2010 Edmonton Fringe Review Day 1

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing

If you're a fan of music about windstorms, you can't go wrong with Gordon Lightfoot's incredible classic The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you're attending a play at the 2010 Edmonton Fringe, however, there is no play featuring the music of Gordon Lightfoot. Instead, if you want musical storm content you'll be best served by checking out The Tornado!: A Musical Prairie Tragicomedy.

In the play, the fictional town of Red Pine, Alberta was founded on the endearing love and Protestant work ethic of the first homesteader. His son (or grandson, the dialog suggests both) did well for himself, becoming "small town rich" [this line doesn't appear in the play, its entirely copyright Third Edge of the Sword Industries. -ed] and mayor of the town as well. Unfortunately, their idyllic prairie lifestyle cannot possibly survive the dual evils of both a tornado and the CBC landing on the same day. What town could?

The show features music (composer Rob Mitchelson has a MySpace page featuring so far two songs, but sadly not Our Town (Is Better) which is the best work of the play), puppets, and an impressively large red pine prop which fortunately isn't quite wide enough to conceal Sarah Sharkey's impressive figure when she hides behind it. It also features a lot of F-bombs and course language. Like, a lot of course language. And sexual content. The program itself advises 14+, so all the parents angry about the bad words in front of their 8-14 year old kids probably should have read the program. If you're a parent who doesn't read programs and does read reviews, there is a lot of swearing here despite the puppets.

Anyways, along with the aforementioned Rob Mitchelson and Sarah Sharkey (if you doubt my characterization of her, doubt no further!), Patrick MacEchern rounds out the cast. They're all competent enough singers, and indeed for the style of music delivered here any sort of Tony-award nominee would ruin it, the performance overstepping the self-imposes small prairie town feel designed for the play. The puppets are a neat dramatic device, allowing for a few bits of intentional and unintentional comedy, but I'm left with a sinking feeling that the puppets were useful moreso that the cast could feel properly detached from the curiously lacklustre script. Basically the plot is about Liz, a bitchy CBC reporter [bonus points for accuracy! -ed] who travels the country doing the Lorraine Mansbridge style fluff pieces on small towns. She hates the job, hates anything outside a perfect city life, and considers being in rural communities the dues she has to pay on her ruthless rise to the top. Ira, the mayor the of town, thinks that her interview with his town-founding grandfather Horatio will spark a new dawn for the community. Ira's son Clay and his girlfriend are having problems that a sexy big city celebrity certainly won't be fixing, and meanwhile the sock puppets around town (no, this isn't an internet personality reference, these are actual sock puppets) whisper rumours that Horatio's story of perfect love on the slow boat from Liverpool to Halifax is the cover for a deeper secret. At the end it turns out this may be true. Or isn't. Having setup a dark deep mystery behind the town (whether you think the concept is worn or not), the writer kinda leaves that plot by the wayside for more jokes involving fucking.

The 65 minute runtime sort of drags a bit, and the most entertaining bit was Rob and his puppet Tom both doing a little silent physical acting. Funny for the first 30 seconds, the next 45 seconds of it was broken up by the laughter that it kept going. Somewhat impressively, he didn't seem to breathe. I'm also guessing that various guest "Tornadoes" will appear throughout the show's run, and the meta-humour of the fourth wall here was probably its only positive occurrence. The Tornado is not a bad play, its suitably entertaining though hardly riveting.

If you want to read more about this play, they have their own blog at http://fringetornado.wordpress.com.

As an aside, the Strathcona Public Library is a very small and intimate gathering. Holding 90 people (really? that many?), if a show in that venue gets a good review and it interests you, buy tickets ahead of time. They won't last.