Monday, July 31, 2017

Fringe By Rita Bailey

So many must-see plays, so little time. That sums up Hamilton’s 2017 Fringe Festival. It’s on until this Sunday July 30, so there’s still time to catch a play or two. Better yet, Fringe Binge with an even half-dozen. Most plays are an hour in length, and many venues stage three productions per evening, so you can make it a double feature.
     With so much to choose from, I settled on venues within walking distance of my home. Fortunately both The Staircase Theatre at Dundurn and King, and Players’ Guild at Jackson and Queen offer an excellent selection. So far I’ve caught two productions at the Staircase and recommend them both.
     As soon as I saw the poster I knew I had to see THE ELEPHANT GIRLS. Billed as “The Bloody tale of an all-woman Gang that terrorized London,” it further intrigued me because it was a one-woman show. It takes strong acting skills and a polished stage presence to captivate an audience with nothing but the power of your voice and body language. Margo MacDonald, who is both the writer/creator and the actor/narrator, has the chops to do just that. Her character, Maggie Hale, is a composite of several real gang members.
     The setting is a London pub in 1937. Maggie is persuaded to tell her story for the price of a few pints. MacDonald doesn’t just act the part of Maggie she embodies it. A suit-wearing, bloody-knuckled, girl-chasing female enforcer, MacDonald swaggers and brags, bullies and slugs her way through the story of Alice Diamond and her 40 fellow thieves. This notorious girl-gang ruled the Elephant and Castle neighbourhood of London from the end of WW1 to the late 1920s.
     The Elephant Girls is playing Friday night at 8:30 pm, Sat. at 12:30 and Sun. at 3:55.
     Another all female cast and crew make up the production of TWO SISTERS, also at the Staircase. This black comedy is set in a small village in1880’s Russia. Two sisters, Anya and Sonia, arrive home to discover an empty coffin in Anya’s lodgings. Is this an omen of impending death or a symbol of past guilt come back to haunt them? A session of sisterly bitching ensues. They trade accusations and recall past loves while passing the vodka back and forth, as the dramedy builds to a revealing confession.  A must see for anyone who has a sister or wishes they did. Weekend shows are Friday at 7:10, Sat at 9:05 and Sun at 7:20.
     This play is all the more notable for its young cast and crew. Sarah Gervais, a second-year acting student at Ryerson plays Anya, while Anna Morreale, a recent Westdale graduate, plays Sonia. The director is Bridget Odette, who has just completed her first year of studies at McMaster University. Stage Manager Victoria Caravaggio has trained and instructed at Second City Toronto, and currently attends McMaster University. Zoe Bedford, another Westdale grad, attends University of Toronto. All these young women are talented and passionate about inspiring female artists to participate in Canadian theatre. Many won awards at the high-school level. They have a promising future ahead of them.
     To check out other selections in venues throughout the downtown area go to At $10 a ticket, prices are affordable and 100% of ticket revenues are returned to the artists. A one-time purchase of a $5 Backer Button is required for the series and those sales go to support the Hamilton Fringe.
     Another tip: arrive early. There are line-ups to purchase tickets and no late entries are allowed. Go early, mingle with other patrons, and then sit back wait for the magic to begin.



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