Reviews - Fringe 2015

Fringe 2015 Review: Jesters Incognito

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 19, 2015

Welcome to Roxy City, a dystopian metropolis where all entertainment is overseen by the diabolical MogulMedia - "Think Fox News meets Apple meets Hitler's Third Reich" - and the penalty for making a performance without the king's permission is death.

With all creative output controlled by a media monopoly, the citizens of Roxy City find themselves in the doldrums. But as the saying goes, if you outlaw performance, only outlaws will perform.

And so we meet Mister Meister, unlikely revolutionary and founder of Jesters Incognito, a secret society - "kind of like Fight Club, except we don't fight" - of clandestine jesters, people who rebel against the system through impromptu one-on-one guerilla street performances.

Over the course of an hour, we get to meet several members of this group, all played by Harrison Wheeler, who also wrote, directed and designed this goofy, inspiring, one-man multimedia mash-up tour-de-farce.

Interwoven among the scenes in Roxy City are a series of interludes and segues that firmly place the story inside the context of Wheeler's own real-life struggle to come to terms with bipolar disorder, depression, drug abuse and an unexpected auto-immune condition.

Wheeler brings an uplifting energy to his various personae, employing costumes, prosthetics, vocal intonations and props to give each character depth and believability.

The play is highly idiosyncratic: it represents Wheeler's ongoing efforts to make sense of his conditions, manage his mental health and bring coherence to a long creative outpouring in which certain motifs - particularly the archetypal jester - keep reappearing.

Some bits work better than others. His charming reverse-kleptomaniac made great banter with the audience, while his German book-reading ventriloquist was undermined by a couple of incongruously racist jokes.

The scene transitions grounded the story within Wheeler's own life but tended to run too long. Frankly, I wanted to see less font animation on the screen and more Wheeler on the stage.

All in all, it was hard not to come away awed by the sheer scope of Wheeler's creation, which also includes a young adults' novel set in Roxy City.

This play isn't perfect and it won't be for everyone, but I'm glad to know that there is still a place for the kind of quirky, exuberant, off-beat, highly personal performance that doesn't feel like it was written by a committee or produced by, well, a Media Mogul.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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