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Photo: Alex Stairs

Fringe Review: Staying Alive

By Barbara Popel on June 16, 2018

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe Festival

Staying Alive
by Janice Israeloff & Michael Smith
Awe! Theatre

52 min / Comedy / PG

Though advertised as a solo comedic play, Staying Alive is closer to a rather funny inspirational lecture. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that—performers can do anything at the Fringe, including reading the phone book to the audience.

Janice Israeloff tells stories from her decade’s experience as a recreation therapist in gerontology. Based on these stories, I suspect that she specializes in patients with dementia.

She augments her stories with a few graphs from recent academic studies, slides with text on them, a few inspirational photos, and rather too many clips from the original Star Trek TV show. They don’t add a lot to the show. Technical glitches with the A/V equipment on opening night didn’t help.

Israeloff claims, “I’m just as selfish as the next guy. It’s in my best interest to keep people alive as long as possibly—they’re my job security!” But her warm delivery belies this putative cynicism. You can tell from her storytelling that Israeloff genuinely loves her patients.

She has good stories to tell, even if they almost always end in death (hey, we all have to die!). Frequently, she draws a moral from the story—about persistence, about trying new things, about how crucial human companionship is.

Some of her jokes are chuckle-worthy. Her first job was in a “double U home”; that’s a home that’s understaffed and ugly. When discussing her work wardrobe, she points out that men with Alzheimer’s who can’t recognize their own children can still get excited by a little bit of cleavage. She’s in her 50s and fears Alzheimer’s, so she says memorizing her performance is for medical purposes.

Occasionally her memory fails her, or she stumbles over words, but her enthusiasm for her topic carries the day. Her only lapse in judgment is the inclusion of a weak audience participation exercise near the end of the show. We aren’t a bunch of senile seniors in a home, and few of us were amused.

This is an interesting topic for the Ottawa Fringe, where the audience demographic skews to Generation X and Millennials. I suspect that an audience member’s reaction to Staying Alive depends on how much they empathize with—or fear—old people. As someone who was born smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boom, I rather enjoyed it. But the young woman in front of me was impatiently checking the time on her iPhone every five minutes.


Staying Alive is playing at La Nouvelle Scène Studio B until Sunday June 24, 2018. Tickets cost $12. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.


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