The weather these days may be failing us, but two Fringe Festival shows are definitely delivering, especially if you have a penchant for time travel.
Comedian/Storyteller Al Lafrance, who has been appearing at the festival for a decade now, returns to the stage with a reflective piece entitled Is This Yours? at Café Campus. As the title suggests, Lafrance is often curious about the items he finds at yard sales and thrift shops and what they say about the complex lives we lead. Old photos and handwritten letters have granted him the opportunity to step into the past, crash hundreds of weddings and enjoy beach vacations with families he’ll never meet.
Sure, it may sound a little creepy to speculate on people’s lives based on the random fragments they’ve donated or discarded, but as the affable Montrealer explains, he’s always been fascinated by the legacies we leave behind. Especially those of “weirdos with passion projects”.
It’s that very fascination that led him to investigate a particularly unusual discovery – a handmade board game about hitchhiking – and seek out its creator in order to understand how it came to exist in the first place. The answer to that question forms the backbone of this show, which touches on the strange twists and turns that can happen along the way to our ultimate destination.
Energetic and unassuming, it’s easy to see why Lafrance is a two-time Just For Laughs Award winner. His cleverly-woven tale soothes and satisfies, like a warm cup of tea after an especially pleasant dinner party. So, grab a bite to eat on The Main, head on over to his show and prepare to be transported.
Speaking of pleasant journeys, this year’s edition of Fringe features an astonishing one-woman show that revisits the remarkable ups and downs of Josephine Baker’s legendary life. Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play stars Tymisha Harris as the titular entertainer – no pun intended – who broke down barriers as the first black woman to star in a major motion picture.
Having already appeared Off-Broadway and toured around the world with this act, Harris couldn’t be more comfortable in Baker’s skin – or her own, for that matter – and is clearly having a ball strutting her stuff. That confidence permeates the show in the best way possible, letting you know from the moment the performance begins that you’re in for a real treat.
This piece covers Baker’s ascent to stardom as a sexy, banana-clad dancing sensation in Paris, her work as a spy during World War II, the various romantic entanglements that popped up along the way and finally her activism during the Civil Rights Movement.
It’s a startling history made all the more vivid by Harris’ elegant and enthusiastic delivery. Baker remains a beloved icon and Harris takes visible pride in portraying the nuances of her dazzling and daunting life.
In spite of being born in St. Louis, Baker was rejected by racist audiences upon her return to the States in the ‘30s. The pain of that rejection is reflected in the songs (Strange Fruit, The Times They Are A-Changin’) which Harris delivers with a powerful, unwavering voice. Special credit must be given to her sound technician, who manages to keep her vocals from deafening the audience. Goosebumps, however, are unavoidable.
Biographical one-person shows can sometimes struggle to maintain their momentum, but Harris paces herself well, jumping from song to dance to witty remark with the inexhaustible spirit of a seasoned performer. In spite of the show’s tight structure, she still manages to be playful and improvisational in her approach.
Magical flickering fingers and a knowing smile compliment her array of eye-catching costumes hidden amidst the boudoir-themed set. Harris even goes through the trouble of including a small statue in tribute to Baker’s pet cheetah “Chiquita”, regardless of whether audiences will even spot it – again, no pun intended.
From the smallest detail to the biggest flourish, Josephine dazzles. It stands easily as one of the best shows to ever play at the Montreal Fringe Festival and is, quite frankly, a must-see.
With the festival wrapping up this Sunday and tickets selling out fast, make your way over the Fringe website to secure your seats and swing by Josephine’s website for more information on the play.