Seeds on the street at Fringe
Fringe Festival offers a host of theatrical adventures
FROM MUSICALS and probing dramas to lighthearted comedies and one-woman shows, the 14th Hamilton Fringe Festival is in full swing at10 downtown Hamilton venues until July 30. The following reviews are a small sample of the variety of productions currently on stage.
Seeds Serve Ping Pong, 107 King St. E. — A total of 29 shows, various dates and times
Kit Simmons expertly weaves themes of urban development, sustainability, noble pursuits and good old dreaming big into this compact 15minute site-specific play.
“Seeds” begins outside Serve Ping Pong with Simmons cheerfully distributing plastic shovels while holding a box containing sprouts and gardening materials. As the audience walks around the corner and down the street, Simmons chats amiably about downtown Hamilton and its potential and you start to think you’ve stumbled onto an avant-garde piece that culminates in a greening of the downtown core. Thankfully, this is not what happens. When Alma Sarai suddenly appears, she and Simmons begin an utterly relatable and well-written lover’s spat.
Sarai’s character clearly loves Simmons’ but she’s frustrated with her seed plantings and never-ending ideas about making the world better. Simmons’ outward focus is causing their relationship to wilt. Sarai’s character represents the straight and narrow: she’s the hard-working breadwinner doing what people should do. Simmons is the dreamer, the one with lofty goals who’s unafraid of change; willing it to come, in fact.
“You want to change the world, but you’re so out of touch with me,” Sarai tells Simmons.
A sweet and enjoyable short play, “Seeds” is excellent food for thought.
Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy Artword Artbar, 15 Colborne St. — July 25-27 at 9 p.m., and July 28 and 29 at 8:30 p.m.
Writer/ director Ronald Weihs has assembled an acting powerhouse for this 60-minute drama.
Dora Award-winner Learie McNicolls is Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and Howard Jerome is Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator known for his pursuit of anyone affiliated with Communism in the 1950s.
The play is based on actual transcripts of Hughes’ testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953. But this isn’t a courtroom drama and there’s no thundering climax.
Instead, the play features McCarthy asking Hughes questions about his poetry. Seated, Hughes answers but then rises to narrate a poem. A skilled dancer, McNicolls artfully adds to his delivery of these poems, which punctuate issues such as workers’ rights, racism, inequality and religion. Weihs also tackles more philosophical topics such as whether a writer’s views be separated from his work.
“Let America be America again,” Hughes urges. He also admits, “There has never been equality or freedom for me.”
Weihs also uses music and projects photographs of the actual court proceedings plus other images of the era on a screen behind Hughes’ courtroom desk to remind the audience of the societal tensions of the 1950s. Of course, looking at a sign that reads, “We want white tenants in our white community,” forces audience members to consider our current climate on racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Despite top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure, this production’s hindered by its overly ambitious script, which, at times, seems more intent on raising issues than offering any attempts at resolution.
The Lost Years Artword Artbar — July 25-27 at 7 p.m., July 28 at 6:30 p.m., and July 29 at 4:30 p.m.
The opening-night packed house hinted the team responsible for “The Lost Years” has a loyal following. And for good reason.
Director Al French deftly handles Peter Gruner’s thoroughly enjoyable and humorous script featuring couple Carly (Deb Dagenais) and Ben (Gruner) who date, marry and navigate their way through the exhausting world of child rearing.
Gruner coined the phrase “The Lost Years” as that time when parents’ dreams are pushed aside in order to focus on their children’s needs. Rather than turn his phrase into a soppy mess, Gruner’s hilarious string of short vignettes highlight the road every parent travels. To coax Ben into having children, Carly snips, “Most people find trying to have babies fun,” a beautiful juxtaposition to the serious business it is for others.
A quick note on the acting. It’s superb. Dagenais and Gruner are exceptional and their comedic timing spoton. But the real genius of this 50-minute production is the script. In just a few lines, Gruner can encapsulate the mood and complexity of a topic and offer a resolution. “If you have boring cravings does that mean we’re going to have a boring baby?” Ben asks Carly, who continuously reads “the book” about parenting.
We move through epidurals and breastfeeding to birthday party invites, the prospect of a vasectomy and the classic-to-end-all-classics: what the basket sitting at the top of the stairs means for husbands.
This is must-see Fringe — even for those who don’t have kids — and one hopes it finds a larger audience after this week.
Alma Sarai, left, and Kit Simmons in “Seeds.”
Deb Dagenais, as Carly, and Peter Gruner, as Ben, in “The Lost Years.”
Learie Mc Nicolls, left, and Howard Jerome star in “Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy.”