Montreal Fringe Festival: Drama and comedy in 10-minute plays

Montreal’s annual St.-Ambroise Fringe Festival has at it all, from the allegorical to the zany, and much in-between.

It’s almost a sure thing – at only $10 a ticket – to discover, be amused, shocked, and enlightened. Among the shows is Adrift in the Zigzag, five short plays directed by veteran Corey Castle that reflect ostensibly simple slices of urban life. Tickets are sold in advance, so book early.

The Zigzag is “an urban crossroads for lost souls and wacky misfits,” says Heather Pengelley, one of the authors.

“These are everyday stories of everyday people on an ordinary day when extraordinary things happen.”

She said themes are presented in both original and comedic ways, and include homelessness, domestic
violence, sexual exploitation, and the soul-destroying pain of guilt.”

The action will take place in various parts of the room – Mainline Theatre at 3997 St. Laurent, corner Duluth. A linking element is a cello-playing busker, performed by Rachel Burman.

• Pengelley presents Spirit World – an abused woman has a vision, a mystical dream experience, similar to a Native American vision quest. It’s the most esoteric script.
• Terry Griffin Burman has written Café Simone – At a local café, there is an interchange between Darko, a male customer in a café run by Simone, and two women who enter the conversation.
• Ellie Chartier developed Ten Seconds – Two police officers, a man and a woman, are in a police car on a stakeout and their relationship unfolds when dramatic things happen.
• Carole Laviolette offers Mother’s Day Treatments – In a chance encounter at a pharmacy on Mother’s Day, a male character looking for a gift at the cosmetics section meets a female clerk from their high school. Complications ensue.
• Charles Abramovici conceived of The Duster – Three homeless people engage in a local grocery store. Pengelley declines to reveal more about it.

The writers came together while studying at a workshop with playwright Colleen Curran at the Quebec Writers’ Federation.

“We were part of a group that took classes from Colleen for two to three years, at the QWF and privately, and the five of us kind of jelled,” Pengelley said. “Colleen asked us to write five-minute pieces about the artists in the Beaver Hall Group exhibit, and we each had a piece in what became Picturesque.

“We all have a love of playwriting and words. We kind of banded together and in preparing for a joint production in February, we entered The Fringe lottery and won!”

They then wrote their plays, hired actors and director Corey Castle, and have been rehearsing intensely. “We are all writers, different personalities, strong-willed independent types. It’s been a lot of fun working together,” Pengelley said.

“It’s certainly been a wonderful learning experience, and we owe so much to Colleen,” she said about Curran’s mentoring. The writers, all 55-65, can draw on extensive life experience.

“You’re never too old to achieve your dreams,” Pengelley observed. Going from the page to the stage is a full commitment, and the writers also produced their segments.

The actors are mainly under 30 and either attending or recent graduates of theatre programs at Dawson College, John Abbott College, or Concordia University. Among the more experienced are Carolina Alves-Bruni and Lucas Chartier. Each is cast in at least two of the plays.

Pulling it all together is Corey Castle, whose directorial experience includes Lakeshore Players’ Shakespeare in Hollywood, four Bowser & Blue productions and Cabaret at Centaur, and shows at Lyric Theatre, Hudson Village Theatre, and Theatre Lac Brome. Castle read the scripts and immediately said “yes.”

“I like the fact they are all so very different. You have heavy drama, the Sprit World, which is a lot more theatrical, fun to play with, a simple piece with two people in two chairs because they’re supposed to be in a car.

“Then there is the challenge of bringing five pieces together, with the help of a cello player who has a machine that can do special effects.”

Mainline Theatre has space on three sides, and Castle has decided to use it as if it were a theatre in the round. Each play will be staged in a different corner. “There will be so much variety in an hour. Some will like one play more than another, which is natural, but since the plays are only ten minutes long, if you don’t care for one right away there will be another, and it might be hilarious, or the next one might have you crying.”

Adrift in the Zigzag is on June 9, 8 pm; June 12, 5 pm; June 13, 6:30 pm; June 15, 10 pm; June 16, 8 pm; and June 19 2:15 pm, at Mainline Theatre, 3997 St. Laurent, corner Duluth. Tickets $10. 514-549-FEST or

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