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.

Al Lafrance

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.

Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker

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.

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the plan to make seven Downtown Montreal metro stations free on weekends and the summer festival season beginning with Grand Prix and Fringe.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

The press release for What About Albert? had me at hello:

An absurdist comedy. A Godot inspired fever dream! Pick and Pod are two helpless part timers trapped in a restaurant that may or may not exist…

And the website offered the following advisory: Content Warning This show may depict existential dread and gore.

Be still my heart.

If Waiting for Godot is nihilism dressed in the somber, tattered suit of Chaplin-era tramps, this is a self aware romp of quick wit, wearing the face paint of a fast food franchise spokes-clown.

The script is artfully fast paced, like Gilmore Girls or Aaron Sorkin. No easy feat for writer Xander Chung or performers Jordan Prentice (Pod), Fanny Dvorkin (Pick) and Joseph Ste-Marie (Billy – puppet by Samantha Gold); it’s a trick that only shines when everyone’s on the same page, and here, they certainly were.

The stars delivered so much while their characters, by design, did very little. I was impressed by their performances: it was a lot of range to flex, and if they’d slipped up on the tosses and catches of the linguistic acrobatics, the whole thing would’ve collapsed. A risky prospect that succeeded wonderfully.

I definitely laughed more than expected, and the absurdly strange plot turns did not disappoint. There were truisms hidden in plain sight too, deep fried and ready for consumption.

When Pick says “Appetite and fries are all I have”, maybe I felt it a little too hard; in the end, it’s tasty experiences like this that add flavor to the weird ride we’re all on. Go check it out while it’s hot and fresh.

What About Albert? runs at the Montreal Fringe until June 19th. Tickets at MontrealFringe.ca

Photo by Joseph Ste-Marie, courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

To say that it’s wonderful to finally have the Fringe Festival back up and running would be a serious understatement. There’s a palpable sense of gratitude every night, as eager audiences and passionate performers exchange smiles of appreciation in venues up and down The Main.

After a two-year drought, we’re clearly desperate for some live entertainment, but that doesn’t mean any old thing will quench our thirst. Montrealers are a discerning bunch, so with that in mind, we offer the following reviews of shows currently featured in the festivities.

Tango on the Pointe (photo Andrew Clark)

Even those unfamiliar with dance will find themselves swept up in the enchanting Tango, to the Pointe – a sensual and spellbinding show that fuses Argentinian tango with classical ballet stylings to thrilling effect. Director/choreographer Alexander Richardson and partner Erin Scott-Kafadar bring the language of love to vivid life through movement in this eye-catching production, the Company’s fifth thus far.

It opens with an edgy number lit by LED lights before gradually progressing into more traditional tango territory. The dynamic duo slink across the floor to the sounds of spoken word, guitar and eventually accordion accompaniment, the likes of which causes legs to unfurl into dazzling spins.

Their crisp movements and astonishing flexibility early on give way to a softness and vulnerability that pulls you in during their third routine of the evening, set to pleading piano music. Tango, evidently, can be about more than simply building and releasing tension.

Mark Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar (photo Mark Ruddick)

Humor starts to creep in around the halfway mark, with Richardson playfully encouraging the crowd to marvel at his muscles before dancing a deconstructed tango with two wooden poles in the place of a partner. Scott-Kafadar busts out some unexpected moves all her own, including a moonwalk en pointe and a feat of strength so startling it’s best left unspoiled. By the time she’s twirling around with one foot in a pointe shoe and another in a stiletto, you’re likely to believe there’s little she can’t effortlessly handle.

It all comes together in a breathless finale punctuated by lifts that will leave you cheering and wanting more. This blend of tango and ballet is the dance equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter – a combination so satisfying you’ll never want to see them separately again.

The only complaint possible is that the final Montreal performance of Pointe is apparently already sold out. Luckily, their next stop is the nearby Ottawa Fringe festival, where they’ll dazzle audiences for six performances between June 16th and the 25th.

Isabel Fuentes and Alexander Cruz (photo Rana Liu)

Considering what’s unfolding in the United States right now, the timing couldn’t be better for an insightful piece of theatre that explores the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Regrettably, A Little Bit Pregnant, which plays at Mainline Theatre, misses the mark by a whole lot. This meandering play from Concordia student Kate Lavut recycles a series of well-worn cliches leftover from sitcoms long since departed in its depiction of two couples reacting to the news that one of them is with child.

The script skips over the crucial step of establishing compelling characters and jumps straight to the agonizing and hand-wringing over what must be done. Unusually long pauses punctuate the leaden dialogue, which consists of gems like “I wanted someone to want me!”, “I love to love you!”, “it was different then!” and the obligatory “my uterus – my choice!” By the third reference to “making love”, you’ll start to wonder if the playwright constructed this piece from fragments of an old Dynasty script.

What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in unintentional laughs. Alexander Cruz, dressed in a grandad sweater and perpetually fussing with his hair, brings welcome comedic energy to the role of Shane, particularly when blathering on and knocking over plants. He has zero believability as baby daddy to Isabel Fuentes’ Tasha, mind you, but her natural charisma and confident delivery are almost enough to help you forget that pesky little detail.

A Little Bit Pregnant Cast (photo Rana Liu)

The likeable Sarah Durocher (Maya) and Sanjeev Mannan (Tony) are given so little of consequence to do, they’re upstaged by their costume changes and a concealed bag of popcorn, respectively. It’s a real shame their character arcs are all as flat as a pancake because with material better suited to their strengths, it’s easy to imagine this cast carrying a more memorable piece fully to term.

That’s the charm of Fringing: sometimes you wind up seeing something polished and perfect, and sometimes you see emerging talents before they’ve fully found their footing. Either way, at these ticket prices, you’ll still spend less than you would at the multiplex. So, head on over to the Montreal Fringe website for more information and enjoy the remainder of the festival, which we’ll continue to cover here at Forget The Box.

The 2022 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs through June 19. Tickets and info at MontrealFringe.ca