Reviews from the Hamilton (ON) Fringe Festival (What the Fest).

by Lynn on July 24, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Christopher Stanton, the Artistic Director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, is not letting a pandemic get in the way of producing the Festival this year. While events can’t take place as usual in person in the theatre spaces in Hamilton, Ont. they are taking place virtually on line and on porches in the city.

The whole endeavor is called What the Fest and it runs July 21-26 to see shows when they first appear and then until Aug. 9 for further live-steaming. It’s an eclectic mix of plays, music, songs, stuff for kids and sound scapes. I was pleasantly surprised to see work from people who were of a certain age and not just young theatre creators starting out.

The work I saw was a cross-section that ranged from lightly whimsical, serious in implication, a beautifully written and performed piece that was based on a true story, a play in which a young man has to deal with his father’s disappointment and a sweet reminiscence from a beloved journal.

Strange Bedfellows

By Ray Z Rivers

Directed by Ray Z Rivers

Cast: Ilene Elkaim

Valeri Kay

Ryan Perera

Ray Rivers

Ridhi Kalra

Terry and Beth are returning home to Canada after spending the winter in Florida. Their car breaks down after they have crossed the border, right down the road from Donna and Phil. Terry and Beth knock on Donna and Phil’s door for help. Beth doesn’t feel well—she thinks it might be all that drinking she did last night. Or maybe it was the burger. In any case Donna says that they have to quarantine if they are returning from the States and so Terry and Beth spend the next 14 days with Donna and Phil and their daughter, Malia. Beth gets sicker. Perhaps it’s the flu or a cough or something she ate?

Playwright Ray Z Rivers packs his play with all manner of hot button topics: the musings of Trump supporters, Canada-US relations, climate change, the sarcastic attitude of Malia (a university student) to everything adults say and the various secrets she’s hiding and of course the ever-present virus.

As time passes scenes take place in various rooms in Donna and Phil’s house with various costume changes to suggest the passage of time.

While we, the audience, come to the play with hindsight that perhaps Beth should get tested NOW, I liked that the people in the play were in the middle of it and didn’t have that hindsight, or even common sense until much later. Rivers has created a situation—strangers seeking sanctuary—which is fraught with possibilities, all humourous.

Conspiracy of Michael

Written and performed by Stephen Near

 Directed by Aaron Joel Craig

A man (Stephen Near) sits in a gloomily lit room (it’s a basement we learn later). He speaks with conviction about education and how the government dictates how you should be educated. He speaks about the tyranny of the multiple-choice answers to a question, and who says there is only one right answer? He comments on the tyranny of democracy. He laments that his mother has died and that his sister wants to sell the house, and he’s holed up there (in the basement) not budging.

Initially I wondered who he was talking to. Gradually, as Stephen Near’s play slowly reveals itself through his nicely modulated performance (kudos to director Joel Craig as well), you realize what is going on and who is talking. An interesting piece of writing about a complex situation.

Waiting for Mark

Written by Annie Massey

Directed by Joel Haszard

Cast: Diana DiMauro

Joel Haszard

Annie Massey

Rob Scavone

Harold Tausch  

I’m going to just copy the description of the show from the What the Fest site because it’s wonderfully wild.

Waiting for Mark — an uplifting play about dead people on Facebook. Four strangers meet in a beige half-world. Daisy (a woman of a certain age who knits), Emma-Rae (a flighty actress from Coronation Street), Abel (an older fellah waiting for his own beneficiary cheque) and Devon (a youngish man who is taken with Emma-Rae) are dead, but they don’t know it. All were posting selfies to Facebook at the exact instant of their tragic deaths. Together, they face betrayal, victory, redemption and birthdays. Then comes the mysterious Vladimir – an envoy from the Boss. Mark Zuckerberg is losing billions and dead account holders aren’t buying from his advertisers. Will Vladimir finally delete their Facebook accounts?”

The premise is wild and rather fitting in this techno world that has us all captive to our screens. The people in the half-world don’t know they are dead. They have no sense of time. It’s cold in the room but the thermostat suggests otherwise. Abel has posed as his own beneficiary when he fakes his death and is waiting for his cheque (wild!).

Waiting for Mark can stand a bit of a tightening edit, but I’m just delighted Annie Massey, who plays Daisy with a lovely dead-pan, wrote it!


Playwright: Steven Elliott Jackson
Director: Ryan Graham Hinds

Sound and music by David Kingsmill

Starring Rebecca Perry

Presented as a radio play.

From the program blurb: “In 1800s, when gender roles were clearly defined, Sarah, a young Canadian, becomes Frank, a Civil War soldier; also the only woman to receive a pension. A unique viewpoint from history.”

Sarah was born in New Brunswick. She was an immediate disappointment to her stern father. There were six kids in the family but only one son and he was weak and sickly. When Sarah was born her father wanted a boy, hence his disappointment. Sarah spent her life trying to earn her father’s respect and finally did when she worked hard beside him on the farm and didn’t flinch when the going got tough. She wore pants to work. She felt comfortable in them. While she got her father’s respect it didn’t last long because when she came of age he said that she had to marry and he would arrange it. That was enough for Sarah. She left home. Dressed as a man to disguise herself this allowed her to move freely in society. Sarah became Frank. Frank got a job as a book salesman. He prospered and did business in both Canada and the United States (although that’s not what they were called then). When the American Civil War broke out Frank enlisted and fought. The disguise was convincing.

Sarah/Frank is a wonderful play by Steven Elliott Jackson. (He wrote the equally compelling play, The Seat Next to the King). He has fashioned a play that creates the life of Sarah and Frank that is based on a true story. His language is particularly vibrant because he has captured the formal way of how one might speak in the 1800s when the play takes place, without it seeming stodgy. Sarah’s confliction between being born a woman but feeling more comfortable in her skin as a man is beautifully, sensitively established in Steven Elliott Jackson’s bracing dialogue.

Rebecca Perry (Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl) captures the many layers of Sarah/Frank’s character. As Sarah her voice is light but firm. When Sarah assumes the identity of Frank Rebecca Perry lowers her voice a bit to suggest the masculine voice. And later in life, years after Sarah assumed her feminine identity, her voice has the subtle quiver of a woman in old age. It’s care like this, aided by the fine direction of Ryan Graham Hinds, that make this one of the best plays I’ve ‘heard’ in a long time. Kudos also to David Kingsmill for his effective music and sound effects.

Loved this show.

Prairie Odyssey

Written and directed by Valeri Kay

Costumes by Cast and Valeri Kay

Lighting by Rev. Douglas Moore and Valeri Kay

Performed by: Sondra Learn

Alison Chisholm

Charly Chiarelli

Prairie Odyssey is a story of resilience in the face of grief and hardship in the 1930s. We get the details from the character of Becky on the occasion of the publication of her mother’s journal that chronicled that time.

The family lived happily and in prosperity in the small community of Chesapeake Bay until Bobby, Becky’s young brother died in an accident. The place held so many sad memories that the family moved to Saskatchewan because of the prospect of free land. Becky’s father would take up farming, something he knew nothing about. The play follows the difficulties of that first harsh winter and the drought-filled summer. Through it the family prevailed.

The cast play various characters and nicely differentiate between them by putting on a new hat or a different bit of clothing.

Charly Chiarelli plays various parts and also provides the sound effects and music, all played on a harmonica. At times I thought the music and sound effects overwhelmed the delicate play instead of just leaving the audience to use its imagination to fill in blanks. The amount of music should be rethought.

I appreciated the commitment of the cast.


Written and performed by Anthony Raymond Yu

Directed by Karen Ancheta

A young man is packing a box with books and other things. He is upset. As he tries to move a box with things on it he loses his balance and the box goes flying. In the mess he finds a letter, reads it, is further upset and crumples it into a ball and tosses it behind him. He then retrieves it, smooths it out and carefully puts it into a box of keepsakes. The doorbell rings. The young man pulls out his cell phone and looks at it for some reason. He puts down the phone and goes to the door (he’s off camera here). He says “Hello” but no one is there. When he comes back into the room music starts to play: Lukas Graham singing “7 Years” (“Once I was seven years old/My mamma told me/Make some friends…”

What followed was a performance/dance piece in which the young man takes an empty frame from the memento box and reacts with joy and love to the photo that might have been there. He also finds a long black scarf that he threads through the frame. The frame and the scarf encase him, bind him, hold and release him. The movement is full of grace, emotion, despair and other feelings as he remembers. The last scene is the man speaking to the camera as if addressing his father, suggesting they have had a falling out and it’s imperative that they come to an understanding.   

I was intrigued by this piece and by the artistry of its creator, Anthony Raymond Yu. There is a mournful elegance to it and lovely symbolism with the frame and the scarf, connecting the two. From the body of the work it’s not clear if it leads to the last line when the man talks to his unseen father. I wanted to know more about the situation and the piece only hints at it.

What was in the letter and who was it from? Am I supposed to assume it was a hurtful letter from his father? I think that must be clarified. Who rang the doorbell? Why did the man look at his cell phone? Perhaps these questions might be answered with further development of the piece.

I was so interested in the story I looked at what the program notes were: “An aging father; an injured son; and a wounded relationship unresolved. Poised between sending and receiving, the memories of a man and his father resurface. Sifting through their history of joy and grief, man measures the nature of his past in relation to his future.” I want to see that show!! I think [inboks/outboks] in its present state is a good beginning. It needs fleshing out so that the performance piece is brought closer to the description of it.

Comment: Anthony Raymond Yu gave an enthusiastic thank you to those who checked in to watch his filmed piece. He welcomed comments if they liked it. He also welcomed comments if a person didn’t like it or had a concern. He said, “I can’t grow if I don’t know how to grow.” How refreshing, an artist who knows and appreciates the value of all feedback both positive and offering suggestions of improvement. Anthony Raymond Yu—I’ll remember that name and look forward to his next show.  

Full festival schedule available at

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