FRINGE 2016: Love and Pasties, Miss S.

"Miss Sugarpuss must die", we were warned a fair few fringes ago as the play by the same name packed houses and won the 2010 Centaur award for best English-language theatre. Six years later, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, the "real world" alias of Miss Sugarpuss, is making good on her threat.

Love and Pasties, Miss S. is what Gauthier-Frankel is calling a killing off of her alter-ego, a strange funeral for one of the Fringe's grande dames.

Aside from the many Fringe shows Miss Sugarpuss has starred in over the years, I'll also remember her as a stripping, gore-covered zombie at the 13th Hour and as a bee dress-clad spokesperson for the festival. Miss Sugarpuss has been a Fringe fixture, hero, and cheerleader for so long. As far as burlesquers go, she's always been at the top of my list, so it's with a heavy heart I attended Miss Sugarpuss' final show-as-funeral. Goodbyes are hard, eh?

The show opens with Sugarpuss, luggage in hand, running toward the stage. We learn she's been strolling the streets of Paris, taking odd performance gigs and crashing where she can, often in the beds of men who clearly aren't worthy. We meet Miss Sugarpuss in a recording session, singing jazz and fighting with her collaborator and latest warm bed.

He's none too encouraging, and finally gives her the boot, sending our heroine looking for another place to lay her head that night. Next we find her dressed as a beatnik, strumming out a folk tune in a smoky Parisian boite. She's equally adept and compelling singing in both styles. A series of titles projected on an overhead screen guide us through the ensuing vignettes, evoking a silent French film vibe. Eventually we meet a handsome stranger (Amir Sám Nakhjavani) who seems intent to deliver a letter to Miss S, a letter it seems she's not terribly keen to read.

The handsome stranger story line weaves itself through the vignettes, each section highlighting one of Gauthier-Frankel's numerous talents: music, dance, and the hard-drinking wisecracking clown that Is Miss Sugarpuss. Sure, there's a little stripping, but it happens between vignettes, incidental to the action, with no fanfare, and serving primarily as a costume change.

As someone who knows how to milk the dropping of a bra strap like no one else, the casual nature of her costume changes certainly challenges the expectations of the assembled crowd. Kudos to director Tamara Brown for creating a great flow and for massaging these transitions into tasty in-between moments.

Some transitions feature video footage of Miss Sugarpuss addressing the camera. I'd always rather listen to Gauthier-Frankel speak to us live, and some of the segments feel less necessary than others, but one stands out. Miss S ponders the "should haves" of her career, wondering if she should have been more feminine, more ambitious; an honest glimpse into the internal monologue of an artist looking for the balance making art and hustling for fame and fortune.

Miss Sugarpuss tells us she "love(s) the hustle", but one can infer that perhaps Gauthier-Frankel may tire of it. She also attacks the critiques that come from outside her own mind, comments about her being fat, thin, not as fat as she used to be, etc. Putting one's body out there comes with a host of opinions from everyone who is watching, it's no doubt exhausting.

Eventually we are treated to the main event: an elaborate scarlet costume that we know will come off in signature Sugarpuss style. Sugarpuss employs an economy of movement that marks a master: everything is deliberate, timed, razor-precise. She dances with a musician's ear, choosing the most delicious accents, winding expertly into a bridge, sitting comfortably in the beat, never hurried. Jody Burkholder's lighting design frames her perfectly, creating a separate dreamy world, the light glinting off rhinestones, catching the warm sheen of her satin dress, the tremble of fringes, each flick of an eyelash. She is fierce and fragile, in absolute control of the room. Way to go out with a bang, Miss S.

Growing as an artist sometimes means letting go of what no longer serves, or has been pushed as far as it can go. Still, it can't be easy to say goodbye to such a fabulous creation. The death of Miss Sugarpuss is worth mourning, but I have faith that whatever Holly Gauthier-Frankel does next will be brilliant, too.

Pour one out for Miss Sugarpuss, and make it the expensive stuff, darling.

Catch her final performance, Saturday (That's tonight!!) at Theatre Ste. Catherine located at 264 Sainte-Catherine E. at 20:45!


Sue Snyder is part of CJLO’s Official Fringe Team covering the sights and sounds from the 2016 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival.