50 Ways…, a new Fringe show from the mind of Mahayana Landowne, promises to fit 50 scenes into just 70 minutes of runtime. How can she do that? When you see it, the answer will become hilariously and heartbreakingly obvious: it only takes a moment for something to end.
50 Ways…, inspired by the hit song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon, shows exactly 50 breakups. Lest you be concerned about monotonous repetition, be assured that they and the 14 playwrights they recruited to create these scenes have masterfully constructed an evening that flows like a river, full of twists, quiet places, and turbulent rapids that make the night speed by with burbling joy and sorrow.
What brings 50 Ways… to this superlative, 5 star top class of the Fringe status? There’s an easy answer and a hard answer to that question. The easy answer is that they use as many theatrical tools as you can and then spread them over the evening to give the evening texture. The hard part is how they do that.
The best way the creative team creates this texture is by varying the tone of the scenes over the evening. A temptation in making an evening of breakups might be to stray into farce by only showing the most ridiculous of breakups. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of those, like a husband bringing home a beautiful au pair when the couple has no children or a man being broken up with over a white courtesy telephone at the airport. But there are also brutally realistic scenes of tragedy, like a man going out on his first date after his wife has succumbed to dementia, leaving her behind with a home care nurse. Never knowing what to expect makes 50 Ways… an edge of your seat affair.
The creative team also plays with form, and here is where Bitar, a dancer by trade, and his cast shine. Some of the scenes are simply interpretive dance (a couple connected in bed by a red thread) or something more choreographed (a singing telegram), but others use the physical talents of the cast to tell special kinds of stories. A stand out in this category is IO Browne, superlative in many scenes, but especially in the breakup of two ancient Roman statues.
closes July 28, 2018
Details and tickets
Scenes like that physical breakup of statues of Hadrian and Venus display an additional layer of cleverness — not all of these breakups are necessarily the ending of a romantic relationship. Sometimes the breakup is more about an attachment, Deborah Davidson (who usually plays women of a certain age in these scenes) tugs at the audience’s heart strings as an 8 year old leaving her blankie behind. Sometimes a break up happens before a relationship, like the meeting of a pair of queer women in a bar that ends with a thrown drink.
Scenes like that keep 50 Ways… grounded in present reality and truthfulness. Queerness, mixed race relationships, a spread of class and culture, and every combination of age pairings are normalized throughout, never exoticized, but never erased either. These writers, actors and creators have made a collection of scenes that is conscientious, while still being critical of human foibles and caring for human flaws.
The final trap 50 Ways… deftly sidesteps is an insidious one. The monumental task of preparing an evening of short scenes lures one into treating each scene as discrete and not considering the whole. I’ve seen that pitfall happen to my own work (I produce a short form performance art series myself), but the creative team does a few clever tricks to make the evening feel holistic. One longer scene takes place in five parts over the evening, nicely spaced out, showing the same couple breaking up multiple times. The serious pieces are never too close together, so their power remains fierce. Then there are fun interplays between scenes placed next two each other, like the horrific shock of one’s partner being taken away by immigration forces next to a friendly Canadian woman rejecting her lover because of excessive Americanism.
All of these layers make 50 Ways… a delicious parfait of performance that is good to the last scoop. Buy a ticket. Take a bite. It might be the tastiest thing you try all Fringe.
50 Ways… by Aaron Nauta, Andrew Boyd & Katie Peyton, David Zellnik, Emma Goldman-Sherman, Ginger Myhaver & Hugo Pellinen, John McGarvey, Kurt Opprecht, Lizzy Bryce, Louise Knowles, Mariana Newhard, Sarah Duncan and Sam Graber . Director: Samir Bitar & Mahayana Landowne . Choreographer: Samir Bitar . Featuring: Zoe Walpole, LJ Moses, IO Browne, Aidan Hughes, Deborah Davidson and Jack Mayo . Presented at Capital Fringe Festival 2018 . Reviewed by Alan Katz.