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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.


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