Fringe Festival Review: Neutrino Video Project

What do a pick comb, a Barbie doll, a lighter and Nerds--the candy, not yours truly and friends circa 1999--have in common?

All surfaced from the comfort of their dwellings, from the depths of clunky purses, from the nether-regions of chasmal pockets, to claim their rightful starring roles in a Neutrino Video Project production this past weekend. The finished masterpiece involved--like every good film should--peanut allergies, ninja assassins, the most hardcore anti-smoking brigade to ever exist and one badass Barbie.

Your granny's Sunday evening movie of the week this ain't.

Friends and lovers, say hello to the Neutrino Video Project, the glorious, beautiful bastard child of film and improv. Make nice, now, for this is guerilla theatre at its finest. Each Neutrino show sees several crews of actors, tech folk and general all-round nutty creative types take to the streets to shoot, edit, score and mix an entirely improvised movie as its audience looks on in awe. As the teams are outside shooting their scenes, tapes are run back to the theatre to be edited and watched instantaneously, and the story unfolds in a seamless 60-minute movie. (Note: this may or may not be the neatest thing to happen to theatre since those 'actor' folk came along.)

Born in the Big Apple but seven years ago, the Neutrino movement has since spread all over this fair continent. Today, satellite collectives have happily settled in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, DC, and Toronto.

While the concept itself is mucho neato, the show I caught last week left a little something to be desired. To start, the Neutrino team asked for four prop donations and the crowd happily obliged. These items then spawned four disparate scenes which were to somehow come together at the end.

In this particular instance, there was too much reliance on physical comedy, whose gags wear thin after any period of static repetition. Action and gratuitous profanity were used as crutches to engage the audience and coax some easy laughs. The result? Chase scenes that dragged on, physical violence of the I-punch-you-then-you-punch-me-then-I-punch-you-back variety, and a doll and her human-friend calling each other "bitch" over and over. There's nothing wrong with using slapstick gags to get some chuckles, but after the fifth punch-out or chase scene, laughter inevitably turns from genuine guffaws to the sour grimace of the "uhm, next!" variety. Actual plotlines were barebones and interconnecting themes were nonexistent as far as I could tell, something that would definitely add another (meatier) element of interest.

To be fair, time is scarce and I'm just an armchair critic, but it would be interesting to see how far Neutrino could take a theme with more substance--some of the most interesting improv I have seen has been inspired by serious issues.

Unsuspecting passersby in supporting roles may also liven up the films, as then the pieces would go beyond traditional improv in terms of the players involved. Onstage, in a performance space, everyone in the nearby vicinity knows what the troupe is doing. The real world, however, provides a world of opportunity for spontaneous ha-ha-ha's.

Production-wise, Neutrino floored me. The range of shots used, not to mention the ad hoc insta-cutting and editing, were thoroughly impressive.

Opening for Neutrino at the Toronto Fringe was the talented James Cunningham, a hilarious and versatile stand-up comedian who had the crowd hanging off his every word. (Catch him next week at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.)

What can I say? I adore the Neutrino concept and the efforts I witnessed were impressive, but if they could just step the content up a notch, there would be no stopping Neutrino. Despite my Debbie Downer bellyaching, I'm still a huge fan and will definitely be hitting more performances be it at the Fringe or at their Drake monthly one-off.

It's spontaneous! It's zany! It's Neutrino! Experimental film and theatre, together at last. Hubba hubba.

Rating: ***

Venue 1 - St. Vladimir's Theatre

Remaining showtimes
Tuesday, July 11, 1:00pm
Thursday, July 13, 5:15pm
Saturday, July 15, 10:30pm

Psst: You can also catch Neutrino the first Sunday of every month at the Drake Hotel Underground (doors 7:30pm, show 8:00pm). $10 gets you access to a new movie every month.

The Toronto Fringe Festival features local, national and international companies at 28 venues. Tickets are $10 or less ($2 surcharge on advance tickets) and discount passes are available. Advance tickets sold up to three hours prior to showtime by phone, online or in person at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick, at Bloor). At least half of all tickets for each performance go on sale one hour before showtime at the venue. Festival runs until July 16. Fringe Hotline: 416-966-1062.

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