Review: Island Fringe Festival 2019

Fringe Oddities

Reviews by Sean McQuaid 

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Despite his oft-muted mug, your somber scribbler likes a fun time. The Island Fringe Festival’s literally random selection of plays tends to be hit-or-miss in that regard, ranging from rollicking good times to crushingly dark fare, plus plenty of experimental weirdness.

Checking off the “dark” and “experimental” boxes this year are Dead People Are Liking Things On Facebook by RT Collective of Toronto, Ontario, a “performance lecture” by Christophe Dupuis; and L’asexualité des abeilles by Création Thoracique of Montreal, Quebec, a French-language exploration of asexuality starring the play’s author Gabriel Guertin-Pasquier and Sara Déziel, with voice-over work by Maxime Isabelle.

Dupuis’ lecture is largely devoid of showmanship, seemingly by design: it’s just Dupuis seated in the dark with a microphone and a laptop (its content projected onto a larger screen), scrolling through dead people’s Facebook pages and talking quietly about them – about the people themselves, and about how others have interacted with their pages since they died. 

His observations, while thought-provoking, only scratch the surface of the subject – and we never find out how one of Dupuis’ deceased friends liked a product on Facebook from beyond the grave, since Facebook’s not telling; but Dupuis’ focus on dead Facebook users whom he knew personally offers insights into Toronto’s gay community and builds an affecting sense of quiet poignancy despite his just-the-facts delivery.

L’asexualité des abeilles (The Asexuality of Bees) is way showier, way weirder, and written & performed in French. Guertin-Pasquier has described his character as a fictional young Montealer who rebounds from a romantic setback, seeking comfort in asexual revelry and friendship. Bees figure into all this metaphorically as insects that can be asexual.

There were bits I didn’t quite follow due to my imperfect French, and bits that confused me regardless of language, but the piece has emotional and visual punch even when clarity is uncertain. Déziel is a vivacious bundle of energy, and Guertin-Pasquier is anguish personified – for instance, the play’s vivid opening vignette of him writhing in slow-motion agony amidst the angry buzzing of insects, his face half-masked by a ragged grey shell like a broken wasp nest, is one of 2019 Fringe’s most memorable images.

On the lighter side, 2 Sheets Theater Company of Portland, Maine offers Still Looking, a collection of theatrical shorts starring Jason Lesaldo and Allison Strausberg. It’s odd, occasionally semi-inscrutable stuff, but more fun than the bees and undead Facebookers put together. The duo enacts scenes of “connection and isolation” via stylized, dance-like physical movement, light manipulation (often using various handheld lights) and dialogue, playing multiple roles such as a gleeful simpleton (an infectiously joyous Strausberg) obsessed with her own bellybutton while her friend (Lesaldo) is trying to ponder life’s big questions. Tender, unsettling or funny as their varied scenes require, these are animated, expressive and very watchable performers with fluid physical grace and considerable charm.

Read more reviews from this year’s Island Fringe Festival here and here.

reviewSean McQuaid