It’s July in Toronto, which means it’s time for the Fringe Festival, the grand-daddy of them all.
Whether we’re talking about Summmerworks, Rhubarb, The Fringe, or one of the others (forgotten by my heat-addled brain) the premise is largely the same (with a few variations that matter more to participants than to the audience in my opinion). Sharing is the key, as several productions share the venues & the revenues generated by such a festival. They’re constrained by the rules to employ limited lighting & design, moving in and out quickly so that several shows can share the space each day.
The dream is alive. Producers & performers alike come to The Fringe in hopes that their short play might use this wonderful showcase as a springboard to various scenarios of bigger and better. How else to explain the incongruities one sometimes encounters, of tiny companies, the usual short plays (as stipulated by The Fringe’s rules), and amazing talent? The reason The Fringe is a can’t-miss proposition for an audience is the opportunity to see these shows in tiny venues, so close to the performers that you can hear them think.
Every year there are a few shows that get extra attention for reasons I don’t pretend to know. It’s word of mouth, whatever that really means. That’s how I heard about The Wakowski Bros: A Canadian Vaudeville, which was my first show of the 2012 Fringe. I was intrigued. Vaudeville? It’s a subject that fascinates me (Canadian or otherwise) and the venue is ridiculously convenient for me.
I was also drawn to Wakowski Bros because it’s directed by Alex Fallis, a Toronto theatre artist I’ve known for a very long time.
The funny thing about Wakowski Bros is how it’s simultaneously several things all at the same time, conflating its subject and style into one elegant package. It uses a vaudevillian delivery to explore something of the history of the form, even as it also tells a story about brothers (an irresistible topic for anyone like me who has a brother). The writing is a dazzling bit of meta-theatre, situating us in a performance that explores performance. We’re watching a vaudeville show about vaudeville, complete with bad jokes, sentimental songs, physical gags and a paper thin artifice. Although the tunes are original, written & composed by Wesley J Colford (who wrote book, music & lyrics), they have the disarming ability to make you think you’re hearing an old tune from bygone years.
Sometimes Fringe shows become big hits, and are given extended runs, often in extended versions. It may be that Colford’s play can work in a longer version, but I am especially impressed at how powerfully it works in the short time-slot of a Fringe show. The ending surprised me –something like a discordant cadence—until I recognize that the last moments are likely Colford’s (or Fallis’s) way of showing us which of this play’s several threads is truly paramount (between comedy & music for their own sake, the history of vaudeville and the story of the brothers). Derek Scott and Duff MacDonald are wonderful brothers, although the show is stolen by Loretta Bailey as Caitlyn Rose McLean.
The Wakowski Bros continues at the St Vladimir’s Theatre (thankfully an air-conditioned venue), 620 Spadina Ave until July 15th.