Reviews from the FRINGE: ONE LEFT HOUR, HER

by Lynn on July 13, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Note: I’m never here for the Fringe because I’m always on ‘vacation’ in England. Except this year. I came back Wednesday, July 11 and am able to catch some shows.

One Left Hour (The Life and Work of Daniil Kharms)

At the Randolph Theatre, Bathurst St. one block south of Bloor, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Good Old Neon

The committed company of Good Old Neon set their performance beliefs for the audience in their program note:

“We are committed to an arts practice that privileges experimentation over consistency, presentation over representation, experience over storytelling. We decline to accept a model of theatre-making that reckons art in the same terms as consumer product: “good,” “bad,”  “boring,” “fun,” “popular,” “premium,” “quality,” Art can be some of these things, for some people, some of the time, but it is not of these things.

We understand this approach is not for everybody. We hope that it will be for you. But if not—that’s okay too.”

In One Left Hour they explore and question the work (poetry, compositions etc)  and ideas of Russian artist Daniil Kharms. By Kharms’ own admission he says his poetry will confound he audience. That does not seem to have compelled him to make it ‘easier’ to comprehend. (They offer a neat chronology of Kharms’ life and work.)

Good Old Neon challenges themselves by doing what seemingly is the impossible–to present Kharms’ poems without explaining them, but doing them in a way that shows the company’s rehearsal, exploration process.

One poem in particular illuminates Kharms’ iconoclastic ideas and self-deprecation: “Four Illustrations Of How A New Idea Dumfounds A Person Who Is Not Prepared For It” has several people: a writer, an artist, a composer…declare who they are and a response. For example: “WRITER: “I am a writer. READER: I think you are s__t!” Kharms provides the ideas of identity of both the artist and the person receiving the art. The replies are both pointed and sad at the same time.

Good Old Neon question everything; they challenge themselves and each other; they pass those ideas of challenge and question to the audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even scare themselves with this task. It’s that the best kind of theatre?  The result is bracing, sometimes confounding, but always provocative and engaging.

The company is presenting challenging fare and as always with Good Old Neon, it is well worth your time. Rather than being intimidating you will be welcomed into the theatre from the stage in an embracing way. The program also has a caring message as it says: “Go Vegan. Be Kind. Help a Stranger. Care.” I have trouble with the Go Vegan bit, but that’s just me.

They have performances: July 13 at 11:00 pm, July 14 at 5:15 pm.



At the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre, St. George St, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Deborah Shaw

Directed by David Agro

Music composed and recorded by Beverly Lewis

HER is a one woman show written and performed by Deborah Shaw and directed by David Agro.

Toronto, 1954. Ilsa is the HER of the story.  She is having her friend Helga to tea and she’s brought her great nephew Gunter who is visiting from Boston where he is in university studying history. There is easy banter between Ilsa and her old friend Helga. Gunter is another matter.

For years Ilsa had a secret about her past and she didn’t tell anyone. She lived in Germany during the war and was a successful baker.  But she has a secret she has been hiding and yet Gunter gets her to talk about it so easily. Slowly her secret is revealed. For me to tell you more would reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say Ilsa has not been as forthcoming with her past as she seems to be with Gunter.

While it is a one person play that does not mean that Deborah Shaw plays the other parts as well. She gets around this nicely and we are still able to tell who is saying what.  Ilsa addresses the other two imaginary characters and greets them as if they are in the room. We lean about their dialogue when Ilsa replies to their questions by either repeating the question before she answers it or she refers to it in her reply.

Deborah Shaw has written an intriguing play with a deeply hidden story.  Her dialogue is crisp, beguiling and draws you in. Shaw slowly reveals the deep secret of Ilsa’s family She assumes a slight German accent and an efficient manner.

Director David Agro has her setting the stage for the initial tea, with silver tea service and a three tier cake stand full of Ilsa’s baked goods.  He has Ilsa naturally navigating the stage which is her world.  There are no gratuitous movements for movement’s sake. Beverly Lewis has composed a score with indications a phone or doorbell is ringing.

There is a sense of efficiency about the whole enterprise, but I do have concerns. Without giving anything away, I found it odd that Ilsa would so easily tell Gunter, who she knows slightly, the deep secrets of her life, but not Helga her long time friend and Gunter’s great aunt.  There is an effort in David Agro’s program note to suggest that Gunter had one idea about Ilsa’s background but changes his stance when Ilsa tells her story. I don’t think that theory is supported by the dialogue. Gunter seems suspicious of Ilsa and it grows during the show.  Shaw has written about rumour and innuendo in the life of Ilsa and it continues as we get deeper into the play. Shaw has illuminated quite nicely the insidiousness of rumour and the damage it can do to a person.

Her is a strong piece of writing, indicating a firm hand on how to tell a story. The play needs another pass to solve some logistical problems and to flesh out Ilsa’s story.

Her plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse Friday, July 13 at 7:30 pm and July 15 at noon.

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