Hour sifts through the best and the rest at the Montreal Fringe Festival 2007, for your viewing pleasure

American Squatter (Aspen Comedy Works)Barry Smith – the peripatetic spirit behind 2006′s Jesus in Montana – is back with another hilarious, LSD-soaked journey of self-discovery. A master of understatement and PowerPoint, he employs his family’s home movie collection to dissect how punk music, skateboarding and teenage rebellion against his cleaning-obsessed father led to his "Zen-like state of disarray" as a squatter in London. What sets this production apart is not only Smith’s sharp wit, but his ability to channel laughter’s deeper cathartic powers. See this one. You’ll leave with the Sex Pistols in your head and a desire to occupy abandoned buildings in your heart. 5/5 (Brett Hooton)

Creeping Like Snail Willingly (Undiscovered Country Theatre)

Apparently something in the way Michael Whitehead promoted his show about his career as a CPR instructor inspired half the theatre critics in Montreal to turn up at his Sunday afternoon performance. I, for one, expected a few humorous anecdotes, maybe a good story about a CEO getting frisky with the mouth-to-mouth dummy. What I got was an actual life-saving certification course, interrupted periodically by creepy tap-dancing interludes and vicious pool-noodle attacks on a Bozo the Clown punching bag. Recommended only for those who don’t yet have an epic story of suckiness to recount at future Fringes. 1/5 (Brett Hooton)

History: Deleted Scenes and Extras (Third Man)

Nile Séguin gives his picks for History‘s bonus DVD in his new stand-up routine that covers all those events your high school textbook conveniently overlooked. From George Washington’s slaves to our tendency to pussyfoot around the topic of genocide, he tackles taboo subjects with an incisive wit and a hard slap of common sense. This type of extended format provides ample opportunity for hits (his telephone-game bit is brilliant) and misses (his Al Gore/Madeleine Albright skit is just plain weird). But through it all, his easy-going, confident and ultimately challenging persona will keep you thinking long after the chuckles stop. 4/5 (Brett Hooton)

Scaramouche Jones (The Livingroom Theatre)

Scaramouche Jones – a tired, verbose Gypsy clown – personifies the 20th century in a one-man play that is nothing if not ambitious. A sort of Zelig of British Imperialism, he recounts his tortured journey from his birth in a grimy Trinidadian brothel to his apprenticeship under a North African snake charmer to a 50-year stint in the circus, with other adventures along the way. Although the script effectively creates a sense of hidden, exotic darkness, it often becomes bogged down in detail. Like Scaramouche himself, the show starts out with so many layers of makeup that it cannot wipe them all away. 3/5 (Brett Hooton)

Under Milk Wood (Vanguard Productions)

Dylan Thomas’s classic play has turned many a cast into little more than a mob of muddle-mouthed fishmongers. Fortunately, this production boasts a dynamic cast who admirably capture the humour and strife of life in a Welsh fishing village. Although there were a handful of moments when the text’s rhythm and richness left performers almost breathless, these 11 thespians exceed expectations as they play more than 50 quirky, desperate characters. Overall, the dreamlike beauty of Thomas’s poetry alone would be worth your few shillings, but the stripped-down ingenuity of this production makes it as delectable as a pint of bitter. 4/5 (Brett Hooton)

Dickens of the Mounted (Beyond Chutleigh Productions)

A story tailor-made for the CBC, Dickens of the Mounted is adapted from Canadian humorist Eric Nicol’s book and follows Frank Dickens, ne’er-do-well son of the more famous Charles (and no one will let him forget it), as he blazes a lacklustre trail across Canada, sticking his whisky-soaked boot in a dung heap of Canadian history along the way. Solo performer Kris Bruun handles the bumbling, alcoholic Mountie with a showman’s balance of mockery and earnestness, and the material is great. Less furniture moving and more nuanced pacing would have made this performance a knockout. As it is, Dickens is bound to tighten as it travels, and it’s a good bit of historico-comico-tall-tale-telling. 4/5 (Jodi Essery)

Bye Bye Bombay (Cara Yeates Presents)

I wanted to like this show more. Yeates’s based-on-her-own-true story about running away to India and immediately falling into the twisted alternate reality of Bollywood extras is compelling, but the actress’s natural charisma seems at odds with Jonno Katz’s direction. Video projections and lighting cues only serve to distance us from what Bombay has going for it: an interesting gal with an interesting story. It seemed underrehearsed and not yet sure what it wanted to be. 2/5 (Jodi Essery)

Thunderspank! (Old ‘n Careful)

"Thunderspank is not going to stop just because you’re uncomfortable," they say. They must be talking about the discomfort of busted guts and almost-bursting bladders, because other than that, there’s no pain here. This oddball bit of scripted sketch-com, blending the forces of Uncalled For and Front Porch (Christine Ghawi is fucking awesome!), is delightful, if uneven in parts, but let’s call it what it is: a wacky, inspired celebration of off-kilter comic wit. As the premiere was damn good, one surmises this show will only improve. This is scary; the time/space continuum better watch its ass. 4/5 (Dave Jaffer)

The High Five Ultimatum (Uncalled For)

Uncalled For is not a box of chocolates; when you see them, you know you’re gonna get comely near-perfect improv comedy wonderfulness. Bolstered by the presence of the fetching Caitlin Howden, Montreal’s improv kings (and queen) don’t disappoint with this, their long-form improv extravaganza. Uncalled For earn high marks here, blending ridiculousness and goofiness with the witty self-deprecation that makes comedy so appealing. Sure, Matt Goldberg shouldn’t try that wavering Russian accent again, but if you’ve ever weighed the benefits of owning a robot whale (and who hasn’t?), among other things that may come up, this is the absolute perfect show for you. 4/5 (Dave Jaffer)

Sahara Crossing (Rabbit in a Hat)

Paul Van Dyck, an energetic, near-flawless performer, deserves huge props for this one-man play detailing his six-month odyssey in Africa. His extremely physical storytelling is a testament to his impressions on his voyage, and his understanding that he was a clueless, pampered "middle-class white boy" way the fuck out of water. Worthwhile for its brazen bravado and comic charm, Van Dyck’s story still smacks of whiny Western bias, albeit somewhat accidentally. Still, though, this is one to see. Inventive and honest and no holds barred, watching Van Dyck recall his trip is a trip in itself. 4/5 (Dave Jaffer)

Great. Now I Have to Burn My Sheets. (Nossenküunt Productions)

A by-the-numbers "misadventures in sex and dating" play, this show would be better with a little more edge, a better-conceived set, and a little more rehearsal time. Because this kind of thing tends toward the ubiquitous, nuance and originality are extremely important, but there’s not a lot here; just an extended pity party for our hard-drinking, clueless, 20-year-old protagonist. If it weren’t for some of the support players breathing some life, likeability and personality into the proceedings, this would be a complete write-off. Keep in mind, though, that I attended opening night. 2/5 (Dave Jaffer)

Confort à retardement (Corpuscule Danse)

John Ottmann choreographs a visually striking, emotionally involving piece for dancers France Geoffroy and Tom Casey. Geoffroy is paraplegic, performs in a wheelchair, and uses her arms, neck and head with inspiring results. Casey is able-bodied and the epitome of generous, male support. Ottmann elicits vivid and concise performances from both. It’s beautiful material, sometimes humorous, always poetic, eloquent and ambiguous. And the way the dancers connect and listen to one another is a marvel. Mark Adam’s lights and video material (in effective diffuse, soft focus) provide strong support. You’ll walk out on a high. 4.5/5 (Philip Szporer)

Laberintos (Créateurs Collective)

Concordia choreography students Sooyeon Cho, Carmen Ruiz and Kiani del Valle unite for a menu of contemporary dance. The works are wildly uneven, all are too long, but there are some pleasures. Cho experiments in mixed-media with assurance; Ruiz offers a group piece with some evocative dancing, benefiting from Myriam Fayer’s strong presence; while del Valle, dancing in her own solo, gives a full-bodied, dynamic performance. All need to hone their product, but the show is undeniably a glimpse at future talent. 2/5 (Philip Szporer)

Flamenco con Fusion (Ricardo Garcia’s Flamencoflow)

Garcia’s a brilliant, exhilarating flamenco guitarist who knows how to weave a story and captivate the crowd. The fusion of flamenco and hip-hop is a bit of a surprise – and who knew hip-hop would be rhythmically flamenco-friendly? There’s a battle for audience sympathies between the elegant flamenco dancer and the sweats-sporting, tongue-wagging female breaker; it’s all a bit forced. Garcia saves the day with his jazzy, bluesy, Latin-influenced performance and his super guitar skillz – I mean, skills. 3/5 (Philip Szporer)

Gargantua, Fear of a Fat Planet (Big Moves)

As delightful as it was to see something that was body-image positive and celebrated the beauty of the full-figured woman, Gargantua, Fear of a Fat Planet could seriously use some tweaking. Though the sci-fi dance odyssey had a great premise and some strong performers, others flubbed their lines and tripped during dance numbers. The story also pretty much wrapped up a half-hour before the show ended, leaving audience members to endure spoken word and musical vignettes that seemed inconsequential to the performance. Though it had some cute and campy moments, as a whole it felt incredibly drawn out. 2/5 (Amy German)

Going All the Way (Dynamic Theatre Factory)

Broken up into five short comedic plays, Going All the Way has some laugh-out-loud moments of brilliance. All five stories have different sports themes and explore different aspects of love, obsession, perfection, religion and deception. Though some of the shorts were better executed than others, with some scenes feeling a little too dry, Fringe first-timer Julie Moreau is the standout in this ensemble cast and delivers the strongest performances with her intense facial expressions and manic demeanour. This hour of comedy is an ideal general-audience pleaser. 3.5/5 (Amy German)

Primadonna: Confessions of an Italian Princess (Pepe Productions)

An exploration of identity, double standards, Catholic guilt, the female sisterhood and various other cultural aspects of being Italian, Primadonna: Confessions of an Italian Princess is one of this year’s true festival gems. At times, this culturally poignant act was intensely hilarious, while other moments caused tears to run down the cheeks of its ultimately captivated audience. Though there were minute instances where the non-Italian members of the audience felt lost in translation, Primadonna quickly bounced back, delivering an engaging performance packed with tender moments, brilliant delivery, heart-warming humour and a fabulous performance by seasoned pro Nadia Verrucci. 4.5/5 (Amy German)

Montreal Fringe Festival
All over the place, till June 17

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