Fringe Review: The (W)hole of Emily Scheller

10 days of Fringing.
16 blue, yellow and green ticket stubs to show for it.
7 meals of hurried, pre-show take-out from Sushi on Bloor and Simon Sushi (god bless them).
Way too many hours spent poring over my now tattered, coffee (and wasabi!) stained festival guide.
One play that blew me away: The (W)hole of Emily Scheller.

"I'm trying to fill the hole that I've created, created by just being me. The more I try to fill it, the larger it gets."

And so begins The (W)hole of Emily Scheller, a decidedly helter-skelter look at the ups and downs of life through the eyes of a young girl. Working backwards through time, a snarl of punch-drunk scenes documents the defining moments in the title character's 19 years of existence. Loneliness, dejection, confusion and insecurity all come out to play as Emily feels her way--often uncomfortably so--through life. Through life and all of its dos and don'ts, its should's and should not's, its exhilarating joys and soul-crushing sorrows.

Conceived as an independent study at York University's Theatre program, writer and director Dawn Nearing's play was actually a last minute replacement for another production on the Fringe bill. The night I went down, I met a woman in line who had, in fact, arrived to see The Chiquita Chronicles. After being informed it had been replaced by Emily Scheller, the disappointed lass left. Poor woman, she missed the best play she was probably going to see at the festival this year.

With no set and minimal props, Emily Scheller, instead, uses lighting and incredibly creative staging to great effect. Knee slapping, tinkle-tempting hilarious one minute, then heartbreaking, slap-in-the-face touching the next, the play is consciously quirky in the most delightful of ways. The script plays yo-yo with the emotions, and the result is a beautiful foray into the human subconscious, a dialogue with the confused, misdirected child in all of us.

Credit largely rests with the play's outstanding cast. The role of Emily, and all the characters in her life, is shared by three actors, who each deliver exceptional performances. Mike Young is phenomenal onstage. His commanding stage presence, refreshing energy and chameleonesque talent for characterization impresses. Whether playing the protagonist or even (surprise!) a flaccid penis, he nails it. (Though, that then begs the question, does one necessarily want to "nail" the part of an enfeebled shlong? Is this something that actors aspire towards? Hmm. Fringe food for thought.) Rachel Blair is fantastic as well, capturing the subtleties and mannerisms of a girl, from age 19 to 5, with surprising verity. She is a joy to watch. Lindsay Small is strong as well though, against the two powerhouses, her performance lacks the wow factor exuded by her costars.

From the most entertaining pre-show warm-up this writer has ever seen--think audience harassment and choreographed dances to the likes of Salt n Pepa, the Pussycat Dolls, and Snoop Dogg--to its final heartwarming moments, the play is affecting, arresting, in short, amazing. The (W)hole of Emily Scheller will suck you in, delight you for every moment of its full hour-long run, and then spit you out, rattled and reeling from the experience.

After 10 days of Fringing, this is my pick. Its last performance is this afternoon, so get that toosh down to Factory and catch a fantastic production (then come buy me a beer at Salad Days afterwards as a thank you for the recommendation...).

Rating *****

Venue 4 - Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst, at Adelaide)

Remaining showtimes:
Saturday, July 15, 2:15pm

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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