Toronto Fringe Festival

The top 15 shows at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival

The Fringe Festival is set to get underway in Toronto for 2014. And while the World Cup and World Pride have made the city positively electric this summer, it's now time to add to the mix the city's annual independent theatre jam to really blow the roof off.

The Fringe Festival you know and love features 150 shows and a host of exciting sidebar programming. This year the Festival takes leaps forward, offering 100% of tickets online, in advance via smart phone, more underground dance parties, and a new programme called T.E.N.T. to support emerging artists.

Here are my picks for some of the promising shows at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival.

52 Pick Up / Tarragon Theatre Extraspace / Page 14
One of the more memorable Fringe success stories in recent memory comes courtesy of T. J. Dawe whose fringe play Cigars and Toothpaste was optioned into a film, The F Word directed by Michael Dowse, featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. In 52 Pick Up, the subject is yet again about love. Over 52 scenes, each inspired by a new card in a regular deck, a shuffle and flip determines the narrative that unfolds. Will the Queen of Hearts be wooed by the King of Spades?

Parallel Play / Tarragon Theatre Extraspace / Page 16
Pop culture maven Elvira Kurt (Spin Off, Cultural Hall of Shame) lends her considerable talents to the Fringe landscape this year. In Parallel Play, she and Megan Fahlenbock consider the variety of roles that women are called upon to play: sister, daughter, wife, friend, and all around domestic and urban survivor. The satirical portrayals are sure to explode stereotypes with a mix of exaggerated and poignant vignettes.

Toronto Fringe Festival

Potosí / Tarragon Theatre Mainspace / Page 12
This year's Best New Play Contest winner is Alexander Offord whose Potosí considers conflicts of gender, greed, and labour deep within the recesses of the earth. Amidst a raging civil war, tensions boil over when a Canadian mining corporation rep digs deeper into reports of sexual violence at the mine. She soon finds herself a participant in the conflict she was sent to observe.

Lwam is Eritrea's Greatest Hockey Player / Tarragon Solo Room / Page 18
Lwam Ghebrehariat found himself at the centre of controversy in 2010 when the SummerWorks show in which he appeared, Homegrown, was accused of glorifying terrorism by the PMO (the performance festival lost its funding the year following). The National Theatre School graduate and lawyer explores the fallout from the play, as well as the complexities of politics in his home country of Eritrea, in this solo offering.

Hugh and I / Randolph Theatre / Page 21
Expect Hugh and I to be one of the breakout hits of this year's Festival. A talented ensemble of musical theatre folk come together to tell the story of infamous Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner -- Daniel Abrahamson (Music & Lyrics), Kevin McGarry (Book), Ari Weinberg (Director), and performers Jackie English, Gabi Epstein, Alessia Lupiano, Maren Sigson, Lana Sugarman and Jennifer Walls. The musical biopic paints a portrait of the sexual icon through a fitting POV, that of the women who have loved him.

Peter N' Chris and the Kinda OK Corral / Randolph Theatre / Page 22
Comedy duos have a strong track record for making a splash on the fringe circuit with bankable, intelligent scripts. This year, Canadian Comedy Award Winning twosome Peter n' Chris are the duo to catch (with no Morro and Jasp on the bill). They bring with them a host of comedy accolades and a show injected with all the western, tex-mex, dude ranch humour you could ever want.

Common Ground Musical Dissertation

The Common Ground: A Musical Dissertation / Randolph Theatre / Page 22
Give this one full marks for a unique journey -- how many fringe plays begin as a 400-page dissertation? Equal parts heartwarming and intriguing, The Common Ground bills itself as a "musical journey through a research paper" where the subject is a group of teenagers and their queer parents and the thesis is likely that love comes in many shapes and forms. Look for this one to be a feel good Festival pick to carry the spirit of pride throughout the summer.

Three Men in a Boat / Annex Theatre / Page 26
Few troupes are as veteran as Pea Green Theatre Group who arrive at the Fringe with their ninth production. An adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's 1889 British travel journey, Three Men in a Boat follows fearless explorers Jay, George, and Harris as they coast along the river Thames. Sue Miner directs Victor Pokinko, Scott Garland, and Matt Pilipiak in this charming nautical adventure.

Tikva's Orchestra/ Annex Theatre / Page 26
Comedies and well-made plays tend to rule the roost when it comes to Fringe buzz, but each year there's also beautifully rendered dance and physical theatre on offer. Alisa Walton, Ginette Mohr and Thomas Morgan Jones collaborate on Tikva's Orchestra, a physical theatre piece about a Jewish cellist committed to ensuring her fellow musicians survive the Nazi sweeps. The production features an original score from David Mesiha and a narrative that unfolds via climbing and spinning aerial bungee.

Punch Up / George Ignatieff Theatre / Page 28
Annual Fringe darling Kat Sandler (Help Yourself, Delicacy, We Are the Bomb) must not be getting all that much sleep. The young playwright is churning out an average of two plays a year offering audiences a rigorous diet of dark characters behaving badly. In Punch Up, an ingenious romantic kidnaps his favourite comedian to woo the saddest girl in the universe. Sandler directs Caitlin Driscoll, Colin Munch, and Tim Walker.

Redheaded Stepchild & Amusement / Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse / Page 46
You know you're doing something right when audiences are celebrating your shows after ten years on the circuit. That's business as usual for Morgan Norwich and Johnnie Walker whose company, Nobody's Business Theatre, presents a double bill of the well-travelled Redheaded Stepchild and Amusement. If you're looking for proven entertainment rather than the next big thing, you'll find it here.

Loves Labour Lost Fringe Toronto

Love's Labour's Lost / Victory Cafe / Page 62
In a few short years, Shakespeare BASH'd has established itself as the most formidable Bard troupe on the block with celebrated productions of Much Ado and The Taming of the Shrew. With pints and play aplenty at the Victory Cafe, expect the same energy and panache in their adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost. A king and his three gentlemen swear off women for three years -- easier said than done in a modern fraternity setting where red cups abound.

True / Citizenry Cafe / Page 64
Celebrated playwright Rosa Labordé explores the confining qualities of memory in True, about three sisters who must confront the past when their estranged father unexpectedly re-enters their lives. Boasting a talented cast, Layne Coleman, Shannon Taylor, Ingrid Doucet, Sabrina Grdevich and Scott McCord, and some of the city's best designers, Thomas Ryder-Payne, Trevor Schwellnus and Lindsay Walker, expect this one to top most must-see lists.

Summer Spectacular / Frankel Lambert Park / Page 64
What would Fringe be without an outdoor walking tour?! Jacob Zimmer and Small Wooden Shoe traverse the grounds at Frankel Lambert Park with giant puppets to explore myths and the qualities of myth-making with a closer look at Daedalus and Icarus, Robert Oppenheimer and Aaron Swartz, and the promise of a brand new Toronto tale. Let your imagination run wild, through a labyrinth of ideas, under the stars.

Chasing Margaret Flatwood / Campbell House / Page 64
Margaret Flatwood? I wouldn't have a clue who she is. From playwright Robert Watson and director Andrew Lamb, comes a comedy described as 1% rich and 99% satire. Vivienne Moore must salvage her social reputation by throwing a gala to win over the hearts and minds of those who matter. But when the honoured guest's attendance is questionable, the whole party threatens to collapse under the weight of unfulfilled promises.

What did I miss? Add your show picks to the comments below.

The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival runs from July 2-13. Visit the Fringe Festival website for tickets, event times, and additional programming that runs throughout the festival. To claim your own Festival guide, visit one of the locations listed here.

Images courtesy of the Fringe Festival


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