Fringe: The Fringe’s sweet 15

The Fringe’s sweet 15

Screwed and Clued's Tales from Another England

Hour gets pumped for the Fringe Fest's Biggest Evuh 15th birthday party

So the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival is 15 this year, and, like the petulant teenager it is, will likely prove itself as confounding, annoying, charming, overwhelming, stupid, funny and unexpectedly insightful as any exuberant adolescent fresh out of their cage for summer vacation.

That the festival is titled Biggest Evuh is both a boast and an apology: The fact that it’s sporting 95 companies at 11 indoor venues, special events and a Fringe POP outdoor music stage this year means that it is humanly impossible to navigate the options with any kind of intelligence, so best to just abandon yourselves to the excess. And you won’t hear any sorrys from the Fringe office: Far be it for the parents of kids who’ve been told there are no rules to go apologizing to the neighbours for their late-night shenanigans. And this teen Fringe has enough fractured personalities to keep itself occupied for days.


The responsible older sib who finances her own international plane fare and multi-city accommodations; the level-headed eccentric who manages every year to actually make a living with great shows; the standout. The sure bet.

Big brother While the little ones are struggling days before they open to come up with something, anything, TJ Dawe’s got six shows in his back pocket ready to go, and will casually perform them all for you, thus making it possible to pay six times and never see the same show twice. My pick: Tired Clichés, from 1998, a historic time before TJ Dawe was TJ Dawe.

Studious frère Kier Cutler goes back to his roots for Fou de Shakespeare, a translation of his original lecturer-as-performer shtick Teaching Shakespeare. At the Fringe cabaret, the new rendition actually seemed significantly funnier than the original – something about all that overenunciated high school French.

Musical prodigies The Grafenburg All-Stars think they have a thing or two to say about hip-hop, which they’ve successfully franchised on the Fringe over the past three years. Their Hip-Hop 4 Dummeez gives funk virgins a lesson in lovin’ the beats. Jerome Sable’s advice to novices: "Start having hip-hop sex immediately. Hip-hop sex is, like, the best sex there is – it’s in-your-face, sweaty, dirty, honest, funny, silly, clever, irreverent, full of double entendres, and it’s got a great thump to it." Just don’t tell your parents.

Saucy sister Australia’s Nicola Gunn, a perennial solo darling, is An Unfortunate Woman. "She’s delusional, manipulative, cold, impatient and uncaring," deadpans Gunn of her title character. "Oops, that’s my mother."

Bonded brothers When Sabotage creators Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen decided on a name change, they sent all their characters into a room to fight it out. In the end, the Nigels seem to have prevailed: The boys have emerged as Pajama Men in Stop Not Going. The key to their absurd relationship? "The secret to maintaining a long-term creative partnership," says Chavez, "is to treat it like a marriage: Have patience, learn to compromise, and promise never to leave one another for a younger, funnier person."

Sages and saviours Screwed and Clued’s Justin Sage-Passant tells Tales From Another England, with a tour of the seedy underbelly of his homeland, and, in a final debauchery of all the younger sibs, The Reefer Man pays a visit in the form of solo man Russell Bennett’s "criminal comedy." Then, in a token attempt to prove that all teens are not corrupt, Never Surrender Saves a Baby!


Brad Curtin in Timmy’s Sexual Adventures

Though it’s possible these solo children are greedy, megalomaniacal control freaks, it’s more likely they’ve realized that travelling alone is cheaper. And there’s no one around to tell them to go to bed.

Smart aleck "I deposited a junk mail cheque marked ‘not negotiable’ into my ATM machine as a joke, and to my absolute astonishment, it cashed." So starts Patrick Combs’ true prank turned legal rigmarole turned one-man show, Man 1, Bank 0. Note: It was for $95,093.35.

Runaway When poet Talya Rubin spent 18 months in self-imposed exile on a Greek island, she was trying to get over a failed love. After another seven years in Australia, she finally got back home and translated her experiences into both a Bronwen Wallace Award-winning poem cycle and ariadne’s thread, a one-woman "island odyssey."

Weird kid in the corner It’s all about the underpants, according to Timmy’s Sexual Adventures performer Brad Curtin. Something about the set being a giant pair of underpants, something about puppets. Perhaps he needs to hook up with Albequerque’s Rusty "The Chick Magnet" Rutherford of How to Pick up Chicks. Or not.


Smile While You Die by Serendipity

Those kids you’re not quite sure what to do with, who will either end up running the world or spending another decade in their darkened bedrooms trading secret missives.

Loner gamer Cult of the Gameboy not doing it for you anymore? Why not Start Your Own Religion in 6 Simple Steps with Reimer Reason’s Kristian Reimer. Or submit yourself to CKUT’s Harvey Christ Medicine Show, which promises to leave all popular religions "naked and gasping on the shores of moral uncertainty."

Beef boys What teen wouldn’t be complete without a low wage, lower dignity joe job? NYC’s The brothers LaGreca bring "hamburgerology" into the musical theatre lexicon with Minimum Wage: The Burgerboy Chronicles, while Serendipity grills the call centre in Smile While You Die.

The mad inventor "We are in the dusty, boarded-up warehouse; we are in the roach motel," claims Australia’s Suitcase Royale. "We will tell you a story as you sit in a dusty armchair in the yellow lamplight." Felix Listens to the World, a junk shop fairy tale, is my random, intuitive pick for show I’d most like to spend time with this festival.


This is Uncalled For

Why is it the funny kid is always the one in the time-out chair? From sophomoric to sophisticated, comics band together to finagle our Fringe funny bone.

Sketchy characters Always faring favourably within the tomfoolery of the fest are the brave sketch-comers. The Bionic Yahoos are Famous for a Week, The Rubber Chicken Factory are Unplucked and Without Annette records it all in improv, lies and videotape. According to Toronto’s Stag Nation, The United States of America Doesn’t Exist, while Uncalled For claims This Is Uncalled For.

Juvenile joker Monster Theatre’s Ryan Gladstone (half of the duo behind A Fringe Story and The Canada Show) laughs at himself in Confessions of a Class Clown, while New York comic Tom X. Chao has a little Freak out Under the Apple Tree. Even Oedipus has his 15 minutes at the mic in Oedi: The Original Mother-F***er.

If you’re still standing, and you need a little time out yourself, consider checking into Self Storage with Gillian Stevens-Guille. Or head on over to the beer tent. Or just pick a show at random and go on in. With this many personalities battling for supremacy, there’s gotta be a match in there for you somewhere.

St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
June 9-19

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