When I first began living in Toronto, I used to book off the week of the Film Festival. In those days it seemed much less schmoozy, more communal and low-key. Going from cinema to cinema, seeing multiple films each day, chatting with fellow movie buffs while waiting in lines. It was a treat.
But I stopped doing that a few years ago. I still love film, but I’ve come to accept that the festival is a glossier version of the one I used to know. There are still many wonderfully rough edges to be found, unknowns to discover, but the noise surrounding it all has become deafening. Too much to make a solid week out of it.
And then there’s the Fringe Festival. This is what I had been missing. Plays and monologues from stage companies worldwide. 150 different plays, each presented at least half-a-dozen times over 12 days in small venues – many of them in and around the leafy University of Toronto. At C$10 a performance, and with half the seats for each show available at the door, the Toronto Fringe is a festival for the people.
So this year I booked Fringe week off, and saw 11 plays. With each venue playing host to several different rotating plays each day, stages are often bare or spare, sets kept to a minimum, forcing extra creativity in lighting and staging to create a mood.
The high point for me was a 45-minute adaptation of Moliere’s comic love tale, The Sicilian. There was also a great version of Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ tale of women in wartime Ancient Greece banding together to withhold sexual favors from their men as a protest to the war. Still set in Ancient Greece, the 4-woman, bare-stage production from England has been updated and twisted with Cockney accents and modern and extremely bawdy British humor.
The same troupe also put on an all-women version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with octave-dropping performances of fake-mustached Jack and Algie. And there was also a fine, if conventionally-staged, version of George Bernard Shaw’s love-triangle Candida. Among the monologues, transplanted Brit and Fringe-favorite Chris Gibbs presented his latest comic monologue full of his delightful tangents.
As many of these productions go from one Fringe Festival to another, you might be able to catch them somewhere down the circuit – at a Fringe Festival near you.