Montreal Fringe: Kissed by a Butterfly, She Has a Name, Nothing Never Happens in Norway, How to Stop Kicking Ass and Killing People
I saw two heavy but excellent shows on Saturday, and two comedies – one that hit the mark, and another that landed pretty wide of the target. In other words, a typically various and exciting day at the Fringe!
Kissed by a Butterfly
In this one-woman show, Shiong-En Chan recounts her personal experiences as an in-patient suffering a severe lupus outbreak. Describing her physical ordeals, her humiliations, and her mistreatment by hospital staff – as well as experiences of extraordinary kindness and connection – Chan paints a picture of disease as a transformative journey.
More than anything else, this play is brave. Chan, often openly weeping during the performance, tells her story with such emotional honesty that looking her in the face almost feels exploitative. But Chan also places great emphasis on individuality and dignity as things she strove for in spite of her passive position. “I don’t like complaining,” she remembers thinking. “Spoils my day.”
Obviously this isn’t the play to watch if you’re looking for something lighthearted. It’s raw and intense and sometimes quite graphic. But ultimately, it’s an uplifting story, and one that gains by being performed in such an uncompromising way.
She Has a Name
An undercover agent attempts to win the trust of a teenaged prostitute in Thailand, and so expose the organization that abducted her. Delving deep into the hidden world of human trafficking, She Has a Name is a stylized but nuanced look at an issue that isn’t often talked about.
The acting and writing in this play are both astounding. I know a play is doing something right when I find myself completely absorbed, and I was right there with the characters for every moment of this ninety minute show. Evelyn Chew is particularly compelling as Number Eighteen, a character who sheds emotional armour before our eyes.
The only element of this show that doesn’t always work is the Greek chorus that periodically takes the stage. Representative of other girls in Number Eighteen’s situation, their chanted lines and ghost-like movements edge on the bathetic. The chorus does, however, provide a much-needed emotional outpouring toward the end of the show.
Nothing Never Happens in Norway
Nothing Never Happens in Norway is a musical comedy that Frankensteins two of Henrik Ibsen’s plays (The Master Builder and Rosmersholm) into a sprightly farce. Putting particular emphasis on Ibsen’s famously manipulative female characters, but also poking fun at Ibsen’s political preoccupations, Processed Theatre’s first original production is Scandinavian angst as you’ve never seen it before.
Saturday’s performance got a standing ovation, and it was easy to see why: the acting and singing are strong, and I can guarantee that you’ll get at least one of the songs caught in your head for the rest of the day. The show isn’t without flaws, however: there’s such a thing as being too meta, and having a character step forward and acknowledge her role in the plot (“I’m only here to deliver exposition!”) is a joke that gets old pretty fast. I’d have appreciated more time spent getting to know the characters as Ibsen described them – the better to laugh at them, of course.
How to Stop Kicking Ass and Killing People
Taking the form of an infomercial for a self-help book, From Struggles To Snuggles, this play encompasses a loosely connecting series of sketches, most of them centered on anger and the annoying people who provoke it.
This play is pretty weak all round. Most of the gags fall flat and all of them feel faintly familiar (there’s at least one ill-conceived riff on Russell Peters). There isn’t a striking dearth of acting talent; the material is just poor, with many long rambling exchanges that don’t lead to discernible punchlines.
Troublingly, Saturday’s performance ran thirty minutes instead of the advertised forty-five, making the $10 price tag seem pretty steep. Spend your money elsewhere.