Sunday, 23 August 2015


Combing the Fringe

Edmonton has its share of problems, big and small. The simultaneous replacement of two bridges, both of which provide critical access to downtown, is a year behind schedule. A simple light rail spur line from Central Station to a nearby university and a neighbouring technical college is slated to perhaps commence operations some 16 months later than projected. Apparently that train will be safe to ride when the fall semester begins although savvy transit users may not wish to be beta testing guinea pigs.

In softer news, the developers of the city’s new hockey arena and its adjacent sister real estate projects hired and paid a Calgary public relations firm to dub the area in question Ice District, articles like ‘the’ strictly verboten. This instant branding tactic is unfortunate on at least two levels. Cities age and evolve. Locals here were pre-empted in providing a colourful and colloquial phrase for the shining jungle rising in their concrete core. Also, social media wags quickly affirmed Edmonton as the crystal meth capital of Canada, and that stung a little bit as City Hall had recently and rightfully disavowed the puerile ‘City of Champions’ civic slogan. (There’s no denying that people are clever. I want to meet the chemist who contemplated the cleansers in the cupboard beneath his kitchen sink and thought, ‘Hey, I can synthesize an incredibly destructive and highly addictive drug out of this stuff!’)

One of the more reliable and viable things in this town is the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. The 10-day event is celebrating its 34th summer. To date, the Edmonton Journal has reviewed and rated 108 plays, musicals, improvs, one-person shows and God knows what else from an advertised slate of 203. Most of the 43 performance venues are concentrated on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River hard by the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s end-of-steel. The festival’s main grounds teem with buskers and street performers looking to lighten theatre lovers’ wallets.

There is, thank Christ, a beer tent because I am my mother’s son and I can spend hours just people watching, and ‘Oh! Mary Riley!’ how some folk choose to dress down for hot weather can be waay too much to bare. The trouble with beer as an antidote, of course, is that one may eventually start seeing double.

Real life is theatre. Daily we don our costumes and play our roles at work and at home. The Internet allows one to assume a new identity, a new persona. All of us are actors a lot of the time, but it takes a type of courage I’ve never possessed to trod the boards for a living. My theatrical experience is limited; I know that bad theatre makes it impossible for me to suspend my sense of disbelief. I played juror number six in Twelve Angry High School Boys. The most memorable first run play I ever saw was David Fennario’s Balconville, a bilingual comedy set in the Point, a working class neighbourhood in Montreal. I’ve endured A Christmas Carol. I dated an actress once, a nice, stable woman. I think ‘On Broadway’ by the Drifters is a great song.

Cultural mavens that we are, Ann and I took in four 2015 Fringe shows, none of which lasted longer than an hour nor cost more than a movie. Meanwhile, veteran attendees mutter that the Fringe is following the path of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, that it’s becoming too big and too impersonal.

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation was a cornball detective noir spoof involving stand-up, storytelling, magic and sleight-of-hand. Afterward Ann complained about soreness in her cheeks, who knew she could hurt herself laughing.

Mike Delamont: Mama’s Boy allowed an actor to step out of his comedic comfort zone (God Is a Scottish Drag Queen III) to relate a bittersweet and affectionate portrait of his late, adoptive mother who was both a widow and a troubled alcoholic. At one point in his youth he engineered his own entry into foster care. Deft handling of such harrowing material, perhaps a form of therapy for Delamont, drew misty-eyed smiles.

A frantically paced multi-media show entitled The No Bull$#!% History of Canada easily trumped Conrad Black’s recently published Rise to Greatness: The History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present for brevity. Humour and history can make for complicated bedfellows; this mildly amusing amalgamation of factoids and punch lines was incapable of offending anybody at all.

The Garneau is the last art deco cinema left in Edmonton. Saturday afternoon it revisited its roots in vaudeville, hosting a one-man musical revue called Six Guitars. The actor/musician/comedian alternated playing the role of one of six clichéd archetypes: a head-banger, a folkie, a jazz cat, a bluesman… The theatre was dark and close… The seats up in the balcony were comfortable… We dozed off, middle-aged victims of a late night last night. A full house standing ovation at the finale woke us up.

Whether or not any of the four shows Ann and I caught or any of the other 199 we missed will endure is moot; the Fringe was here. It leaves tonight. Traffic patterns in Old Strathcona will return to normal. The festival is the unofficial sayonara to summer; Labour Day is just around the corner and Edmontonians will start dressing properly again. What lingers is the festering recrimination of the gut bombs, the artery-clogging and heart-stopping consumption of fair food: green onion cakes, samosas, donairs, jumbo hot dogs and lamb sausage in pita. Hot sauce on everything! Here’s hoping Fringe delicacies don’t hurt me twice; I’ve no wish to collapse shovelling snow next winter.

No comments:

Post a Comment