Monday, 25 July 2011

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Mexican Jail Pic Gets 3 Emmy Noms!

Congratulations to Presumed Guilty for it's 3 Emmy nominations. Below is a reposing of my review as well as my interview with the directors at TIFF 2009.

It's hard to watch this documentary without shaking your head or wanting to raise your clenched fists in frustration at the Mexican "in-justice" system. It's almost like you are watching a satire, where the main characters have to navigate in a world of insane and absurd logic. Unfortunately, for Toñio, he is spending 20 years behind bars based on evidence provided by one witness. The other three witnesses that were never interviewed in his case all stated that they saw him at work during the time of the murder he was supposed to have committed. Given the fact that Toñio works in an open market, where he is highly visible, how could he have been accused of this crime? The answers will boggle your mind. In Mexico, since you are presumed guilty, you have to prove your innocence. The catch. If everyone presumes you are guilty, then the case is obviously closed. NEXT! Crazy, but true.

Lawyer turned filmmaker for this project, Roberto Hernandez and his partner, Layda Negrete, were working on prison stats when they were approached by Toñio's girlfriend Eva. What happens next is a true story that, even if you are familiar with the Mexican system, will still defy reason. Sharing the director's chair with Hernandez is English Surgeon director, Geoffrey Smith. Spread the word about this one.

PRESUMED GUILTY directors, Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith.

donna g: How did you two meet?

Roberto: Martha Sosa introduced us. She is the famous producer of a famous Mexican film titled "Amores Perros". How she got involved in the film is also quite a story.

Geoffrey: Through Martha Sosa, one of the Producers on the film

donna g: Could you please describe your division of tasks as co-directors?

Roberto: Geoffrey and I worked on the edit of this film for 2 months in Valle de Bravo. Before Geoffrey got involved, I filmed this story with the help of my family. We followed Toño's case for 2.5 years. Between Layda and myself we obtained the access to shoot in Mexico's prisons, and we edited the film into a 90 minute rough cut with editor Felipe Gomez (Historias del Desencanto). But the technical difficulties we faced were enormous (recall the footage was recorded by lawyers), and the film needed one last big push for it to be fully shaped in to the drama we have today. Geoffrey saw our rough cut and came on board to help us do just that.

Geoffrey: My job was to help take a set of challenging and difficult film rushes and help Roberto tell the clearest and most dramatic story.

donna g: How would you define Layda's role in the fimmaking process?

Roberto: In a word? Crucial. Layda and I met in prison, many years ago, while lifting data on the criminal courts. Criminal justice reform in Mexico was her cause before it became my own. She worked undercover as an assistant to a prosecutor in Mexico City and designed groundbreaking inmate surveys with some of her colleagues. She learned that 80% of defendants never see a judge, or that prosecutors are more often in charge of trials than judges themselves. But she was not able to make a political impact with these scary findings, so I talked to her about making a documentary short. Soon after that making El Tunel (The Tunnel) we were on CNN with our statistics and inmates telling their stories. That's how Eva and Tonio's friends found us. Layda was key to this film, because she helped me obtain access to film in the prisons and courts, and her family supported us during many difficult months of shooting. She was also a great fundraiser... and also the mom of our child. Without her the film would not exist. Without her I would not have been able to persevere so fiercely in recording more than 300 hours of footage.

Geoffrey: This is Roberto and Layda's film and they have nursed it through years of hard work. Layda is a formidable talent as she is very perceptive about the real and inherent flaws in the Mexican Judicial system, and is extremely good at articulating them.

donna g: Roberto, you and Layda were already doing stats research on the Mexican prison system, yet, in the film there are moments when you are surprised even shocked by some of the challenges you encountered with this case. Why was that?

Roberto: With a 95% conviction rate, and a judge that had already heard the evidence and convicted Tonio in a previous trial, we knew we were fighting against the odds. But, what else could we do? Isn't hope the last thing that dies? We were also facing a prosecution with no physical evidence and a witness that did not seem credible, so I guess we had reasons to be hopeful.

donna g: Geoffrey, what surprised you about the Mexican judicial system?

Geoffrey:A great number of things. On occasions I simply could not believe what I was seeing in the film rushes. As Layda explains, the trial is really just a formality as everything has been decided beforehand. That is just so different to what I know of the process in the UK and the US, and it gives rise to.

donna g: Tonio's girlfriend, Eva shows such devotion and love for Tonio. Is this the reason you accepted her case? (If, not why did you accept the case?)

Roberto: No, but it was a plus. Indeed it was helpful that Tonio had many friends who offered to help us through the maze of handling a production long distance. But I took the case because from the very first moment we met, I knew Tonio was innocent and his friends and then girlfriend seemed to understand that it was important to try an “out of the box” strategy if he was to have a fighting chance.

Above all, I took the case because I wanted to make a documentary that would help people question their own biases, and I saw an opportunity here. Most people tend to be biased against a person just because the police arrests them. There are studies that show, for example, that people are willing to presume a person guilty just on the basis of the charge. For example, if you are accused of sexually abusing a child, it is virtually impossible to get an impartial jury. This is sound social science, this holds true everywhere in the world, not just in Mexico. Humans have a propensity to think like this. That is why it is important to have criminal procedures that protect us against making mistakes because of biased reasoning. But in Mexico, neither politicians nor policymakers are aware of this biases, much less of the importance of designing procedures that protect defendants against them.

When I saw the evidence against Tonio, I had a lot of background that helped me understand how the police had pinned the crime on him, or how the system was using, actively, every method it could to represent him like a criminal. But, according to our statistics, we were facing a typical investigation by Mexican detectives. The typical investigation lacks physical evidence (92% of charges in Mexico City do not have any). The typical defendant never sees a judge in court. The typical defendant is not arrested with an arrest warrant, etc. All this was just like Tonio's experience of the system. Finally, the most vulnerable defendants are the innocent ones, because they are not prepared to offer a bribe to a corrupt policeman. Those who are innocent tend to think that a real justice system exists in Mexico because they have never been through it before. In contrast, the recurrent offender knows that the system is for sale, and are prepared to pay.

donna g: In the film there are rows and rows, and stacks upon stacks of case files representing people's lives. How did you gain access to this room?

Roberto: This is the room where we were lifting data and collecting it in forms many years ago. In that room, when I saw it, for the first time I had this insight that whatever our statistics found, they would not be as compelling as a single photograph of that room. That's when I first came up with the idea of making the film. When we filmed our first documentary (El Tunel), the one that was aired on CNN, I spent an entire day filming in the archives.

donna g: Did you have any hesitations about filming the Mexican police officers involved in Tonio's case?

Roberto: No. I think that it is fundamental to see their faces. We spent many hours looking at the court records to find out the names of the detectives who arrested Tonio, and then we convinced an attorney, Rafael Heredia, to cite them in court. In Mexico, because the system presumes guilt, detectives are allowed to never show up in court to testify. Rather, they can incriminate someone just by filling out some forms. But Rafael Heredia, who has worked for decades in the system, understood how important it was to bring them to court to testify, and he supported the idea.

donna g: I find the "face to face" process, where the accused faces his accusers, fascinating. Is this something that happens frequently in all cases.

Roberto: Yes and no. Mexicans have a "right" to interrogate their own accusers, and many of them do. I do not think it is a good practice, or a right that should remain in our constitution. But in this case it was our last chance to expose the weaknesses in the case against Tonio, because the system places less restrictions on this unregulated right than on what Tonio's attorney is able to do.

It was unique in this trial that the defendant had been trained with a trial advocacy book to interrogate effectively. We used Duce & Baytelman "Juicio Oral", which is a very good translation to Spanish of the principles of trial advocacy, a book that is now used in Chile to train lawyers in a system that underwent substantial reform very recently. This book was sent to the prison straight to Tonio's hands. And we trained Tonio with this material through several hours, on the phone. Essentially, we wanted Tonio to learn how to ask yes or no questions rather than open ended questions. Any lawyer in North America knows how crucial this is for cross examination. And Layda and I worked with him through his training as much as we could do so, long distance.

donna g: Geoffrey, how was working on this documentary different than working solo on The English Surgeon?

Geoffrey: Roberto is a brilliant partner as he knew all his material backwards, speaks perfect English and is very fast as an editor. We were editing in a divine villa outside of Mexico City which enabled us to just concentrate on the film, and I felt we were able to bring the very best out of each other. It was a special experience and one I would gladly plunge into again..

donna g: Roberto, how were you able to balance your work/family life with making a film that took almost 3 years to complete?

Roberto: I still don't know the answer to that!

donna g: Will the film be released in Mexico, and if so, do you think it will outrage enough people that demands will be made for judicial reform?

Roberto: I would be surprised if the film is not released in Mexico. It has all the ingredients a good film could possibly have. The drama is strong, the story is real. We put all our heart in it. And I think if audiences give themselves a chance to watch this, they will not regret it.

Geoffrey: A big part of why I said yes to taking part in this film was because I believe the film will make a huge impact in Mexico.Roberto, Layda and the producers have a fantastic plan for getting the film lunched there, and as countless Mexican citizens know someone directly or indirectly who has suffered at the hands of the Justice system I know it will prove to be the catalyst for real and lasting change.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Fringe Review: Disappointing Breaking News

Breaking News
by Brett Haynes
presented by Triangle Pi Productions from Toronto, ON
Director: Brett Haynes
Cast: Andy Trithardt, Darcie Young, Jordan Probst, Sarah Sherman, Zach Apostoleris, Kate Kudelka, Andrew Petker, Noa May Dorn, Rick Jongejan, Lindsay Francisco, Claire Burns, Patrick Foran, Greg Moar, Lucas James
Genre: Comedy
St. Vladimir's Theatre
30 Min.
Patron's Pick: Performance added Sunday, July 17 (416-966-1062 or for details)

DESCRIPTION: ‘Breaking News’ is an interactive, absurdist piece that follows the reactions to the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’, ‘The War of the Worlds.’ The piece, even though mainly fictitious, includes actual quotations, reactions, and recorded documentation of the aftermath to this famous broadcast.

My Rating: ** 2/5 Stars
My Review: I did not like this play. I know this is contrary to many people's point of view, but when there are actors on stage when you enter the theatre, I expect them to be in character. The War of the Worlds broadcast is playing, but no one on stage in reacting with any credibility. When the flash mob style town hall meeting errupts and one woman beside me, and another behind me start yelling, I'm intrigued by the styling of the play, but sitting in the front row, I got a pain in the neck having to turn around to face the action. I know the point is to make us feel part of the town, but I found the staging annoying after a while, and from some of the faces around me, so did several other people. With no strong actors, and a weak script that doesn't add tension or develop character, I was bored. Nothing presented matched the excellence and dramatic strength of the Orson Welles broadcast everyone in the script is reacting to. When the conclusion occurred at the 25 minute mark it was very anti-climactic. Again, several people around me had the same "that's it?" expressions on their faces. Very disappointing.

Fringe Reviews: Gravely Russian

So, I had a chance to check out two more of the 9 companies that participated in my 5-Minute Fringe show. Did either one convince me that theirs was a "must see" show at the Toronto Fringe Festival? Have a read:

Gravestone Posse
by The Canadian Space Opera Company
presented by The Canadian Space Opera Company from Toronto, ON
Genre: Play, Comedy
Cast:Nike Abbott, Don Berns, Paul Koster, Jorge Moreira, Rhonda Riche, Jeff Santos, Tracy Shea-Porter, Dave Till, Scott Watkins, Cary West, Mallory Williams
Warning: Gunshots
CIUT Radio Station, Hart House
7 Hart House Circle (U of T Campus)
Map Room
60 min.
Sun, July 17 8:00PM (final performance)

DESCRIPTION: The creators of the 2008 Fringe hit “Casa De Los Fantasmas” (**** - EYE) return with another chilling radio drama! Tired of the endless bloodshed, James “Blasting” Pitt, deadliest gunman in the Wild West, wants to settle down with a wife, family, and Sears Roebuck catalog. Little does James know his victims have returned from the grave, seeking revenge...

My Rating: *** 3/5 Stars
My Review: Staging this radio drama at a radio station (CIUT 89.5 FM) with its backdrop of studio paraphernalia adds extra flavour to this show. I was particularly impressed with the voice talents of Nike Abbott who plays the role of spinster Priscilla Farnswoth with proper persnickety anal retention, Cary West who switches between the dimwitted, vengeful zombie (Eugene Harms) and the stuttering, good-hearted store owner/deputy (Philo Mills) with vocal deftness, and the distinctly voiced roles of Ulla, Maiden of the Mesa, and Nasty Norman Entwistle played by Rhonda Riche. The play is amusing and it’s fun listening to the sound effects being created live by M.J. Williams, but at 60 minutes, the script meanders. The introduction to the zombies comes too far into the play, with side vignettes diverting our attention without furthering the plot and slowing down the action. A run time of 45 minutes would make this fair performance rise to a higher level.

Tyumen, Then

by Adam Underwood
presented by October Theatre from Toronto, ON
Director: Andrea Donaldson
Cast: Adam Lazarus, Lyon Smith, Kevin MacDonald
Set & Costume Design: Jung-Hye Kim
Sound Design: Verne Good
Genre: Play
Warning: Smoking, Graphic Violence

Added Patron's Pick Performance: Sunday, July 17, 6:45 pm

DESCRIPTION: July 4th, 1941: Locked in the boxcar of a motionless train, somewhere between Moscow and Siberia, two confined soldiers guard the rousing corpse of Vladimir Lenin. Join this award-winning assembly of Toronto theatre artists for a ruthless, wicked, seriously unhinged satire about ideology, war, and survival.

My Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars
My Review: Adam Underwood’s play makes history enjoyable. His script is as intelligent as it is darkly humourous. I can easily see why actors would want to play these roles and why a director would be drawn to the work. The emotional shades in this piece are many: broad humour in one line, chilling drama the next, meandering into mundane expressions befitting the state of two soldiers stuck in a railway car (“How many cigarettes do you have left?”). Adam writes clever, significant lines, but they can be delivered in many different ways. Director, Andrea Donaldson and actors Adam Lazarus (Lenin), Kevin MacDonald (Ivan) and Lyon Smith (Dimitri) have succeeded in maintaining balance of tone and expression that Tyumen, Then, demands. In a play where Lenin’s body plays a role, a false tread in the emotional highs and lows could break the audience's commitment to the storyline.

Lyon Smith (a combination Alessandro Nivola and young Tom Hulce) plays the verbose, Utopian, Dimitri with dexterity and appeal while Kevin MacDonald lends the necessary Stygian iciness to Ivan, whose communist ideals are entrenched in survival at all costs. The role that could break Tyumen, Then, is that of Lenin. Had Adam Lazarus not committed wholeheartedly to this character the play would have fallen apart. Thanks to his comic timing, his delivery of absurd, portentous lines, he is the perfect foil for Smith and MacDonald's characters. Sound and lighting designer, Verne Good, perfectly complements the moody text of the play, while Jung-Hye Kim effectively reinforces the isolated setting and historical period with seemingly simple set and costumes. Marza Barker, I may be calling on your carpentry skills, but hopefully not for a very loooong time;=) A wonderful production all around.

Fringe Review: Go F#$% Yourself, Nikki and Terry (You Know What I Mean)

Go F#$% Yourself (You Know What We Mean)
by Ted Hollister’s Cow (Terry Clement & Nikki Payne)
presented by Ted Hollister’s Cow from Toronto, ON
Director: Terry Clement and Nikki Payne
Cast: Terry Clement, Nikki Payne
Genre: Comedy, Sketch
Warning: Strobe Light, Fog Machine, Gunshots, Nudity, Sexual Content, Graphic Violence, Mature Language, Audience Participation

DESCRIPTION: Nikki Payne and Terry Clement join forces to present an experimental comedy sketch show under the name of “Ted Hollister’s Cow”. Songs, sketches, stand-up and other forms of comedy starting with the letter “s” will be thrown at the audience in an attempt to make them laugh. “Go F#$% Yourself” is not a show for children OR serious adults.

Rating: ****½ 4½ /5 Stars
My Review: Go F#$% yourself, Nikki Payne! I say that with love because you entertained the crap out of me, and I say that with utter condemnation because you have ruined, absolutely ruined, one of my favourite songs! Damn you, for making me love you, you saucy, foulmouthed comedic siren! Before the show had even began you made us love you, with music pumping as we walked in and you on stage welcoming us to your party, ushering us to available seats. You made us love your lowbrow interpretation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (nice hooters!) and your Nana porn poetry. As for you Terry, you wanna be Spelling Bee Champion, I love/hate you for the acerbic, fatalistic, life lessons Grampa taught Little Sally (I’ll never use a squirt gun again without seeing Little Sally’s face). The two of you may not be Fred and Ginger, and your dancing social commentary is so unworthy of So You Think You Can Dance Canada but you almost had me falling out of my chair with laughter. To top it all off, you made my cry tears of extreme love and loss with your final pièce de résistance. And, even as a longed for more, more, more, you left me with a darkened stage...The Fringe may be over, but you've got a stalker now you talented, comedic F#$%S!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Fringe Festival: Halaal or Haraam?

Heading off to a show, so no time to write reviews at this point, but I did put my ratings. My thoughts will have to wait for a another day. Happy Fringing.

by Alexander Carson & Nick Martin
presented by Le Carsonage from Toronto, ON
Director: Ben Carson
Genre: Play, Comedy
Warning: Mature Language
Factory Studio Theatre
55 min.
Sat, July 16 7:00 PM

DESCRIPTION: John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk. Three friends in Manhattan in 1960. Three impresarios in their own right. It’s raining and it’s dark out. In an adventurous game, each take turns trying their hand at love and courtship. When the game’s over, and the booze is finished, what happens next? A play about love, life, friendship, and baseball.
Rating: **** 4/5 Stars (Picture of Peter Falk borrowed from wikipedia; Boyfriends didn't have a website)

Get Happy
by Nicholas Power, Alisha Ruiss and Company
presented by Public Gesture Productions from Toronto, ON
Director: Alisha Ruiss
Choreographer: Phil Bourassa, Alisha Ruiss
Cast: Phil Bourassa, Nicholas Power, Alisha Ruiss, and The Simple Joys Jazz Band
Genre: Dance, Musical
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
55 min.
Sat, July 16 3:30 PM 861

DESCRIPTION: This unique musical, evoking its depression era beginnings, portrays the romantic intrigue at a contemporary Swing Dance club. While the poet reflects on love and loss, the sassy bearcat improvises real intimacy in passionate dances with the bon vivant. The band and the torch singer set the audience’s imagination on fire with blues and swing standards.
Rating: *** 3/5 Stars

Headscarf and the Angry Bitch
by Zehra Fazal
presented by Zehra Fazal from Washington, DC
Cast: Zehra Fazal
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Warning: Sexual Content, Mature Language, Audience Participation
George Ignatieff Theatre
60 min.
Sat, July 16 6:15 PM

DESCRIPTION: This beef ain’t halal! Join Zed “Muslim Weird Al” Headscarf on a romp through Islam in America, exploring religion, family, sex and love— all in one hilarious hour of story and song. Hyphenated-citizens from any culture will relate to the search for identity.
Winner: Best Solo-Performance, Capital Fringe, sold out houses at 2010 New York International Fringe.
Rating: ***** 5/5 Stars

Misprint (1st Issue)
by Lauren Toffan and Yan Li
presented by Spiel Players from Toronto, ON
Director: Lauren Toffan
Cast: Lauren Toffan, Arthur Wright, Heidi Lynch, Eric Miinch, Fran Stecyk, Albert Masters, Megan Poole, Hayley Toane, Heidi Toffan, Erynn Brook, Esther Vallins, Rob Reardon, Lindsay Robinson.
Assistant Director: Peyton LeBarr
Musical Director: Yan Li
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Warning: Mature Language
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
60 min.
Sun, July 17 7:30 PM
SUN, JULY 17 7:30 PM**Patron's Pick (added performance)

DESCRIPTION: Elly has lived her entire life in the town of Sunnydale. Little does she know, she is a classic 1960s comic book character whose life has been drawn, coloured and shaded in to entertain comic book collectors everywhere. Misprint(1st Issue), is the first installment of a musical comedy which reveals the life of a true comic book character: Elly.
Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

Virginia Aldridge, BSc
by Elise Newman
presented by quoi quoi quoi from Toronto, ON
Director: Elise Newman
Cast: Janelle Hanna
Genre: Play

DESCRIPTION: Following in the footsteps of her childhood hero, an aspiring biologist lands in West Africa only to discover that things have changed since 1893. A comic tale of adventure, discovery, and cockroaches from the creator of Raven for a Lark, Fringe 2010.
“A must-see! ” (Theatromania)
Factory Studio Theatre
45 min.
Sun, July 17 2:45 PM

Rating: **** 4/5 Stars

Fringe Reviews...I Love You, Jonathan Kline

They weren’t part of my 5-Minute Fringe special, but I managed to squeeze some other plays into my schedule.

The Editor
by Jonathan Kline
presented by Brain Box Theatre from Toronto, ON
Warning: Sexual Content, Mature Language

DESCRIPTION: The Editor: A Love Story is not to be missed! Well, it’s not exactly a love story, per se. It’s more of a philosophical story with romantic elements. Never mind. Let’s just call it “The Editor”. No subtitle. It’s by the winner of the 2010 Toronto Fringe’s 24-hour playwriting contest. So at least the writing’s good. Um. Maybe...clear? Clearer than this. Ugh.

Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
Condidering that I saw a truncated version of this play, it was surprisingly accomplished. The leads were not available to perform the show that day, so an former U of T Drama student and a bio-ethicist and model, stepped into the roles with only two days preparation. Great selections! I had forgotten they weren't the original actors until the new lead had to say "line"...and then back I was into the world of an angst ridden romantic editor, struggling with lost love, existensialism and a Frenc cemetary in the rain. It's a credit to the writer Jonathan Kline, who followed his new actors on stage, script in hand, that his play was so well-written that it could be as engaging without the technical details that originally were part of the script. At the end of the performance, Kline and stage manager, Kaline Janik showed us some of what we were missing, and I could see how they would be disappointed not to have shown us the work as intended, but I left the theatre feeling very satisfied. What's next Jonathan? I don't want to miss your next play.
Factory Studio Theatre
50 min.
Fri, July 15 5:30 PM 1356
Sun, July 17 9:00 PM 1370

Every Woman I Slept With Before I Met You
by David Amito & AJ Bond
presented by Borderline Motion Pictures from Toronto, ON
Warning: Sexual Content, Mature Language

DESCRIPTION:Every Woman I Slept With Before I Met You is a darkly comedic one-man show about a naive young man who’s misguided attempts to woo his new girlfriend spiral out of control as he unwittingly reveals his entire sordid sexual history over dinner.
The Solo Room (at the Randolph Academy)
55 min.
Sun, July 17 2:15 PM 545

My Rating: *** 1/2 3.5 /5 stars
Strong storytelling is the key to success for this one-man show. With a simple stage set up of a table and chair Amito manages to grasp our attention for the simple fact that he is facing us, and we, the audience, become the stand in for his unseen date. Despite occasional questions to “the date” and the “waiter”, we are the ones he’s talking to. We are the ones who he tells about his encounters with women, Mandarin oranges, traveling through Europe, and his sexual fortunes and mishaps (there’s a dog involved, but it’s not what you’re thinking. What are you thinking?!). Woody Allen’s characters never had it so good or bad as David, and it’s this honesty as well as his engaging delivery that makes this show such an appealing ride. Who would admit publicly that they put women not on pedestals but on skyscrapers? Or that they became artsy-craftsy to win a woman with a one-of-a-kind box of chocolate? The fact that he gets knocked down by love but perseveres with giddiness and passion is admirable, pathetic, and funny.

Peter ‘n Chris Save the World
by Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone
presented by Peter ‘n Chris from Vancouver, BC

DESCRIPTION: Five star comedy duo Peter ‘n Chris want to perform good deeds to your funny-bone! So let them! And join this hysterical, flashy-jacket wearing, World saving comedy adventure! Toronto Sketchfest Official Selection
“Hysterical. Canadas answer to Flight of the Conchords”***** Times Colonist
“Comedy duos don’t get fresher” Vancouver Sun ****1/2-CBC Manitoba
George Ignatieff Theatre60 min.
Fri, July 15 11:00 PM 658
Sat, July 16 2:15 PM 660

My Rating: *** 3/5 stars
This sketch comedy bromance, with an environmental theme, has some nice moments, including one featuring a Sarah McLachlan’s rescue puppy (I would kill to be able to watch that over and over on You Tube), and another consisting of two brain cells and their on-the-job shenanigans. It runs a bit too long, but the duo does a good job of amusing and maintaining audience attention.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Finally...Fringe Reviews

So, I’ve finally had the chance to see a couple of the plays mentioned during my 5-Minute Fringe show on July 2nd and here are my thoughts and ratings:

Finally An Epic Cycle
Rating: **** 4/5 Stars
You’ve heard the phrase, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Thank you, Finally for sticking to a simple story that is well told and well acted. Everyone shines in this ensemble because they are all equally talented. Convincingly playing Gen, the confounded ex-girlfriend who is trying to win her ex-boyfriend (Michael Rode) back with Leaf tickets is the fresh and lovable Sarah Cody. Gen’s sardonic, comic-book nerd roommate, Will, is charmingly played by Luke Marty. There are scene stealing characters like the robot jock girl (Cassie Muise), and a Quebecois bounty hunter/bike messenger (je t’adore, Derek Perks), but considering that these cast members also play other roles with the same competence demonstrates that good casting and acting is not anathema to the Fringe. Good on ya, guys! You won’t be disappointed by this play.
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
60 min.
Fri, July 15 5:15 PM 855
Sat, July 16 1:45 PM 860

The Billy Willy Show
Rating:**** 4/5 Stars
Where were you? I was really disappointed by the small audience for this late afternoon show, but was highly entertained by this excellent character comedy. I know the late shows have been selling well, so hopefully the remaining shows will have even bigger audiences. Gay content galore, country music in small snippets, and a delivery be West Virginian native, Billy Willy, that’s drier than a Mormon bar. Hello, sister Fruit Flies, PFlag members and small town queens! Get your honey buns down to the Solo Room and have a knee-slapping good time. Think of it as a cruising while you Fringe;-)
The Solo Room (at the Randolph Academy)
45 min.
Fri, July 15 10:30 PM 539
Sat, July 16 8:00 PM 543

The Giant’s Garden
Rating:**** 4/5 Stars
I’ve seen some dreadful 90-minute shows at the Fringe, but let me tell you this isn’t one of them. Bird is a delight, and Flower is a scream in this delightful family musical. Alas, there weren’t enough kiddies (lots of grown folks, though) in the audience when I attended, but maybe the word will spread that this play, although not part of Fringe Kids, has kid appeal. As for the adult content, there’s plenty, especially lines sprouted so gaily and Diva-liciously by Flower, and sung so vampishly by Winter (“I don’t cook!)”, a woman waging a war of vengeful icicles against her sister, Summer, the Giant, and the children who love the garden. I’ve become sick and tired of body mics being used for everything, and really appreciate the cast using their natural voices rather than Auto-Tune, but not everyone is able to project well at all times. The strong singers stand out, calling attention to the lack of chops by others, but this is a minor point, and one that has probably been corrected now that the show has had a few runs.
George Ignatieff Theatre
90 min.
Fri, July 15 8:45 PM 657
Sat, July 16 4:00 PM 661

The Soaps

Rating:*** 3/5 Stars
Hmm…I was expecting more. It’s not that this improvised soap opera is not entertaining, it’s just that with the caliber of actors in the ensemble, I expected stronger characterizations. I know the story changes with every performance, as the story progresses, so maybe I saw a week night. Stand outs for me were actors, Lisa Merchant, Paul Bates, and Jim Annan, all of whom knew how to carry each improve suggestion (from the wonderful, Matt Baram) without missing a beat. Surprisingly disappointing was Robin Duke (SNL) whose scenes were cut short because of lack of delivery. I was at a loss to explain her performance.
Bathurst Street Theatre
60 min.
Fri, July 15 7:30 PM 356
Sat, July 16 4:00 PM 361
Sun, July 17 Noon 366

For all things Fringe, please visit: or call 416-966-1062 or 1-866-515-7799 for ticket information

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Are They Trying to Seduce You?

Hey, TmTm listeners. Here is a list of the titles, show times of the 9 Fringe companies that dropped by CIUT's second floor studio to convince you to go see their shows. Who succeeded, who didn't get you to fall for their sweet words? Only their box office takes will know for sure;-) All tickets are an affordable $10. For complete information on How to Fringe, please visit the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival website at

Excuse Me, Would You Like to Buy a Bar?by Wesley J. Colford
(search our title on Facebook)
presented by Don’t Panic Productions from Toronto, ON
Director: Marc Richard
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Outside of time, six people are trapped in an absurd cycle of broken dreams and regret. Their only hope: one boy on a mission to sell the most chocolate bars and be the best. A play that challenges the intentions and methods of teachers and parents, students and children, lovers of all creeds, and above all, the human artist. It’s better than Llama Cats.

*Winner of the Tarragon Theatre 2010 Under 20 Playwriting Competition.*Presented in partnership with the Paprika Festival.

Venue 5 The Solo Room (at the Randolph Academy)
60 min.

Wed, July 6 8:15 PM 502
Sat, July 9 8:30 PM 514
Mon, July 11 7:30 PM 522
Tue, July 12 6:45 PM 525
Thu, July 14 9:45 PM 535
Fri, July 15 5:15 PM 536
Sun, July 17 5:45 PM 547

Finally: An Epic Cycle
by Sarah Cody
presented by Phone It In Productions from Toronto, ON
Director: Joanne Williams
Genre: Comedy
Warning: Mature Language

It was only a matter of time. It took nearly half a century, but finally the unthinkable has happened: The Leafs made it to the finals. Gen has a problem: she’s misplaced her tickets... Just hours before the game. Stories collide in this quirky comedy that explores the world of bike messengers, relationships and underdog hockey franchises.

Venue 8 Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
60 min.

Fri, July 8 1:15 PM 807
Sat, July 9 9:15 PM 818
Mon, July 11 10:45 PM 831
Tue, July 12 4:45 PM 834
Thu, July 14 9:30 PM 850
Fri, July 15 5:15 PM 855
Sat, July 16 1:45 PM 860

The Giant’s Garden
by Peter Fenton & Scott White
presented by The Giant Collective from Toronto, ON
Director: Scott White
Choreographer: Laura Caswell
Cast: Paula Wolfson, Mark Terene, Michael MacLennan, Dale Miller, Jody Osmond, Laura Caswell, Lucas Meeuse, Tara Lisowski Genre: Family, Musical

From the composer who brought you the Fringe hit Top Gun! The Musical, comes a new show of epic proportions. Travel into The Deep Dark Forest and experience a tale of bravery, friendship and the power of love. Featuring a cast of 13 colourful characters, and a score filled with unforgettable songs, The Giant’s Garden will enchant children and adults alike.

Venue 6 George Ignatieff Theatre
90 min.

Wed, July 6 10:30 PM 603
Sat, July 9 5:15 PM 616
Mon, July 11 8:00 PM 630
Tue, July 12 3:00 PM 633
Thu, July 14 Noon 645
Fri, July 15 8:45 PM 657
Sat, July 16 4:00 PM 661

Gravestone Posse
by The Canadian Space Opera Company
presented by The Canadian Space Opera Company from Toronto, ON
Genre: Play, Comedy
Cast:Nike Abbott, Don Berns, Paul Koster, Jorge Moreira, Rhonda Riche, Jeff Santos, Tracy Shea-Porter, Dave Till, Scott Watkins, Cary West,
Mallory Williams
Warning: Gunshots

The creators of the 2008 Fringe hit “Casa De Los Fantasmas” (**** - EYE) return with another chilling radio drama! Tired of the endless bloodshed, James “Blasting” Pitt, deadliest gunman in the Wild West, wants to settle down with a wife, family, and Sears Roebuck catalog. Little does James know his victims have returned from the grave, seeking revenge...

Venue 22 CIUT Radio Station, Hart House Map Room (Site Specific at 7 Hart House Circle, U of T)
60 min.

Wed, July 6 8:00PM 2201
Thu, July 7 8:00PM 2202
Fri, July 8 1:00PM 2203
Sat, July 9 1:00PM 2204
Sun, July 10 8:00PM 2205
Wed, July 13 8:00PM 2206
Thu, July 14 8:00PM 2207
Fri, July 15 8:00PM 2208
Sat, July 16 1:00PM 2209
Sun, July 17 8:00PM 2210

Jungle 1/I Spy
by Urban Jungle Theatre
presented by Urban Jungle Theatre from Toronto, ON
Director: Gillian Street
Cast: Michael Atlin, Lindsay Bellaire, Sedina Fiati, Jen Hum, Madeleine Jullian, Kaylan Worsnop, Adrian Yearwood
Genre: Play, Physical Theatre

Jungle 1 is a collaborative site-specific piece by the newly formed Urban Jungle Theatre. Our ensemble of seven highly talented performers are hard at work creating an innovative and engaging piece of theatre to liven up your summer. In the meantime, you can go online to visit our blog and see video clips of the work at

Venue 21 Central Technical School (Site Specific at 725 Bathurst Street)
60 min.

Wed, July 6 7:00PM 2101
Thu, July 7 7:00PM 2102
Fri, July 8 7:00PM 2103
Sat, July 9 7:00PM 2104
Sun, July 10 7:00PM 2105
Tue, July 12 7:00PM 2106
Wed, July 13 7:00PM 2107
Thu, July 14 7:00PM 2108
Fri, July 15 7:00PM 2109
Sat, July 16 7:00PM 2110
Sun, July 17 7:00PM 2111

The Billy Willy Show
by Billy Willy
presented by Billy Willy from Friendly, West Virginia, USA
Director: Billy Willy
Cast: Billy Willy
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Warning: Mature Language

The Billy Willy Show is an old-fashioned barn dance radio program hosted by America’s least favorite country and western superstar. Between songs, Billy Willy shares his hilarious hard-luck stories and masterfully combines stand-up and storytelling in a surreal satire about one cowboy’s obsession with country music, success, and celebrity.

Venue 5 The Solo Room (at the Randolph Academy)
45 min.
Thu, July 7 6:00 PM 504
Fri, July 8 4:45 PM 508
Sat, July 9 10:15 PM 515
Sun, July 10 2:45 PM 516
Tue, July 12 8:30 PM 526
Wed, July 13 6:30 PM 529
Fri, July 15 10:30 PM 539
Sat, July 16 8:00 PM 543

The Soaps -The Live Improvised Soap Opera
by The National Theatre of the World
presented by The National Theatre of the World from Toronto, ON
Director: The Company
Cast: Matt Baram, Christy Bruce, Chris Gibbs, Ron Pederson, Jim Annan, Albert Howell, Scott Montgomery, Paul Bates, Lisa Brooke, Aurora Browne and special guests every show
Musical Director: Bob Derkach!
Genre: Comedy
Warning: Mature Language

Each night a cast of Toronto’s best improvisers will create a new episode of an ongoing story packed with drama, romance, intrigue, twists and betrayal. Just like a real soap opera, but funny on purpose. Our story takes us behind the scenes of an ego clashing theatre company as they scramble towards the opening night of the most powerful play ever written!
*Fringe Fundraiser Show

Venue 3 Bathurst Street Theatre
60 min.

Fri, July 8 3:30 PM 308
Sat, July 9 9:15 PM 318
Tue, July 12 5:00 PM 334
Wed, July 13 7:30 PM 342
Fri, July 15 7:30 PM 356
Sat, July 16 4:00 PM 361
Sun, July 17 Noon 366

The Travelling Salesman & His Magical Suitcase of Desires!
by Vincenzo Aliberti
presented by Zanni Arte Productions from Toronto, ON
Director: Teodoro Dragonieri
Genre: Comedy, Physical Theatre

What would you do if someone offered the one thing you always wanted? When a mysterious salesman with his magical suitcase comes to town, these unsuspecting townsfolk find out...the hard way! This is a story for all ages, told in the style of COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE, by colourful characters in hilarious situations. Come and get the one thing YOU always wanted.

Venue: FringeKids - Palmerston Library Theatre
60 min.

Thu, July 7 4:00 PM 3003
Fri, July 8 6:15 PM 3010
Sat, July 9 11:00 AM 3012
Sun, July 10 2:15 PM 3020
Tue, July 12 11:00 AM 3030
Wed, July 13 4:30 PM 3039
Fri, July 15 11:15 AM 3048
Sat, July 16 7:30 PM 3059

Tyumen, Then
by Adam Underwood
presented by October Theatre from Toronto, ON
Director: Andrea Donaldson
Cast: Adam Lazarus, Lyon Smith, Kevin MacDonald
Set & Costume Design: Jung-Hye Kim
Sound Design: Verne Good
Genre: Play
Warning: Smoking,
Graphic Violence

July 4th, 1941: Locked in the boxcar of a motionless train, somewhere between Moscow and Siberia, two confined soldiers guard the rousing corpse of Vladimir Lenin. Join this award-winning assembly of Toronto theatre artists for a ruthless, wicked, seriously unhinged satire about ideology, war, and survival.
*Fringe Fundraiser Show

Venue 9 Robert Gill Theatre
60 min.
Fri, July 8 11:00 PM 912
Mon, July 11 8:45 PM 931
Tue, July 12 4:30 PM 935
Wed, July 13 12:15 PM 939
Thu, July 14 7:00 PM 950
Fri, July 15 6:15 PM 956
Sat, July 16 1:45 PM 961

Tickets are $10 at the door. At-The-Door Tickets are available at a show’s venue starting one hour prior to show time, cash sales only, limit of 4/person.

FringeKids Tickets are $5 for ages 12 and under.

In person Tickets are available at The New Festival Box Office (July 6-17, 12-9pm) - @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.

By Phone at 416-966-1062 or 1-866-515-7799, July 2-17, every day, 10am-6pm

For COMPLETE Details Visit:

Photos: courtesy of show websites
Descriptions: courtesy of Fringe website.

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...