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Fringe 2016 Review: The Stage Manager's Guide to Dating Assholes

08 July 2016 / by Sara Cristiano (author)
Catherine Fergusson as
Catherine Fergusson as "Mother Stage Manager" / (photo: Alex Cassels)

The title “The Stage Manager’s Guide to Dating Assholes” is enough to spark anyone’s curiosity, but fortunately the 45-minute stage play slash musical created by the What She Said Theatre Company has far more going for it than just its evocative name. The show starts off with “Mother Stage Manager” (Catherine Fergusson), the audience’s narrator and guide for the entirety of the performance, introducing herself and offering the crowd a plate of cookies while moving around the stage in a 50s-style bright blue dress and apron. In typical “50s doting housewife” fashion, the narrator patiently and perkily takes the audience through the story of three other stage managers – the Drill Sergeant, the Cheerleader, and the One Who Can’t Get Her Shit Together – by taking out her magical storybook and spinning a tale of how these three stage managers all fall victim to the charms of their smarmy, arrogant director, Ivor.

The show was completely enjoyable from beginning to end, and I found myself wanting to know even more about the three main characters, Joan (the Drill Sergeant, played by Katie Coseni), Samantha (the Cheerleader, played by Jemma Robinson), and Iris (the One Who Can’t Get Her Shit Together, played by Shannon Farrell). The personalities of different stage managers were unique and well-defined, and each role was extremely well-acted; I actually believed that Farrell was the type of person who really can’t get her shit together, in the most complimentary way possible. Alex Allan as Ivor, the “Asshole” was also wonderfully over-the- top, successfully embodying many of the traits people typically associate with assholes (a possible faux-British accent, a penchant for long, rambling soliloquies and a love of bongos, among others). The end of the performance, during which the three stage managers dramatically pour out their cups of coffee after learning that Ivor has been sleeping with all of them at the same time, was hilarious and extremely satisfying.

The segments of the show that involved crowd participation, particularly the part when two audience members were asked to come on stage and act as the two lead actors in Ivor’s play Throw, Skip, Ripple, were very funny and added an extra dose of energy to an already animated show.

As well, the eventual reveal that the show has more layers than the audience is originally led to believe – the disembodied hand that has been giving Mother Stage Manager props throughout the performance is actually an imprisoned techie, and the real stage manager of “The Stage Manager’s Guide to Dating Assholes” calls down to stage from above while Mother Stage Manager has an emotional breakdown – was creative and interesting.

The only aspect of the show that didn’t quite work for me was the sudden, seemingly impromptu musical performance that took place during the final third of the show. If additional musical moments had been spread throughout the show, the performance may not have seemed as jarring. It may have made more sense if the music had come in at the of the show, but all of the characters on stage had to sing and dance and then immediately return to normal, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The ultimate message of the musical performance, however – if you don’t treat your techies well, they can and will screw you over – was both humorous and accurate.

Final Verdict: “The Stage Manager’s Guide to Assholes” is funny, entertaining, and at some points even informative – if I’m ever involved in a stage production, I’ll now be sure to remember that stage managers do, contrary to popular believe, get coffee.

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The author

Sara Cristiano

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