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The hit and miss of virtual festivals

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Hamilton Fringe Festival poster. Image: Artwork by Vermillion Sands​/Hamilton Fringe Festival/Twitter

The Hamilton Fringe Festival, action-packed musicals, dance, comedies, dramas, magic shows and family entertainment from over 50 companies, is well underway.

This week I watched plays that demanded my attention, challenged my moral fortitude, brought me to the point of vomiting, and whisked me away to a by-gone era where life was just as tough for working folks. How's that for a pandemic staycation!

The Laughter had a slow start, but then it had me hooked. It's November 1943 and Lucille Ball is guest starring on the Abbott and Costello radio show. Ball and Costello, alone in the dressing room pre- performance, talk about the harsh realities of life off-stage.

The socially distanced set worked wonderfully since each actor appears to be in their own cubical putting on their make-up while discussing how to deal with life's disappointments and personal catastrophes.

This play gives viewers insight into the private lives of two of the people who lived to make us laugh.

The Laughter (40 minutes) written and directed by Steven Elliott Jackson and performed by Brandon Knox and Kate McArthur is a Minmar Gaslights Production.

It's A Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops That Killed Breonna Taylor (40 minutes) was made for the screen. Sound bites of information -- often desperately trying to correct misinformation -- teams up with constantly changing screen shots that take viewers on a journey leading to one truth: white people can't empathize with, nor can they honestly be invested in, eradicating systemic racism because it's not their lived experience. Instead, they engage in performative activism. Not to mention there are just too many other things demanding their time, like, say…brunch.

White privilege and fragility prevents white people from being actual allies actively supporting Black Lives Matter as they fight to abolish policing or slavery or racialized capitalism or the white supremacist world as we know it.

It's an eye-opening experience for all white folks to realize and acknowledge; lip service and texting is just not enough.

It's A Beautiful Day for Brunch and to Arrest the Cops That Killed Breonna Taylor features Roselyne Dougé-Charles, Carly Anna Billings, Liz Whitbread, and Patrick Teed in this Afterlife Theatre production. A portion of profits from this presentation will be donated to support the work of PASAN, a community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization that provides support, education and advocacy to prisoners and ex-prisoners across Canada.

All I can say about The Container is: Run! Run! Run as fast as you can from The Container (40 minutes). There's the potential for a lot of soul searching and moral debate when playwrights clandestinely bring together a corporate fascist Wall Street businessman, an apparent socialist idealist and a lazy, self-serving con-woman, but this insipid play never tried to reach such a lofty goal.

Instead, the three castaways illegally purchase space in an otherwise empty cargo shipping container in hopes of escaping the poverty, ecological disaster and a global pandemic that has befallen the planet.

During the "two-day trip" to a socialist Utopia, viewers are subjected to a weak script (and that is being extremely kind), predictable plot punctuated with "bathroom humour," and abysmal acting. Even bored teenagers fed up with the lockdown would give this shitty production (pun intended) a pass!

My recollection of last year's production of Prairie Odyssey has the performers socially distanced on a "stage" at the Cotton Factory. The play was reminiscent of an old-time radio broadcast. I enjoyed it so much I couldn't wait to revisit this nostalgic story again.

While the cast has remained true to Valeri Kay's script for this Fringe Festival, the change of set wasn't quite as compelling. The veteran cast of Patti Cannon, Alison Chisholm, Charly Chiarelli and Valeri Kay was true to form but the backdrops of 1930s-era snapshots did little to enhance the storytelling.

With a minimalist set and no soundtrack, Chiarelli's harmonica fills in supplying all of the nostalgic songs and sounds that take a depression-era, life-weary family of three from Chesapeake Bay, U.S.A. to Melfort, Saskatchewan and finally to Kingston, Ontario.

I suggest you close your eyes and listen to the "radio" version of this lovely tale from Bon Mots Productions.

Hamilton Fringe Festival events are available online until July 25. Tickets and passes are available in a range of affordable pricing from Pay-What-You-Can-Afford, $5 to $20 plus fees per show, or as 6-Play, 10-Play and 20-Play passes. Every patron must also make a one-time purchase of a Digital Fringe Backer 'Button' for $5 to help fund the festival. If you live in Hamilton you may want to take advantage of Skip the Glitches and host a live performance on your front lawn -- see website for details and costs.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Artwork by Vermillion Sands​/Hamilton Fringe Festival/Twitter

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