Next Stage Theatre Festival reviews: ‘ECHO,’ ‘Dead Parents Society: A Dark Sketch Comedy Revue’

Fringe Festival’s curated event fall returns to in-person performances

DO YOU MISS the warm buzz of the Fringe summer air? Fear not because, for the first time in person since 2020, Fringe Next Stage is electrifying the stage at the historic Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Running from Wed., Oct. 18 through Sun., Oct.29, a curated version of the Fringe you know and love showcases six shows ranging from a musical to a sketch comedy show.

In the Buddies in Bad Times Chamber, I had the pleasure of seeing two contrasting shows back to back: ECHO, a play based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, and Dead Parents Society: A Dark Sketch Comedy Revue, which pokes fun at grief.

陳佳琦 Jennifer Tan as Echo (Photo by Landon Nesbitt)

陳佳琦 Jennifer Tan as Echo (Photo by Landon Nesbitt)

What: ECHO
When: Sun. Oct. 22, 8:30 pm; Wed. Oct. 25, 5 pm; Thurs. Oct. 26 at 5 pm; and Sat. Oct. 28 6 pm
Highlight: Greek mythology puns galore
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: A soft-bellied exploration of love and empathy

In between a Greek mythological world and contemporary reality, Echo and Narcissus, in a Romeo and Juliet-esque meeting, lay their eyes on one another. In 90 minutes, ECHO, presented by A Front Company, delves into their passionate romance retold through each character’s perspective. There’s a psychedelic trip, an optical illusion-like turntable as the central set piece and, most importantly, there are two characters who share their soft-bellied emotions on love, artistry and the meaning of life.

Playwright Kole Dunford creates a world between characters that is both enchanting and sharp-witted. If you’re familiar with the Greek myths that inspire it, you’ll enjoy the references (such as Echo’s dog being named after the primordial Greek god of love, Eros). Fortunately, if you are not familiar at all with the source material, this story still stands on its own. However, since the script is bound to the mythological inspiration there are certain plot points it needs to hit that, especially towards the end of the play, don’t always unfold in the text in a way that feels genuine to the story and characters in ECHO.

Directed by Robert Morrison in its third iteration, ECHO has a clear neon-infused aesthetic vision. Pacing is tough in this play, and though mostly pulled off, there are moments where each phrase doesn’t quite meld into the next or actors stumble over a line or two. Not all is lost though, because where the technicalities of the pacing dip from time to time, the heart of this show is unmistakable (and unmissable in my opinion). The chemistry between Jennifer Tan (Echo), and Tom Shoshani (Narcissus) is simply celestial. Tan especially glimmers on stage, bringing a naive sensitivity to the role.

As a result of the convention of retelling their stories, each character begins lines with “Echo said …” or “Narcissus said …,” and much of the play is made up of each character repeating back words that were once said to them. Thus, a show that could potentially remain ‘just another love story’ instead becomes a retrospective piece that is, at its core, about empathy for other’s perspectives — which I think is desperately needed at a time like this in the world.

From left: King Chiu, Shohana Sharmin, Anne McMaster (Photo by Roya DelSol)

From left: King Chiu, Shohana Sharmin, Anne McMaster (Photo by Roya DelSol)

What: Dead Parents Society: A Dark Sketch Comedy Revue
When: Wed. Oct. 25 at 7:15 pm; Sat. Oct. 28 at 4 pm; and Sun. Oct. 29 at 9:15 pm
Highlight: A hilarious and sexy personification of grief
Rating: NN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Funny humans on stage making light of loss

Imagine this: your parent dies, the unthinkable yet unavoidable. What do you do? Well for creator Shohana Sharmin Sicilia, the answer is to make a comedy show out of it. Dead Parents Society: A Dark Sketch Comedy Revue features three comedians (Shohana Sharmin Sicilia, Anne McMaster and King Chiu) who have lost a parent at a young age and now come together to use heart-wrenching grief to entertain others.

Directed by Canadian comedy award-winning director Kristen Rasmussen, the most impactful moments of this piece were the moments that came from the specific and personal. The sketch that steals the stage is the hilarious and personal slideshow of all the odd things each comedian’s parent left them. Items range hilariously from thousands of dollars of utterly unwearable gold jewellery to a sterling silver Angel Food cake knife — each comedian shines in this emotional and dark sketch.

Unfortunately, though a few sketches were poignant, the majority fell flat. While I am admittedly not the target audience of this show, the sketches felt drawn-out, with characters that were more annoying than funny. This piece is also regrettably under-rehearsed, with inconsistent blocking and seemingly nervous actors that dropped multiple lines. This is surprising from a team of comedy pros but perhaps can be attributed to opening night nerves on a play filled with deeply personal content. This, however, does make the stronger sketches more entertaining in comparison, which is especially true for Anne McMaster’s surprisingly sexy portrayal of grief; red silky robe, sultry voice and all.

This personal passion project, while it has it faults, has undeniable value: it brings to the surface a universal experience. This show urges audience members to not hide their grief away but to embrace it. Though it is not a prerequisite to have a dead parent to see this show, I suspect that the jokes hit harder when you are experiencing a similar kind of grief.