Various venues, Charlottetown, PEI – July 28-30, 2022
While five of this year’s Island Fringe Festival (IFF) productions were solo acts, the rest all came in threes: dance show The Fourth R: reduce, reuse, recycle, Revolutionize (discussed in more detail in its own review), quasi-mystical drama The Inevitable Frankie Green and cynical dramedy Temporarily Sinister are all three-person productions, and goofy-comedy-with-heart Another Word for Pomegranate stars two guys and a puppet.
Written and directed by PEI playwright Dana Doucette and stage managed by Jay Gallant at DownStreet Dance Studio, Temporarily Sinister stars Mike Mallaley as misanthropic homebody Emerson (who is nursing a recently wounded right hand); Kari Kruse as his sassy roommate Charlie; and Lindsay Schieck (full disclosure: this reviewer’s cousin) as River, a quirky co-worker whom Charlie invites over for dinner.
Hesitant as I am to say it because of the whole cousin thing, Schieck is the best part of this show. River and Emerson are similarly juicy roles, both confidently articulate and unapologetic misfits (while Charlie has her moments, she’s pretty much the Benvolio to their Romeo and Mercutio interplay-wise); but the funny, likeable Schieck seems more comfortable with the script than Mallaley (who looks like he’s consulting lines or notes on Emerson’s tablet) and feels more natural than Kruse, so it’s the strongest performance overall despite the comedic appeal of Mallaley’s Bruce McCulloch-eque delivery.
The script is a promising early effort by an emerging writer, with some clever and thoughtful touches mixed into the meandering dinner conversation as Emerson and River gradually bond over talk of physicality, sexuality, religion, suicide and more. The direction impresses less than the writing, thanks in part to dull, static blocking and muddy acoustics. DownStreet can be a problematic venue, more than usual on this muggy evening as actors compete with whirring fans to be heard.
A bleaker but more original and adroit production is The Inevitable Frankie Green, staged at the Beaconsfield Carriage House by a North Bay, Ontario crew including writer/director/sound designer Garrett M. Ryan, stage manager/costume designer Heather Theriault and actors Robert Leitner (as homeless North Bay drug addict Frankie), Cali Schlosser (as Frankie’s sister Eva and their abusive late mother Elise) and Matthew Cava Ferraro (as smug otherworldly stranger William Beaumont, who meddles in Frankie’s accelerating downward spiral for his own mysterious reasons).
It’s not a very fun show, what with its litany of drug abuse, violence and all-around despair, not to mention its often literally dark staging and harsh, repeatedly shouty dialogue (part of why this is another show where the audio is unclear by times); but it is a grimly fascinating slow motion human train wreck with some genuinely moving moments and very strong performances by all three cast members, especially Ferraro as the icily enigmatic Beaumont.
Another Word for Pomegranate is the tonal and stylistic opposite of all that, a literally and figuratively bright, relentlessly silly crowd-pleaser of a comedy at the Haviland Club, co-written by Toronto, Ontario duo Cooper Bilton and Tom Keat, directed by Olivia Cameron and produced by Desert Island Theatre Company. Bilton and Keat star as best friends Robbie & Stew, respectively, who work at a bar managed by Igor (a proudly unconvincing sock puppet operated in turn by both actors).
The gossamer-thin plot involves struggling actor Stew trying to force aspiring writer Robbie to finish his long-gestating play so he can star in it, a conflict that escalates when Robbie reveals he is moving away and Stew takes drastic action. There’s nominal conflict here and some moving moments (Bilton especially sells those human bits), but mostly this is all a vehicle for the clowning skills, charm and comedy chops of the leads, who handle slapstick, punchlines and audience interactions with equal aplomb.