I had the privilege of covering Fresh Meat 2015 so I jumped at the chance to get in on its 2016 incarnation. Not surprisingly, the festival provided an interesting cross-section of styles that is thoroughly enjoyable, with enough of a break in between to make the shifts in theme not all that jarring. Also on the plus side, they nailed the transition between shows, with even the acts having more complicated staging able to be set up quickly and efficiently.
As for the shows themselves, read on…
If you can’t be the best, kidnap the best and make them do it; this is the tenet that Greg Houston claims to be the foundation for a quirky generation that includes anyone and everyone alive during the 1996 release of Space Jam.
A somewhat directionless meander down memory lane, Space Jameration comes across as a curious blend of stand-up comedy and storytelling. While Houston earns many laughs with his self-deprecating sense of humour, the play falls somewhat short in its storytelling. While ostensibly bound together by its Space Jameration theme, it delves more into tangential stories of childhood, short parables loosely based around being the best.
While some of these stories were entertaining, the majority of them deviated strongly from how I envisioned the show based on its press. That’s not a bad thing per se, but it did make it harder to zone in on the narrative, especially where Houston returned once again to the theme of the Space Jameration he loosely orbited.
Ironically enough, though it made up only a small part of the performance, Houston’s intense passion for Space Jam (and for Kevin Sorbo) ranked as some of my favourite parts of this performance. His obsession with the minutia of that movie was quirky and novel, and I only wish this part had been further elaborated upon.
One of the shorter works of the night, S.S. Lightbulb still manages to shine amidst its fellows. The gist of the performance is that three not-so-skilled not-quite-electricians must rally themselves to fix a lighthouse in the midst of a raging storm. Out of this week’s five shows, this was the one I was most eager to see. But then I always look forward to shows that make play with light and shadow.
And play they do, as MonicaBradford-Lea, Even Gilchrist and Cullen Elijah McGrail endeavour to rebuild the beacon that must be lit.
There is a definite sense of the clown in their childlike and comical antics, and of all the acts performed that night, this is the concept I would like to see expanded into a full length production.
Even watching them setup their stage was a treat. Playing the stage hands setting up their own props, Bradford-Lea, Gilchrist and McGrail each added a subtle flair to their non-acting roles, playing the clown while most of the audience was milling about. I always appreciate the little things; the bits that only the watchful are privy to.
Burger King Lear
It’s hard not to love Kate Smith’s Burger King Lear. It makes perfect use of some nostalgic found audio and literally involves costumed hamburgers murdering one another in a bloody/ketchupy recreation of King Lear – all in only 20 minutes!
But it wasn’t only the burger based comedy that set this one apart from its fellows. Smith managed to manipulate a complex burger cast of just under a dozen, keep them all in one piece (at least while they’re meant to be), and add – through a blend of entertaining burger puppetry and her own vocalizations – a vivid persona to each of her beefy co-stars; from burger King Lear himself to his Pogo of a fool.
All the more laughter inducing was Smith’s way of engaging the audience or rather, engaging the forces of the King of France and Edmund. Needless to say, the food did fly…
Burger King Lear also employed digital media through found audio clips and brief quotes and character descriptions as each burger makes his or her debut. Since there is very little actual dialogue, aside from Smith’s characterizing mumblings, this helped immensely to condense the complex story of King Lear into a twenty minute production. The only downside was that your attention would often be torn between what’s printed on the (tablecloth) screen and the action going on on top of it.
Loosely scripted, largely improvised, Three (by the Plants Improv Troupe) was an exercise in procedural world generation. Comprised of quick and comical skits, the audience watches as a small fraction of a larger city is carved out on stage. Starting from the worries of one man anxiously waiting for his cheese sandwich at a restaurant, we move behind the counter to see what’s at work behind the scenes, and then to the bar down the road, and on and on…
Throughout most of these scenes, a common thread could be traced, creating a unique world filled with bizarre and interesting characters, even if they didn’t necessarily serve a greater purpose and meaning. To top it off, the characterizations presented by Jordan Moffatt, Hayley Robateau and Chrstian Glas were very impressive. Far from being the same vague person acting out different scenarios, they thrust themselves into startlingly vivid and nuanced personas at a moment’s notice.
Though I’ve been skeptical of improv in the past, Moffatt, Robateau and Glas greatly surpassed my expectations. Together they created a zany and off the cuff performance that managed to stay more or less cohesive throughout the show. I find it hard to not compare their act to great sketch comedies like Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Reviewers Top Pick: Unzipping the Cat
For anyone who has followed my reviews, it should come as no surprise that my favourite work of the evening was the powerful work of storytelling that Kevin Reid provided for us: “…a 2-month cat sitting job that becomes a 5-year friendship. My life and times with Winston the Cat.”
With a well thought out story, Unzipping the Cat was concise, polished, funny when it needed to be, sad when it should be, and kept you wanting to hear just what happened next.
While from the get-go you have a looming sense of where this story is going, the hope and affection Reid infuses into his words gives you hope for a heartfelt and happy ending. However, not all endings can be of the happy variety, and sometimes the sadder endings are the ones that stick with us the longest.
A few shows this night employed complex props and constant comedy to keep our attention, yet Reid captivates his audience with merely a few lighting changes, his own voice and an old acting exercise from years gone by.
Reid nailed his in twenty minutes, and I’d be thrilled to see this one again and again.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you thought? What was your favourite show of the night? What are you most looking forward to in the 2nd week of the freshest festival in town? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below.