Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ottawa Fringe - Again

Live From the Belly of a Whale

No one mentions this show without the words "Countries Shaped Like Stars" popping up at some point in the conversation. And for good reason: in 2009, Nicholas Di Gaetano and Emily Pearlman rocked everybody's world with their charming musical-romantic-comedy-fairytale-epic. It was with great joy, then, that everyone greeted the news of their return this year with Live From the Belly of a Whale. So the question is, of course, was it worth the wait? Does it live up to the hype?

I'm going to take an unintuitive tack, and say that it does not matter nearly as much as you might think.

By this, I do not mean to demean the hard work and planning that are apparent at every turn of Live From the Belly of a Whale. What I do mean to say is, like in a fairytale or a fable, the magic of Countries Shaped Like Stars was inside Pearlman and Di Gaetano all along (say it with me now: awwwwwwwwwwwwww...). It really does transcend the show(s). In fact, because of the way these two interact with each other and the audience, it's hard to tell exactly where reality ends and the show begins. I think that's part of what makes their act so compelling: unlike stand-up comedy, or a memoir like Fucking Stephen Harper..., you're not just you, sitting in a seat and watching someone talk; however, you're not being asked to fade away into omniscient nonexistence either, as is the convention in conventional theater. It's the stage equivalent of magical realism, and I love it.

Also independent of the specific show they're doing are the actors. This is the real treat when you go to see Live From the Belly of a Whale. Di Gaetano and Pearlman are extremely gifted performers both. They can sing, they can dance, they can act...and they do all of these with incredible aplomb. Pearlman is in many ways Canada's answer to Felicia Day, and while I haven't found as compelling a metaphor for Di Gaetano yet, he's winningly handsome, and every bit as charismatic as she. I can't put it better than another Fringe volunteer, who said of the pair: "I'd sleep with them. No, either one - I don't really care which. Both, ideally".

Live From the Belly of a Whale is half-story, half-musical (the songs are wonderful. I think the Citizen said "album-ready" and I really have nothing to add on top of that. It's about a brother and a sister, their childhood together, their eventual separation, and a bittersweet re-union (I'll give you three guesses as to where). Their style hasn't changed much from Countries Shaped Like Stars, but that's a good thing. They go from third-person narrative, to in-character dialogue, back to narrative, they do a song, there's some charming pantomime...the varied storytelling devices are not only a breath of fresh air - they're also used to poignant and humorous effect in a few places (the siblings passive-aggressively narrate details of their own story to each other: "Once, there was a girl whose German accent was not so good as she thought it was...").

But, in the end, you're going to this show as much to see the actors as you are the script, or the direction, or the lighting, or any other element. You're paying your $10 (or fringe pass, or whatever) to be entertained by two beautiful, talented performers. And they deliver.

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