I first encountered Laura Ramoso when she performed her solo show diane at Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival 2020. I was then, and am still, really into her offbeat, neurotic vibe. There are echoes of diane in her new special, Frances, though it is far more ambitious with an underlying narrative structure. Her persuasive cinematic sensibility is at the forefront here. Throughout the show, Seann Murray’s light and sound enhance the epic or sentimental tone of any given scene.
Frances gets a call from an ex-boyfriend, Frank, stirring up many conflicting feelings. Ramoso pivots between their contrasting perspectives of the break-up. Along the way, we meet a bunch of oddball characters—from a gossipy HR rep on the TTC to a set of brunching ladies who identify way too deeply with the culture of their Euro vacation spots. This all culminates in a fraught reunion.
Ramoso sets up mundane scenarios with seemingly ordinary people, but they quickly evolve into absurdist fever dreams. There is some clever satire too, asking the big questions—is TikTok art? It is her no-holds-barred, bizarro intensity that really strikes a chord. She’ll evoke the awkward realism of, say, a call with an ex… and then, with impressive panache, pull her baffled audience into an outlandish action scene with a lamp!
Her physicality is dynamic and expressive. The bulk of her world-building is mimed, but she also has a knack for well-chosen accessories and props that sell themselves. Her writing is both goofy and sophisticated, offering up characters we can invest in yet always maintaining an artful and organic self-awareness.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I really enjoy her deconstruction of comedic form. At key moments, she playfully draws our attention to the mechanics of performance itself. She strikes a consistent balance between compelling spectacle and a low-key, meta unpacking of that spectacle.
There is some audience participation and this too is exceptionally well-executed. As both Frank and Frances, she chooses a best friend in the audience and improvs with them. In a scene that absolutely killed me, she invites someone up on stage to act out a scene with her as a judgemental mother, harnessing the unexpected and crafting a hilarious sketch that works on several levels at once.
As the Frank/Frances story reaches a climax, the various bits from the show collide and collapse upon each other. It’s an absolute whirlwind of mad-cap, self-aware yet earnest mayhem. It even gets a little real. With director Alastair Forbes, she establishes a rhythm and atmosphere that makes this finale genuinely thrilling.
Even when I wasn’t full-on laughing, the overall appeal was sustained throughout. Ramoso does such a fine job of establishing compelling character and mood, I was fully along for the ride, wherever it took me.