Yiddish expressions might not understand all the words expressed by the Yoni in her anguish and irritation with Zoë.
The struggle between Zoë and her Yoni was fun to watch, as it even included a dance with a giant tampon.
The show is unfortunately not without its flaws. Secunda sings a few songs in the show that go on far too long without contributing to the story. The ice cream song about sex with frat boys and the multilingual song praising mother earth were repetitive and could easily have been cut in half without sacrificing the play’s message of self-love.
Where The Moaning Yoni really shines, however, is in its merciless attack on all the things a woman navigating her health and sexuality has to deal with. Everything from sexual assault, to online dating, peer pressure, to bad kissers, to toxic masculinity, to oral sex, to snake oil peddlers selling dangerous vaginal insertion devices – the latter clearly a dig at Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, to pubic grooming is mercilessly lampooned by Secunda during the show.
There are parts of the show that are triggering so sexual assault survivors might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s still worth watching. Secunda is incredibly talented, with her supremely expressive face and body carrying much of show. If Jim Carrey is the male rubberface, Secunda might just be the female equivalent.
Secunda hopes that audiences walk away thinking about the nuances of their own genders and sexuality and the affect it has on their relationships. Some men might have reservations about seeing the show as she pulls no punches in her descriptions of negative heterosexual male behavior. When I asked her about it, she said the show is as much for men as it is for women. Her message to potential male viewers is that:
“Toxic masculinity hurts men just as much as it hurts women and non-binary people. I hope by watching Zoë’s journey in the play, you might have a better understanding of an experience that is different than your own. It’s a really fun comedy for anyone, no matter your age, gender, sexuality, or culture.”
The Moaning Yoni is a piece with a lot of potential, and if anyone is wondering whether Joylyn Secunda can carry a whole show, the answer is yes. She just needs to do a little trimming.
I’m generally skeptical of one-man shows because I know they depend on the charm and talent of the star, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl.
The show stars Shane Adamczak, a native of Perth, Australia, who first introduced the Zack Adams character to Fringe Festivals in 2006. Following the success of his show The Ballad Of Frank Allen, Adamczak has brought Zack Adams back.
It should be said that the show’s subject matter is nothing original. It’s the story of a cis straight man, Zack Adams, discussing through song and story the women in his life, his travels, and his professional mishaps as a performer and children’s drama teacher.
I had the opportunity to email back and forth with Adamczak prior to show so I asked him if the character was based on anyone in particular.
“Zack is based partially on me, partially on people I knew in drama school, but mostly a figment of my imagination. I like to think of him as a cooler alter ego…like my version of Ziggy Stardust. He’s evolved a lot over the years; he started as a nervous performance poet then became a struggling actor, a time traveller and then a folk rock star. It’s nice to find an outlet to live my rock star fantasies, I suppose.”
People have compared the show to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Adamczak is super flattered by the comparison as he’s a big fan of the book and film adaptation. He admits that there are a lot of similar themes with regards to music, reflecting on past relationships and how they can change you as a person. Adamczak’s portrayal of these themes through Zack Adams is however a lot fresher and more fun.
While Hornby’s hero is deflated and loveably sad, Zack Adams is funny, a little angry, and almost frenzied in his storytelling. There are gags in the show you won’t expect, and rants – sometimes in song, sometimes without – that will make you laugh.
He says Bob Dylan was the primary musical inspiration for the show with “a bit if cheesy 90s pop thrown in too,” something that will appeal to the thirty somethings in the audience. What really sells the show is Adamczak himself, who is charming and looks far too young to have been touring for ten years.
You won’t just be watching a schmuck on stage with a guitar, you’ll be watching dance moves and hand gestures and tales of hilarious misery all packaged in a ginger Aussie in an 80s punk-inspired studded denim jacket.
When I asked Adamczak what he would say to people thinking of seeing the show, he said:
“ABSOLUTELY do it. Bring your sister, brothers and significant others, we’ll make a night of it and you’ll leave smiling with a bunch of weird funny songs stuck in your head.”
Zack Adams says in the show that if a show is good, you’ll be talking about it with your friends for two weeks, but if it’s a bad show, you’ll talk about it forever. I’ll be talking about this one for at least two weeks. In the meantime, go see it! It’s worth it.
Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl plays two more times at the Montreal Fringe, June 14th and 15th. For tickets and info: montrealfringe.ca
The Man Behind the Curtain is a hard show to review. Inspired by magic, the show is cramped, unpredictable, and uncomfortable, but it’s also fast-paced, hilarious, and intense.
The venue is set up in the apartment of co-writer and director Sam Jameson. Anyone who feels squeamish about attending a performance in someone’s home is missing out on a great show. Productions Presents describes the show as:
“A series of fantastical vignettes that are all tied together by the theme of magic… The show consists of the performance itself, the physical space around you, and the how the physical space changes over the course of the show. “
The Man Behind the Curtain stars Erik Leisinger and is directed by Sam Jameson who met on themet on the set of Glam Gam’s Fringe Production, Peter Pansexual, when Sam was director and Erik was a performer. They worked together again last year on Glam Gam’s Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story – currently the highest grossing Fringe play of all time.
In 2018, Jameson and Leisinger founded Productions Presents, a company for the work they produce together. When I had the chance to speak to them, the question on my mind was whether Jameson or Leisinger were actually magicians, given the show’s magic theme.
“Neither Sam or Erik are professional magicians, and quite frankly can’t really do magic to save their lives. Fortunately, Erik Leisinger’s childhood friend, Erin the Magician is a hotshot magician from the west coast and has helped us throughout the process.”
You will see magic tricks in this show, but they’re nothing spectacular, and as a viewer, you really won’t care because you’ll be too busy laughing. Unlike the classic theatre setup where audience and performance spaces are separate and distinct, The Man Behind the Curtain is immersive theatre, a type of show where “the entire performance area is a part of the show, and the audience has far more freedom to interact with the performance environment and the performers themselves.”
As audience members you won’t be picked on by the performers, but you will be expected to participate a little. That said, the venue has extremely limited space, with a maximum capacity of ten people.
Shows are often sold out so get your tickets in advance. You won’t be disappointed!
The Man Behind the Curtain runs through June 15. Tickets available at montrealfringe.ca
Spurt of Blood is NOT production for the faint of heart. It will make you uncomfortable physically and psychologically, but if you can tough it out I guarantee you a theatrical experience like you’ve never had before.
I had a chance to speak to Director Marissa Blair about what audiences should expect. She informed me that they are active participants as well as observers.
The layout of the performance is not your typical theatre layout. The audience is brought into a room with an oval of chairs surrounding the stage area, with only a couple of gaps to allow the cast in.
Each audience member is handed an LED light and instructed to turn on the light and swirl it above their heads if they decide they want to leave. Should they decide to do so, there will be no re-admittance and no refunds.
Disclaimers out of the way, the stage area’s only door is sealed with black duct tape and the lights are dimmed.
Spurt of Blood was written by philosopher Antonin Artaud when he was developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.
“The show is what Theatre of Cruelty calls for, an attack on the senses. It is aggressive, and I take some risk in creating sensations – the Cruelty is the body’s necessary response. An audience member will hear, see, smell, feel, and possibly taste. It’s primal, and very effective.”
True to what Blair said, it IS an attack on the senses. Audiences are left in the dark half the time, with only flashlights, lit matches, or video projectors allowing us to see what’s going on.
You’ll hear recordings of music, and of noise. You’ll see images and videos projected onto the ceiling. And you’ll hear a variety of languages from French to English to Dutch and some you may not recognize.
There will also be riveting performances; Kathy Slamen was particularly powerful as the spotlight illuminated her harrowing tale of being diagnosed with cancer. Later in the show, she sang along to The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again with the vocal prowess that would make Annie Lennox proud. Tofunmi Famotibe was beautiful as the joyful, dancing seductress in a red dress.
Some performances will make viewers uncomfortable. Jeroen Lindeman was so effectively creepy, his performance led to a couple of viewers raising their LEDs. He remained perfectly still as the lights went on so they could be led out of the room, before it was re-sealed, the lights dimmed, and the show went on.
Marissa Blair warned me that audiences should expect to be splattered with non-toxic washable stage blood, purchased from a small company in Chicago, Illinois. What she didn’t say is that the venue only has one bathroom, and the blood is VERY sticky – “a wonderful sensorial experience!” but only if you like being covered in syrup.
Some audience members – myself included – embraced being sprayed with blood, for in the moment it feels great and you truly feel part of what’s going on. Unfortunately with nowhere to clean off after the show, those considering seeing it should invest in a pack of wet wipes or pray that it’s raining when you’re out of the venue.
I had sticky fake blood in my hair, on my clothes, and all over my hands and arms. I marched straight from the theatre to the nearest shower as fast as I could.
Though the massive spurts of blood were a truly climatic moment, the show continued, something I felt was unnecessary. The spraying blood was so powerful why not end on a high note?
That said, I had no idea what to expect when I went into Spurt of Blood, and I found myself enjoying the mindf*ck it gave me. If you’re afraid of the dark or squeamish around blood, don’t see this show. But if you’re feeling brave, and you have a raincoat and wet wipes, check it out!
Just don’t wear white.
Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood plays at the Montreal Fringe until June 15. Tickets and info: montrealfringe.ca
The Montreal Fringe Festival is a festival for the underdogs. As Fringe Spokesperson and Board President Helene Simard said at the festival launch, Fringe is a place for people who want to put on a show but have always been told “no”. Whether you’re a female artist, an artist of colour, a non-binary artist, or on an LGBTQI artist, “Fringe always has room for you.”
The Montreal Fringe Festival is huge, with hundreds of artists putting on shows from May 27th to June 17th. With so many shows to choose from, it’s hard to pick what to see.
One way to choose is to go to Fringe for All, an event that takes place on opening night of the Festival. At this event, anyone with a show at the Fringe can take the stage for two minutes to give prospective audiences a taste of what their show is about.
It’s an endurance test, as some of the snippets you see confirm every negative stereotype about independent theatre. But if you’re willing to tough it out, you’re going to find some real gems.
I’m here to help. Below you’ll find some of my pics for the best shows at Montreal Fringe 2019. Please note that I have tried to offer recommendations in a variety of genres and languages.
Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?
There is something inherently funny about a cutesy character behaving like an awful human being, and if the snippet I saw is any indication, the R’Iyeh Theater Company’s Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?is going to be a blast.
A man came on stage in a clown costume with a blanket over his head, screaming angrily. Then he pulled off the blanket, revealing a clown wig and red nose, handed an audience member an apple, and pulled out an axe.
It was short but hilarious, and by far the best snippet of the night.
Les Plaisirs Interdits
Some of the best comedy is about contrast, and like my last recommendation, Productions Belle Lurette’s Plaisirs Interdits offers just that.
The characters presented were prim and proper and in period costumes– a nun, a priest, a maid, and a very conservatively dressed upper crust man and woman. I was about to roll my eyes… and then they opened their mouths, and what came out was a slew of hilariously lascivious songs about sex and sexuality.
It’s a French language production, so if you have a poor grasp of the language you might not get all the jokes, but if you can manage, check it out!
House of Laureen Presents: Mx. Queerdo MTL
If you love drag, you need to check out Mx. Queerdo. Presented by House of Laureen, a Montreal-based drag family. The show stars Uma Gahd, and is all about a pageant, Mx. Queerdo.
If the snippet I saw is any indication, it’s going to be a blast!
I’m not much into dance shows, but if I were to see one at Montreal Fringe, it would be Eva Kolarova Danse’s show Re-Imagined. The twenty-five-minute show explores loneliness and relationships with contemporary dance.
Their two-minute bit at Fringe for All featured a dance at once graceful and erotic, portraying without words the complexity of human relationships.
Happy-Ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling
In the era of so much anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec, Happy-Ish is a show worth seeing. Vadim Gran’s solo storytelling show is about a Russian immigrant trying to navigate life in Canada.
The bit I saw featured an angry bearded Russian man holding a smiley balloon while trying to smile to make himself more approachable… And failing spectacularly. It was hilarious and a good indication of things to come.
One thing Fringe heavily encourages is seeing a kind of show you never have before and opera is certainly outside the box for many.
Though the art form has a reputation for being more for rich old people, the snippet of Opera Reviens-Moi I saw was approachable and funny, and the actors certainly have the pipes befitting the genre. It looks to be a marriage of the classical and modern and a good way to introduce people to opera.
Fairy Fails is the story of a fairy who can’t fly. Starring House of Laureen’s Dot Dot Dot, it looks to be a treat for anyone who loves glitter, twinkles, twirls, and fairies.
A Brief History of Time
This play specializes in presenting complex concepts in a simplified, approachable format. Their presentation at Fringe for All used a variety of toys and props to explain astrophysics.
If you’re interested in the unknown but don’t feel like opening a book, check out A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.
L’Appel du Vide
Anyone who ever went through a witch phase in high school will want to check out L’Appel du Vide. It’s the story of a grieving witch who decides to perform a ritual to bring about the end of the world.
It looks hilarious and the bit I saw told me it will have all the theatrics a witch story needs.
The Aventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca
Following a successful award-nominated show last year, Philo 14 is back with an English sequel to their French language puppet show Les Aventures de Humphrey Beauregret.
Director Marissa Blair assures you that there will be blood in Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood, but it’s blood that will wash out. An immersive theatrical experience featuring a cast of characters as interesting as they are creepy, it’s play written by philosopher Antonin Artaud while developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.
Though the snippet at Fringe for All was mostly disclaimers about the kind of blood in the show, it looks to be a sure thing for people wanting something a little different.
The 2019 Montreal Fringe Festival runs May 27-June 19. Full Schedule: MontrealFringe.ca
The weather is warming up, the city is a war zone of traffic and construction, and this only means one thing: it’s festival season in Montreal. On May 22, 2019 media reps attended a press conference for the 37th edition of the Just for Laughs festival. At the event, media members, myself included, were treated to a preview of the festival to come, and it looks to be a great one.
Wanda Sykes is coming to town to host a gala on July 26th, joining comedy stars Howie Mandel, Hasan Minhaj, and Jim Jeffries, who are all hosting their own galas. Trevor Noah is back to do a show, and festival staples like Brit-Ish and The Ethnic Show are back, with Jimmy Carr and Cristela Alonzo hosting.
The festival is also featuring rising stars like Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng, and American Nicole Byer. The Nasty Show, a festival favorite, is being hosted by comedian Bobby Lee this year.
Just for Laughs is a festival known to have launched the careers of Ali Wong, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, and Margaret Cho. Every year they offer an opportunity to new faces in comedy and this year is no exception. In addition to their regular New Faces series, this year will feature New Faces: Canada, featuring rising Canadian stars in comedy.
In addition to the regular fare, this year’s festival highlights the achievement of great women. Just for Laughs will feature Certain Woman of an Age, the critically-acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show by Canadian icon and international mental health advocate (and mother of our current Prime Minister) Margaret Trudeau. The show will have a three night run at the festival, from July 25th to 27th at Gesu.
The Second City Toronto is also bringing their show, She the People, to Just for Laughs, a sketch show created, written, designed, and performed by women, tackling everything from the patriarchy to the government.
This year also brings the return of the Zoofest/Off-JFL festival. Since its creation in 2009, this festival prides itself on giving more room to the next generation, allowing creators more freedom to do shows outside the traditional box of regular Just for Laughs fare. An added bonus is that tickets to these shows are generally cheaper too.
Artists this year include Ron Funches, Adam Conover from the hit College Humor series Adam Ruins Everything, Cameron Esposito, Sasheer Zamata, Andy Kindler, and the Lucas Brothers.
All that said, Just for Laughs 2019 looks like a blast. I’m going! Are you?
James Mullinger has a very interesting story to say the least. A few years ago, he was living a celebrity-filled life in London, England as an editor for GQ. Now, he lives in New Brunswick and is building a name for himself on the standup comedy circuit.
FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with him before his Almost Canadian Tour arrives at Montreal’s Theatre Sainte-Catherine this Wednesday:
James Mullinger will perform Almost Canadian this Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30pm at Theatre Sainte-Catherine, 264 rue Ste-Catherine Est. To win a pair of tickets, simply comment on this post, or on FTB’s Facebook share with your favourite city or town in New Brunswick. You can also tweet your favourite city or town in New Brunswick to @forgetthebox
We’ll randomly draw the winner from the entries we receive and announce who gets the tickets Wednesday morning. If you don’t win, you can buy tickets through ThePointOfSale.com.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.
I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.
Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.
Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.
“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”
Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.
There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:
“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”
The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.
“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”
As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.
With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.
For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.
On a chilly night in November at Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, a band takes the stage. At a microphone on one side is a drag king, looking somber and sad as a solitary figure in a cloak covered in stars and stripes walks on stage to the tune of America The Beautiful.
Suddenly the figure, seemingly a blonde woman glamorously made up, turns, grabs the central mic and breaks into her number Tear Me Down. It’s the opening of In the Wings Promotions production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its title character, Hedwig, has just taken the stage.
This is not your typical play. Based on the so-called “off off off off-Broadway show” and film by John Cameron Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask who was present during opening night for a post-performance Q&A). It’s the tale of a “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who gets a sex change in order to marry an American soldier and cross over to the ally-controlled Western side of the city at a time when the Soviet Union restricted access.
It is not a play featuring many characters played by many actors, nor are there elaborate scene changes. The story is told almost entirely by Hedwig while she and her band, the Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak, perform across from a venue where her last spurned love, the star Tommy Gnosis, is playing to crowds of adoring fans. Her storytelling is interrupted by the show’s numerous songs, including the famous sing-along Wig in a Box.
Andrew Morrissey plays Hedwig. He does a fine job showing her struggles with her sexual identity, finding love, and peace with herself in America. His makeup, wigs, and costumes, done by Jess Beyer and Sig Moser, are faithful recreations of what people have come to expect of the character: black leather, denim, and studs that are staples of eighties and nineties rock outfits, Hedwig’s blonde curls with their signature center part, and the garish blue eye shadow, penciled eyebrows, and red lipstick.
Morrissey is unsteady in his high heels at times and his singing is occasionally pitchy, his German accent ranging from pronounced to non-existent. That said, he has the stage presence and the emotion the character requires. In the parts where Hedwig is coming unglued, you never doubt the sincerity of it.
It is not, however, Hedwig that steals the show in this production, but rather her second husband, Yitzhak, played by producer Noelle Hannibal. Clad in the beard and shapeless clothing of a drag king, her portrayal conveys the depression, fear, and passive aggressiveness of someone in an abusive relationship.
You feel it in every gesture, in every insult muttered under his breath, and in every passive reaction to Hedwig yanking the microphone from his hand when his powerful feminine voice breaks through hers. While Morrissey’s performance was very true to form, it is Hannibal’s portrayal that I remember the most clearly from that night.
The band, known as The Angry Inch never misses a beat (despite some issues with the sound system that night). Though they are clearly musicians first, they do have some acting talent and interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak throughout the show.
The show also featured animations by flash animation artist, StickdudeSeven. While they lacked colour and were less stylized than the animation in the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie, they did suit the material well. Unfortunately, the stage was not set up to truly do them or the projected lyrics for the sing-along justice. They were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage that was so low to the floor that Hedwig, standing in front of the stage, often obscured them. A set up that was higher or ever above the stage would have been easier to follow.
All that said, the play is a lot of fun. The story is sincere and relatable to anyone struggling with gender identity, domestic abuse, artistic expression, or just finding oneself. The music is catchy and uplifting with the occasional hint of guttural sex. Check it out.
* Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays Wednesday, November 21 and Thursday, November 22 at 8pm at Cabaret Mado, 1115 Ste-Catherine Est. Tickets available through In The Wings Promotions
Halloween is upon us and in Montreal that means just one thing: fastening your garter belts and doing the Time Warp at the city’s Rocky Horror festivities!
As always there are two events in Montreal to partake in: the Halloween Ball at Cinema Imperial and the live musical play put on at the MainLine Theatre. The Imperial ball involves a costume contest and a screening of the film accompanied by actors miming the show on stage. Audience members are invited to yell out call lines, dance, and throw stuff during strategic points in the show.
With scores of drunken attendees and the risk of being hit with a toilet paper roll, the Halloween Ball is not for everyone. If you want something a little tamer but still very much in the spirit of Rocky Horror and Halloween, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show at the MainLine Theatre is a sure bet.
This is the original musical play the 1975 film is based on. The actors on stage are all actually singing and dancing and the MainLine’s production contains a few artistic changes that may throw off die-hard fans of the movie and former attendees of the Halloween Ball. Though you are not allowed to throw anything during the play, audience members are invited to do call lines and even heckle as many of the actors give as good as they get.
Elyann Quessy reprises her role as Janet from previous years and it’s a role she does well, maintaining the girlish squeak and feigning unease as she becomes more and more comfortable with her sexuality. Though her singing is pitchy at times, it fits the character perfectly.
Adrian MacDonald also reprises his role as Brad this year and he is a talented singer and performer. Though his portrayal of Brad is never hammy enough for my tastes, MacDonald does an excellent job of portraying the stereotypical cis straight male forced to face alternative forms of sexual and gender expression. In the current political climate here and abroad, perhaps this is the Brad we need.
Cassandra Bluethner is once again Columbia and her portrayal this year is a massive improvement. Unlike last year, she offers a lot more of the squeak and cuteness one would expect from the character. Instead of a teenager in the “I hate everyone” phase, we have a more authentic groupie, in love with Eddie but enamored with Frank N’ Furter and addicted to the drugs the latter offers (shown in the play as sprinklings of glitter).
Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz reprises her role of Magenta. This year, though, she doesn’t sing on Science Fiction Double Feature, leaving vocal duties on the opener to Lindsay Miller as the Usherette, complete with skimpy costume and a box slung around her neck. Though her part was a bit smaller, Kulaga-Yoskovitz provided one of the biggest laughs I had during the performance.
Kenny Streule resumes his role as the Narrator – the character fans of the film will know as the Criminologist. It’s a role Streule does well, keeping a straight face in even the harshest heckles.
The true star of the MainLine production is Stephanie McKenna, who reprises her role as Frank/Dr. Frank N’ Furter. Though she’s dropped the English accent of previous years, her snark and strut are on point and her physicality is a sight to behold.
She is the first actor I’ve seen in the role to slip seamlessly from lying down, to a headstand before jumping into a standing position. She is also the first Frank I’ve seen with the physical strength to simulate sex positions most people find difficult.
This year’s production features a few newcomers.
This year the role of Riff Raff was cast gender bent, with Meghan Vera Starling in the part. Her portrayal was good; she had the right amount of creepiness and the BDSM vibe they gave her character explains why Frank beats her during the play.
Unfortunately her singing suffered due to her excessive use of the vibrato in which, on a particular note the singing voice sounds like it is vibrating or pulsing. It’s a vocal style that doesn’t suit the character, making much of Starling’s singing sound more like an American Idol audition than part of a musical number in Rocky Horror.
While in previous years the roles of Eddie and Dr. Scott were played by one actor (Kenny Stein for the past two editions), this year they were split. Eddie was played by Mathieu Samson and Dr. Scott by Nicolas Mancuso. Both were good in their respective roles, but nothing outstanding.
David Hudon is also new to MainLine’s production, taking the role of the beautiful creature Rocky, and he was perfect for it. Of all the past Rockys, he is the first one to come close to the physical type the part calls for and Hudon actually does a few push-ups and takes a few poses. Though Rocky has few lines in the play, Hudon manages to portray the character’s just-been-born naiveté with empty smiles and body language.
One of the stars of the production that deserves mention is the band, led by Katharine Paradis on saxophone. The music was always on point and helped further the play’s jokes along through their strategic use of sound effects.
There were a few changes that threw me off. Though all the songs were included, some scenes were changed that put some of said songs out of context. For example (spoiler alert) in the dinner scene, Rocky comforts Janet, causing Frank to get jealous, thus triggering the song Wise Up Janet Weiss. This version does not feature Janet’s interaction with Rocky, giving no context to Frank’s sudden rage against her.
Despite the difficulties, the MainLine show is worth checking out. It’s sexy, it’s catchy, it’s fun, and you’ll laugh yourself silly, if not from the play itself, then from the audience’s brutal heckling.
Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show runs October 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31 (all shows 8pm) at MainLine Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent. Tickets available at MainLineTheatre.ca
The History of Sexuality is a play that is going to make you uncomfortable, but the reasons it will are the very reasons why you should see it.
Following a successful run at the Mainline theater in September 2017, it was selected as part of Pride 2018’s programming. Playwright, director, and producer Dane Stewart set out to write a play about queerness and power dynamics and the result is a piece that is visceral, heartrending, intellectual, sexy, and authentic.
The play revolves around a Master’s seminar about Michel Foucault’s book, The History of Sexuality taught by Marie, played by Renée Hodgins. It is through this seminar that the stories of the professor and her students are tied together. Though they have their own lives and relationships with power dynamics and sexuality, they always end up in class to talk about Foucault.
Hodgins’ portrayal is partly of the stereotypical passionate university professor doing her best to make her students think, while at the same her character is given depth through her relationship with her long-term partner, Gayle, played by Haitian Canadian actress Melissa Toussaint.
Gayle is disabled and the struggles between her and Marie to maintain intimacy despite the disability are relatable and real. Toussaint’s Gayle is one of the most faithful representations of the struggle to live with disability I’ve ever seen on stage.
You feel her frustration as she struggles to find a job not only as a black woman, but as a disabled black woman, and you see the deflated look of depression so many disabled people have when Toussaint is on stage. It is a look similar to that of Madeleine, a black woman struggling with depression while doing her best to maintain her relationship with Alissa – played by Kayleigh Choiniere.
Madeleine – played by Jazmin Illidge – is a woman struggling to find her place in the world despite being a black lesbian with depression. You feel the listlessness in her portrayal and the impact on her relationship with Alissa, who works as a stripper. Alissa shares her struggles with being objectified in her work and her portrayal is a good demonstration of how ordinary and likeable strippers can be. In the play, Alissa is asked to introduce her classmate Talia (played by Katherine King) to stripping.
It is Talia and Darr, the play’s transgender character played by Darragh Mondoux, who are in one of the most important parts of the play. This section addresses sexual assault, and is overlaid with audio clips of an interview Dane Stewart did with an actual sexual assault survivor.
It mercilessly addresses the fact that it is the female victims’ accounts that are always put on trial and not men’s, and with every graphic detail, audiences are made profoundly aware that coercion or the simple violation of the accepted terms of a sexual encounter can turn a consensual encounter into a rape.
The play also includes an interview with a male self-professed perpetrator of sexual violence. It is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s an important one that we need to keep talking about.
The History of Sexuality also addresses kink, which is another topic that might make people uncomfortable. Craig – played by Trevor Barrette – is a student in Marie’s class, but he also works as a gay male escort, and is into puppy play. You see him being whipped by his master Martin, played by the Oliver Price who comes off a bit cold but well-suited to the part, as well as some simulated pee play that may make some people squirm.
That said, Barrette’s Craig is sweet and loveable and the relationship between Craig and Martin helps to demystify some aspects of kink. The portrayal also addresses the issue of emotional abuse while highlighting the power submissives have in BDSM relationships, a notion that is typically misunderstood. After Fifty Shades of Grey, we need more realistic portrayals of kink like this one and Stewart, Barrette, and Price certainly did it justice.
The History of Sexuality does have its flaws.
The portrayals of the characters in prostitution seem to minimize its dangers. The classroom scenes can get a bit boring and heavy with intellectual discussion, though they do succeed in addressing the viciousness with which some people on the Left speak to those with opposing views.
David Hudon is perfect as John, the stereotypical cis white male who is a slave to the gender binary and adheres to essentialist notions of differences between sexes. You feel John’s defensiveness constantly when he is on stage as well as how quick his non-gender conforming classmates are to attack him. Though the character has no backstory, Dane Stewart admitted in an earlier interview that the character is meant to represent the majority of men women and queer people have to deal with regularly.
The History of Sexuality is the kind of play we need more of. It’s not perfect, but it helps to demystify many aspects of sexuality many cis straight vanilla people would like to ignore but cannot. If you identify as queer, disabled, or trans, or a person of colour you will see aspects of yourself on stage and feel the power of being adequately represented. If you’re a woman who’s been victimized in the past, you will feel vindicated. If you’re cis and straight, the play will hopefully make you realize that people are people. For this reason alone, it’s worth seeing.
I had no idea what to expect when I entered the Mainline Theatre to see Brave New Productions’ staging of the Martin Sherman play Gently Down the Stream. I knew that the play was part history lesson, telling the history of the persecution of gays in the United States, but I had no idea what the format was going to be. As a reviewer, it’s often best to go into historical plays without any prep – a true test of how well the play tells the history without boring the viewer.
The play is set in the London flat of Beau, a gay pianist from New Orleans, whose claim to fame was being the accompanist to cabaret singer Mabel Mercer in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The history of gays in the United States is told by Beau to his young English lover Rufus, who is fascinated with history and into older men.
Beau’s knowledge of the past is fragmented and Joe Dineen’s portrayal is at once sincere, funny, and heartrending as he describes losing a lover to the terrorist attack at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, and another to the AIDS crisis. Dineen’s Beau comes off as veteran-like and sweetly grandmotherly.
It is not, however, the history lesson that sets this play apart. It’s the sincerity with which the relationships are portrayed. The age difference between Beau and Rufus – the former is in his late sixties, the latter in his late 20s – is a constant point of contention, as is Rufus’s mental illness. The on-stage kisses between the two men seem real, not forced, and you get a feel of genuine intimacy between all the characters and a sincere snapshot of gay male domestic life.
Sean Curley’s Rufus is one of the most realistic portrayals of Bipolar disorder I’ve seen on the stage. Montreal native Daniel James McFee is sweet and saucy as the tattooed performance artist, Harry.
Brave New Productions’ play is not perfect. Though he never breaks character, Joe Dineen seems to have trouble remembering his lines from time to time, though he does recover quickly enough. Sean Curley’s British accent slips here and there, and while his portrayal of depression is on point, it lacks the look of deflation depressed people usually have. People who aren’t into history or domestic scenes may find parts of the play boring, but they brought a tear to my eye.
If you want to laugh and cry, and learn a little and see scenes separated by beautiful old timey music, you need to check out Gently Down the Stream.
* Gently Down the Stream is playing at the Mainline Theatre from August 2 to 11th. Tickets and info through MainLineTheatre.ca
** Featured image by Donald Rees, courtesy of Brave New Productions
Montreal Pride is upon us and with it tons of amazing entertainment! Whether you like drag shows, workshops, films, plays, or parties, Pride has something for everyone, all it requires is that you have an open mind and not be a bigot.
The History of Sexuality is one of Pride 2018’s many theatrical offerings. It started as a low budget two week production at the Mainline Theatre in September 2017 and was selected to be part of Pride’s 2018 programming. It was also recently awarded a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec (CALQ).
The History of Sexuality is producer/director/playwright Dane Stewart’s creation. He had the idea while doing his Individualized Master’s degree in Theatre, Communications and Gender and Sexuality at Concordia.
“I knew that I wanted to write something about queerness in Montreal but I didn’t know exactly what the format of the play was going to be,” the playwright said in an interview.
Stewart was more interested in the method of writing, so he had the idea to do interviews. The play is based on a series of interviews he conducted with queer people living in Montreal which he then worked into his script.
Many of his subjects were friends and acquaintances, while others were second and third degree connections he made by reaching out on social media. In order to tell their story faithfully, he offered copies of his script to interviewees for feedback in cases where he used their actual words in the play, and made sure he had everyone’s consent to include them.
“One of the things I wanted to incorporate while I was writing was a feedback mechanism,” he noted, “I used their words in the script, I then returned the script to them with those scenes so they could reflect on whether or not they felt they were adequately represented and if they felt they hadn’t been, I worked with them, usually one-on-one, to address those issues.”
I asked Dane about the title of the play as many would see the title and assume they were getting a history lesson. Dane explained that the play’s title comes from a book of the same name by the philosopher Michel Foulcault.
“The History of Sexuality is kind of a bland book,” Dane said with a smile. “But it’s a sexy title. Put that title on something and pair it with a sexy image and people will come see it.”
He said that audiences will see a show that’s really sexy.
“There are on-stage representations of sex and there are all these different types of queer relationships represented,” he explained, “so there is a really sexy element to it. It is also highly intellectual. It doesn’t approach sexuality just to say ‘come and watch these people get naked on stage’, it’s ‘come and let’s watch people represent sex on stage and then let’s analyze the power and the truth and the dynamics that go into that.”
Stewart is not worried that he’ll lose audiences by being too intellectual because he admits that he’s not going to appeal to everyone:
“It’s been really a process over the three years I’ve been working on it to pare down the intellectual theory and really make it digestible and I think we’ve done a half decent job of that. People will have a fair number of questions hopefully…It’s about analyzing what power dynamics look like in our sexual relationships, what power dynamics look like in our romantic relationships, how we’re socialized and raised into those power dynamics and how do we, moving forward as a society, start to deconstruct that to make society as safer place for expressing sexual identity.”
I asked Stewart who he feels needs to see this play the most. He said the two groups are members of the queer community and, for the educational side of it, straight men.
“I think we’ve done a decent job representing real, honest queer experience on stage. A lot of representation of LGBT folks you’ve seen still is like a stereotype and we really work to overcome that so I think there’s a feeling of empowerment in seeing that representation.”
Regarding straight men, Stewart mentions that he recently incorporated an edit into the script. It’s a scene that will show in upcoming performances in which a woman recounts an experience of being sexually assaulted overlaid with audio clips from the actual interview he did.
In the scene the actress is speaking in dialogue with the actual audio clip. Following the #MeToo movement, Stewart really wanted to address that issue in his play, “and especially address what can men do improve their own actions, to address their own behaviors.”
“I incorporated an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with a man who identified as a perpetrator of sexual assault so we actually have the actress who’s playing a survivor of sexual assault interviewing another actor whose speaking from text from that interview. It’s intense, for sure, but I’m hoping to give straight men a point of access to say ‘Ok, I’ve heard all these conversations, I’ve heard all these women and others sharing their experiences of violence maybe I’ve perpetrated that but how do I recognize that and how do I start to move forward and be a better human.”
In the era of #MeToo and a growing recognition that sexual identity and consensual expressions of it is not something to be ashamed of, The History of Sexuality sounds like the kind of play everyone needs to see.