The Loner Show (Fringe)
Robert Gill Theatre, check local theatre listings for show times.
By Kerry Wright Zentner
How do you feel about things that have no real meaning? If they satisfy you, then you should go to The Loner Show. You should also go to it if you are one of those lucky people who enjoys absurd humour and meandering, dreamlike (or nightmarish) situations which do not consent to really resolve themselves, and which are satisfied to merely exist. This sounds harsh, but I am actually recommending the show.
The Loner Show is not really theatre in the classical sense. That is to say, it is not a play, and is not to be confused as a heartfelt and touching story of five lonely urbanites, trying to find love in the big city. Loner-holics anonymous this is not. There is no overarching plot and, although the performances are all character-based, no real development of character is employed. Although the show deals with the highly relatable themes of love and loneliness, the characters and situations stray so far into absurdity that they do not attempt to be related to reality at all, and are presented as a freak show more than anything. No revelations to the soul here, just good old-fashioned improv. In that sense, The Loner Show is really like a night at a comedy club, but sans the annoying hecklers and cheap booze.
This is how it played out on night one:
I enter the Robert Gill theatre, which is small and low. It is tucked away on the third floor of the Koffler Student Centre located at College and St. George, and it feels kind of confining. Soon the lights dim and a projector screen alights. The projects host and mastermind, Brian Barlow, takes the form of a handy man for the following video, and then appears onstage, in costume, for a short skit and to make the introductions. After the first introduction (wherein the notion of randomness will begin to take root in your mind), Michael Balazo takes the stage, bouncing around as a “Rex-kwon-do” style combat instructor who proceeds to advise us on the dangers and virtues of hand-to-hand combat (or foot-to-crotch combat) and the ways in which it has led him to love. After another introduction by the resourceful handy-man, we are treated to a video made by a disheveled, down-on-his-luck realtor (Levi McDougall) who apparently doesn’t have the interpersonal skills to give a tour of the house he is selling in person, and who, by the end, is seen lying dismally in the bathtub. Next up is Katie Crown, taking the mic as a shy first-time-reader who wants to share her story with us. Don’t let her act fool you though, she has a dangerous comedic mind that, as it turns out, is far from withholding. Following this is Kathleen Phillips’ story of finding love with a tiny, hideous man after being attacked by the voracious claws of cupid. And capping it off, Chris Locke makes an urgent appeal for the audience to help his village, regaling us with his travels thus far, which have included him receiving some abuse to his self esteem from a pair of mystical forest parrots.
The show (it clocks in at only 35-45 min.) dips midway, during the Q and A session (administered by our host), where we become aware that we are simply watching a guy filling time and trying to have a few humourous thoughts while on stage. More often than not, the answers to the audience’s questions are quick and funny, if brief and without direction. The idea of being complicit in the improvisation is appealing, but it could have gone further.
The important thing to note about The Loner Show is that it is largely improvised. The characters may be preconceived, but the whole show has an atmosphere of having been concocted on the spot, and apparently it was. This means that each and every night, an entirely different set of situations will be enacted, making no two viewings alike.
The only major let down was the fact that the six of them do not (nor any combination thereof) come together to do a final ensemble performance. It seems a major oversight to get six of Toronto’s finest comedians together and to not even have them collaborate. I felt the show could have used some cross-comedian repartee, rather than just serving to showcase each of their individual skills under the one loosely conceived theme of the loneliness and awkwardness that afflicts their six dismal characters. I would have also liked to see Levi McDougall improvising in person as opposed to on screen, although I did find his video entertaining.
Even so, I still saw some of the brightest local comedians dishing out their finest goods, and that’s why it worked. For me, the highlights of the show were firstly Katie Crown’s outrageously concocted and perfectly performed tale of redemption through explicit fetish sex in a populated shoe store, and Chris Locke’s run on sentence entreating us to help him save his wife who was kidnapped from town by villains on rollerblading evil horses, then given a sex change operation and apparently sent back to rape him (in case you can’t tell, this show is not kid-friendly). His tale played out as would a chapter from Candide had Voltaire been exposed to numerously more psychedelic drugs and eighties cartoons.
Ultimately, it was in these stream of consciousness moments when the brilliant dream logic of improvisation shone through the most. And those moments made the experience worthwhile for me, and are why it’s still reverberating around my skull.