Two Cents & Two Pence is thrilled to support the artists of the Vancouver Fringe 2017, over the next two weeks we will be posting reviews of over forty shows. Please check back regularly during the Fringe as we will be updating daily and on our Facebook page here.
STUDIO 16, 1555 W 7th Ave
FALSE CREEK GYM, GI
THE CULTCH HISTORIC, 1895 Venables St
WATERFRONT THEATRE, GI
PERFORMANCE WORKS, GI
CULTURE LAB, 1895 Venables St
STUDIO 1398, GI
REVUE STAGE, GI
DRAINING THE SWAMP - Havana Theatre
It’s almost too easy to satirize Donald Trump, and the jokes wear a bit thin these days. Draining The Swamp is unambiguous in its politics and opinions, which the audience members will no doubt share. The show itself has been freely adapted by Dawn Moore and Desmond Price from Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule, and concerns the fictitious adventures of “The Boss” (Fringe regular Jacques Lalonde, reprising his Trump schtick from last year with gusto) and his “Apprentice” (energetic and eager Katie-Rose Connors). However, this is not present-day President Trump - the POTUS here merely represents all men like him, the rich who will never receive their comeuppance no matter how heinous their crimes.
True to the musical’s Brechtian roots, there is an original score of fantastic Weill-esque musical written by Kevin Michael Cripps, and this is the show’s greatest strength. The cast is made up of superb singers, their lush harmonies ringing through the Havana’s tiny space, accompanied by the talented Peter Abando on keyboard. Unfortunately most of the performers are underused, as the show focuses mainly on the Boss, Apprentice and their Driver (played earnestly by Marco Walker-Ng). Despite Karen Kelm’s resemblance to Hillary Clinton, she is cast in a few bewildering minor roles, which felt like a missed opportunity.
There is some excellent lighting and amusing sight-gags (the highlight being a treacherous river-crossing) that are sold by the cast’s commitment to ridiculousness. However, the ending, which alludes to the spate of police officers killing innocent men of colour, falls into a lengthy and predictable conclusion that is grave in theme but absurd in execution. But, I suppose that’s Brecht for you.
Draining The Swamp has plenty to say, but it’s often hard to tell what tone they are going for. At least they sound fantastic while they’re doing it.
ALMOST A STEPMOM - Arts Umbrella Theatre
Almost A Stepmom is an intense story about family. Keara Barnes tells us about falling in love with an Irishman while abroad. In the bargain, she also gets thrust into a tense family dynamic with his daughter and ex-wife. Almost from the start, she follows the rule of “show us, don’t tell us”. She flips between the four characters involved with practiced ease, and it’s impressively clear and simple to follow along with. Even when three people are in the same scene, we know who’s talking at any given moment.
Barnes recounts awkward, tense, and dramatic situations she lived through in Ireland with an intensity that helps us feel the weight and importance. In a world steeped in explosions and superheroes saving the world every week, it was nice to feel the drama in a family situation, which is much more relatable.
A couple moments of narration and light-hearted tangents seemed to break the flow of her story, which was frustrating. On the other hand, some jokes and explanations helped keep a sense of balance, so it isn’t a clear-cut case of “no humour or talking to the audience, please”.
Keara is relentless onstage, working hard to make all of the characters sail through the scenes. I think what I appreciated the most was how she resisted the urge to paint a story she lived through in black and white. We see some redeeming qualities in the ex-wife, and also some moments of weakness in her own character. Perhaps because of her slightly silly promotional photo, I walked in expecting a light and frivolous show, and was happy to leave with a richer experience.
FIFTY SHADES OF DAVE - Studio 1398
Fifty Shades of Dave is an incredible naughty tribute to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe. If you already know some of McLean’s warm-hearted stories of family life in suburban Ontario, you’re a step ahead walking in. Writers Kyle Carpenter & Nico Dicecco find so many ways to imitate the comfortable, relatable details, and bring back characters that were painted so vividly in the Vinyl Cafe series.
If you’ve heard McLean’s voice and delivery, you are going to love this show, because Dicecco is spot-on in his tone and pacing. As he’s introducing the show, he invites the audience to sit back, close their eyes, and imagine they’ve discovered a new episode. I really felt I could be in each of his three stories, until he hits the raunchy twist they’ve inserted.
Like any other topic discussed in a genuine Vinyl Cafe story, this homage balances humour and heart, even when discussing bondage and other subjects too racy for the originals. Because we’ve lived with these characters so long, it can feel a bit like learning about your aunt and uncle’s sex life, but it’s never explicit enough to feel mean or gritty.
I’m not sure how these stories would connect if you’re unfamiliar with Stuart McLean’s work, but as a casual fan, I was blown away, and the hour flew by!
7 WAYS TO DIE: A LOVE STORY - Studio 16
From start to finish this piece is a triumph in storytelling.
The story begins as we see two people in an elevator, they awkwardly exchange a few glances and physical acknowledgements of the confined area before escaping as quickly as they can to their seperate apartments which split the stage. Here we start to get to know more about these characters. A man who is a painter and a woman whose only focus in life seems to be ending it. First attempting to hang herself (not a spoiler, the noose sets up an ominous presence on stage as you enter) before going through - well, I’ll stop there, the show is called 7 Ways to Die and suffice to say we see various attempts with varying degrees of success.
The incredible juxtaposition of humour in such despair is a tricky thing to do and the performers Joylyn Secunda and Alexander Forsyth are masters. The audience was a particularly vocal one and hearing the shocked gasps, forlorn sighs and excited laughter all around proved that the narrative works and the performance is executed (no pun intended) brilliantly.
The set is bare and the props minimal, the performers make excellent use of clever sound effects - although there were a couple of timing issues throughout the performance which I’m sure will tighten up over the week. I thought the use of contemporary music to transition and add to scenes was a great choice.
Ultimately I was left with a feeling that we do not have to be alone and we are loved, somewhere by someone. It is never explicitly stated what this relationship is - platonic, familial, romantic - and the true beauty is it doesn't matter. This is a story about being lost and then being found.
I loved this show.
STUPID CUPID - Performance Works
Liz McMullen is a bubbly and endearing performer who gives us her all in Stupid Cupid. The hour can seem a bit long at times, especially when she gets (literally) self-indulgent, and the perkiness becomes somewhat grating, but her heart is in the right place.
A young “Cupid-in-training” is taking her final exam to become a full-blown professional arrow-shooter. The bows of the Legendary Cupids just happen to be in her exam room, and they tempt her as she tries to understand what true love really is - sex, lust, picket fence with 2.5 kids, infatuation. She takes on the personality of each type of love, coming at it from the inside and falling in love with different audience members each time. It’s a cute concept that is a bit sloppy in execution. McMullen can switch her emotions on and off like a tap, and her versatility is impressive, but it’s mainly a pacing/length issue. Some of the “fantasies” run a bit too long, as well as the musical interludes, and 5 - 10 minutes shaved there could easily have made the show feel a bit tighter and solid. The final moments of the show are lovely, when McMullen and her character find their true voice, regaling us with some insightful and delightful poetry.
It’s not a perfect show, but it has a lot of heart.
ADULT COMPANY - Performance Works
Adult Company has a witty and riveting script, brought to life by an ensemble of accomplished actors. The result is a fascinating look at how we approach relationships and how we overcome the bad ones. Four friends talk and drink beers over a night, but heavy secrets and lies are at play, making the proceedings tense and thoroughly engaging as we peel back the layers of these complex characters.
The directors/playwrights, Jessica Schacht and Sam Young, have assembled the perfect cast to realize their vision. Yoshié Bancroft, as the vulnerable Virginia, initially comes off as a pretentious snob but eventually elicits our sympathy. The cracks in her facade are mesmerizing to watch as she gets drunker. Diana Beairsto and Melissa Oei gave me the impression that they had been friends for years - their repartée and comfort in each other’s company was a pleasant contrast to the stinging barbs of their partners. Zac Scott, as the only man in the room, plays up his insecurities with just the right amount of self-deprecation. When we see how broken he is on the inside, together with the lighting and sound, it cuts deep.
The fact that this is a debut play makes it all the more impressive. It’s darkly funny and well-directed, though occasionally the blocking led to poor sightlines, depending on where you were sitting in the audience. Once or twice the moody soundscape drowned out the actors, which is a shame. Overall, though, this is a refreshingly polished show for Fringe, and one I would certainly recommend. I look forward to future offerings from Schacht, Young and 4AM Theatre.
HOW I LOST ONE POUND, THE MUSICAL - Firehall Arts Centre
How I Lost One Pound is the least music-driven musical I’ve encountered. Lesley Carlberg does sing along with Olivia Newton-John, which is an awesome choice, but the rest of the music tends to be short clips of famous pop songs. These punctuate the solo show to underscore certain themes, but also in ways that seem irrelevant, too. This contradiction actually turns out to be fitting for a performance full of opposing forces.
Carlberg is understated and charming. From her unconventional entrance and mountain of tutus to her chats with the stage manager during the show, it’s hard not to feel like you’re on her team. As the show goes on and she tells her stories of discovery and resilience, she peppers them with magazine-style advice on how to lose weight. Even watching her show helps us lose weight, she assures the audience, as well as drinking (and not drinking) alcohol.
The stories come and go in a conversational manner, and some seem to disappear without an ending. Sharp one-liners are sprinkled in casually, and don't always feel like the point. Carlberg invites us to learn about her in a very personal way, without that feeling of discomfort that can sometimes arise. Her crush on Jim Carrey, use of potato chips to deal with disappointment, and important THINKYDF motto all jumble together in a confusing and appealing way.
BEAVER DREAMS - Havana
I am going to start by saying that this is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But then that's the way the strings often lie in puppetry. Perhaps a bit too much tail slapping and splashing for the seasoned theatre goer but an excellent choice for families and those willing to get wet!
This is a brave and fun concept piece that engages the audience in a multi-sensory experience. I loved the inspiration- a personal story of an idyllic lake shared by one family and their long toothed companions; in competition with each other throughout the decades but both sharing the same dream - to keep their little piece of heaven from being destroyed by 'progress'.
The puppets are all lovingly hand crafted and the performers use lighting and intricate set pieces in a very inventive manner. The tech side went a bit wobbly several times; possibly because there seemed to be no obvious cues for the operator, but the audience lapped up the mistakes and the performers were more than equipped for the task. At moments it was tricky in the Havana's wide space to see what was going on, and the gurgling noises- while highly commendable- made it a little challenging at times to follow the narrative.
All in all a beautiful presentation with a lot of shtick but not all so slick.
SECHS - Firehall Arts Centre
Sechs had enough good ideas for a full length play, or two Fringe shows, crammed into 75 minutes. There was so much emerging talent onstage and evident in the creation of this show, but it needed more polish and editing.
Much of the dialogue fires at the audience at a pace that make the Gilmore Girls sound like they’re in slow-motion. It’s quite clear, but it’s unnatural for conversations to occur so quickly, and for people to answer each other with such verbose clarity, and barely pausing to breathe!
I loved how Devon Simmons Mackinlay chose to write the characters without a specific gender in mind. The actors and audience dealt with the resulting romantic relationships without any concerns or questions, which was a heartening sign of the times. My concern was that the characters didn’t feel distinct enough, and didn’t seem to have clear through-lines in this play.
The songs gave us a chance to catch our breath, and understand better how a character or two was feeling. That was great, and the voices and guitar-playing were solid and well-balanced. I found the writing of the songs often clunky, with long awkward phrases repeated, or melodies ending without a satisfying arc.
There were interesting political ideas, pithy dating jokes, and loving moments of connection, but they were hindered by static staging, abrupt transitions, and inconsistent costume changes.
There’s a great deal of potential in Sechs, but it isn’t hitting the mark yet.
CRY-BABY: THE MUSICAL - Firehall Arts Centre
Cry-Baby: The Musical is jam-packed with cheeky fun and energy. Awkward Stage Productions has taken every chance to add fun and crisp action to this typical 50s story of a goodie two-shoes falling for a rebel. The writers add lots of over-the-top moments where the show becomes a parody of the genre, with songs like “Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby (Baby Baby)” and “Misery, Agony, Helplessness, Hopelessness, Heartache and Woe”. The cast’s ability to say all this nonsense genuinely, and play up the parody at the same time, is impressive. Every once and a while I wanted a little more restraint from Kelly-Ruth Mercier as the uptight grandmother, but it’s hard to blame her for going ham this show and role.
So many of the actors onstage did a splendid job, often transitioning from one of the good kids to a rebel in a flash. Victor Hunter was particularly crisp with his stylized poses and misunderstood angst in the title role. I enjoyed all of the singing, although there were some parts that were a bit hard to balance with the volume of the talented band. The dancing and costumes were fresh and sharp while period-appropriate.
You shouldn’t come to Cry-Baby looking for dark depths of turmoil, but if you’re in the mood for fun and talent, this production has oodles.
CHRIS AND TRAVIS - Carousel Theatre
The Carousel Theatre seems like a cruelly small venue for this fantastic show, although being part of such an intimate audience makes you feel like you've stumbled upon a real gem - which this show is. Within moments of arriving due to the unplanned late arrival of a few guests, we were then offered an arm-wrestle-off to decide whether the new arrivals got to steal the best seats. This sets the mood perfectly for forty-five minutes of delightful absurd silliness.
The interplay between these two fringe stalwarts is effortless and as an audience member, you certainly feel that you are watching these two friends have a really great time on stage together. Audience interaction plays a huge role and whilst for the most part new 'guest stars' seemed to follow well, sometimes those chosen would hilariously misinterpret what the made-up-gibberish speaking protagonists were actually aiming for. The language used throughout is beautiful, a mix of absolute nonsense language with the occasional word thrown in for clarity or comedy, actually make that clarity and comedy.
Quite honestly I would watch this show every day of it's run if I could. Carousel is a small venue and so get your tickets fast as I have a sneaking suspicion sell-outs are on their way. If this show does not win Pick of Fringe I will eat my schmeogledug (that's an invisible cat, if you didn't know).
AIN'T TRUE AND UNCLE FALSE - Performance Works
It is really hard not to feel an instant liking for Paul Strickland. We are introduced into this "one-man trailer-park fairy-tale musical comedy" with a song all about a man who makes gardens out of forks and knives and upside down bbq tongs and cups and litre-wine-bottles. It is a great opener to a show which has a lot of heart and a little too many storylines to follow.
We are introduced over the sixty minute whirlwind of storytelling to a ramshackle of trailer-park residents who all seem to be connected by the pea plant (which sounds just as funny no matter how many times Strickland utters the words). Laughs are served up regularly and with ease throughout the mix of drama and comedy. Due to the widely meandering narrative and loose ties between the characters it was hard to follow at times and I found myself staring longingly at the guitar, which most tragically of all didn't make it into Strickland's arms often enough. This is certainly a play with music rather than a "musical". I would have loved for more of the stories to be sung - as with many one-man shows as the time wears on you start to feel it more if there are no changes in pacing or things to break up the spoken text. Plus Strickland's thick accent and voice are such a joy to listen to when he sings.
I would recommend this show to people who are fans of southern charm, puns, and thoroughly nice blokes.
YOUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE - Studio 1398
Hmm. This is an interesting one. I feel like there are some good ideas happening and an overall story which is relevant to the world we are living in, but unfortunately, this show doesn't have the punch or payoff I think it is looking for. There are too many moments where I felt unsure about what I was feeling, and a couple of moments where it seemed the audience as a whole were not-on-board with the subject matter or the story as it was unfolding. Or the way it was unfolding perhaps?
The character of Prince Charming is an awkward one. I imagine that it is a choice by Wes Babcock that he should be one dimensional, or at least I hope that is the case. But next to Princess Polly (Nancy Kenny) and her real, immense, visceral emotionality it seems flat. Indeed there is a mannequin in this performance and Prince Charming in demeanour was more akin to that than his stage partner.
There are flashes of brilliance, mostly early on. I adored the clever parody of YouTube's autotune trend, where we see an earlier scene of Polly's meltdown performed as a song. Kenny's acting throughout it solid and you really want Polly to win so she can 'change the world' although it is a dull dull joy when she does acheive her dream when you've seen how she has had to play the system to get there.
This is about as fringe-y as fringe gets. This show will certainly challenge you as an audience member, perhaps in ways you were not expecting. I was definitely not expecting it.
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!
Chris Adams and Erik Fraser Gow have to be two of the hardest working performers in Vancouver’s musical theatre scene. They’ve been on National Tours and played the Arts Club, but here they are at the Fringe, letting loose in a delightful, irreverent show full of hilariously terrible/wonderful songs and self-referential humour.
The premise is simple - two men, Bud (Adams) and Doug (Gow) are pitching their musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. We are their potential producers. They have no set or orchestra, only their pianist (music director Jenny Andersen), some cardboard boxes, and a slew of baseball caps to differentiate characters. Bud and Doug play them all (I couldn’t tell you how many) as they make their way through what they think is Broadway’s next big hit. All the standard musical theatre tropes are here, and the characters in the show-within-a-show are broadly-painted caricatures, from the princely Gutenberg himself, to the town’s illiterate inhabitants, the ludicrously evil Big Bad, and Helvetica, the well-meaning but incredibly stupid heroine.
It’s hard to summarize the show without giving too much away. Gow and Adams are an energetic pair, never letting up for a full 90 minutes. They both have gorgeous voices and an effortless handle on the music, as well as terrific chemistry with each other. Director Chris McGregor must get some of the credit for keeping things going at a breakneck pace. Jenny Andersen, herself on stage for most of the show, makes the most of her moments supporting the guileless duo.
If you like musical theatre, satire, awkward humour, unbridled enthusiasm, and off-colour jokes (Holocaust references and Satan-worshipping are par for the course here, so fair warning), don’t miss Gutenberg! The Musical! You probably won’t learn anything about Johann Gutenberg, but you’ll have a great time.
EMBRYONIC - Make on Granville Island
Embryonic, the fourth annual offering from the Elegant Ladies Collective, is not a show as such, nor is it anything one can really review. It’s more interactive performance art than theatre. It’s an experience I can recommend that you seek out, though what you get out of it is highly dependent on what you’re willing to put into it. It’s much more free-from and less structured than their shows from years past. Clowns follow you around as you play games, dance, sing, weave and create with a lovely group of people. If you allow yourself, you can have a good deal of fun for an all-too-short 45 minutes (my favourite stations, if I had to choose, were the “Hat Game” led by Chilko Tivy and the impressive improv-slam poetry of Chronfused).
The setting, Granville Island’s quirky design-it-yourself shop Make, provides the perfect backdrop for something this whimsical. Be prepared to touch strangers, indulge your playful side, step into hula-hoops and step out of your comfort zone. What these people do is a special kind of magic. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a chance on the Elegant Ladies. You even get a gift to take home!
GENERATION HOT: WATERBORNE
(PROGRAM GREEN: CITLALI/WYSPA) - Ron Basford Park
The Only Animal has fostered the creation of five new site-specific works from youth of what they dub “Generation Hot”, children born into the era of global warming. With mentorship from older artists (still under 30), the young performers/creators assemble pieces of theatre meant to provoke dialogue and move audiences to action. Program Green is the later-evening portion, telling us two very different stories - Citlali and Wyspa.
We travel up the hill of Ron Basford Park as the sun disappears. A Narrator gathers us around to share the origin of the world, as it is told in Mexico. We learn of the birth of demigoddess Citlali, a strong-willed teenager determined to defy her father and save her village. We follow her on her journey with her friend Tonali as they search for the water they saw in their dreams. The vibrant costumes pop with colour in the darkness of the evening. The young performers are confident and clear in their delivery, their message of hope resonating loudly. The story feels alive because we are there with them, being directly addressed.
The following show, Wyspa, takes us down a much darker path. The atmosphere shifts. There is confusion amongst the audience members as we are herded by small children and subjected to strange sounds and images in the distance. A large portion of this show is the experience of it. We are crammed through a narrow passage and given rations. We hear the story of how the children were forced to flee from their homes and terrible smoke. It hits very close to home with the recent fires and smoke of our summer, and their desperation is heart-breaking. The next portion of the show is more or less "traditional", and plays out like a gentler, more democratic Lord Of The Flies. Overall, Wyspa is inventive and daring, especially considering that the young people of the cast created their own dialogue. I’m not sure exactly what the final dance/movement piece was meant to convey, but the music was hypnotic and the performers were captivating to watch.
The Only Animal is giving young people a creative outlet to voice their concerns and hopes for the future. It’s an ambitious and commendable project and, now more than ever, they are impossible to ignore.
5-STEP GUIDE TO BEING GERMAN - Performance Works
Paco Erhard’s stand-up is quick and slick. Even jet-lagged, he worked the room with ease and charm. His jokes about different nationalities did a solid job of feeling fresh without being contrived or confusing. Clearly, he had done some Vancouver research, adding in some local references. He was pretty upfront about not actually having a 5-Step Guide to Being German. I appreciated how he referred to world events and said that being German isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago. Erhard treated us with respect, but also explained enough European details (or kept things vague enough) that we didn’t feel left out of the joke.
The one detail that confused me was how we had a few jokes about British people being ignorant of their colonialist past, but Erhard didn’t even gently poke at Canada’s residential schools or treaties. Instead, we got a couple jokes about our prime minister’s fondness for photo ops, which is true, but a bit tame. Perhaps he chose to stay on our good side, or didn’t have enough in-depth information to be sure of himself? It seemed like an inconsistency in his poke-fun-at-everyone approach.
I really appreciated how he ended by saying that we buy into the stereotypes we like. It showed more nuance and understanding in a show that sometimes felt a bit safe, but was consistently fun.
KATHARINE FERNS IS IN STITCHES - Performance Works
Early on, Katharine Ferns promises that she’ll include stories about cocaine and kittens, so there’s something for everyone. There’s a bit of exaggeration, but it’s a good representation of her show. She takes intense personal moments, from physical pain to emotional scars, and makes them into jokes and heartbreak that we can share and relate to. This balancing act is very challenging, but Ferns is impressive in her quick turns. She helps the audience through the intense transitions from laughing to hearing about surviving abuse in a short time. Although she has every right to feel sorry for herself after some of the nasty situations she’s endured, she stays impressively matter-of-fact when describing them for us.
The mix of humour and dark struggles was very satisfying. Ferns left us feeling hopeful that we, like her, can survive some ridiculously bad shit, and still take control and agency in our life afterwards. Also, she and the audience laugh a lot together about some pretty gross and horrible things, and who doesn’t like that? An hour well spent.
TIGHTROPE TALKING - Studio 16
Marylee Stephenson feels like the cousin you want to hang out with at family gatherings, full of interesting opinions and plain-speaking without being harsh or unkind. Her Tightrope Talking show is based almost entirely on topics given to her by the audience. From her academic studies to her family background, Stephenson draws on her life to tell you a story about anything, and she makes it look easy.
When she knew more details about a subject, we were given in-depth knowledge, but with the jokey warning that ‘there would be a test later’. When our host discovered a common interest with an audience member, she seemed genuinely interested in chatting more after the show.
To be honest, I'm frustrated trying to find the right words for how charming Tightrope Talking is. Stephenson is warm and kind, but also very intelligent and quick. There’s no feeling of putting on a performance at all, just a down-to-earth person telling you about their feelings and experiences. This simplicity is disarming and relaxing, and I wished the hour was longer. I don’t often want to read a book, see a movie, or experience a performance more than once, but Tightrope Talking hooked me, and I’ll try to see more.
Note on the Rating:
This show has been given two cents *minted* by Moncton - this is the highest rating possible. We highly recommend that you do not miss out on this production which is of the highest calibre of live performance in Vancouver.
GIGANTIC LYING MOUTH - Revue Stage
In this show, we follow Kevin P. Gilday as he makes his way into the afterlife and tries to figure out what it all means with the assistance of a "guardian angel" (voice in the sky) who is trying to maintain the company standards for the business of the afterlife. This is a clever setup, and nod to the situation in Britain where it is apparent that privatisation is key under the current Tory administration. The premise is simple and it works.
The mix of the discourse with Gilday and the “angel” is interrupted with poignant pieces of spoken word – which is the best part of the show. Gilday clearly is an experienced and talented speaker, and the pieces he used for this show were well chosen and relevant. I particularly enjoyed his send-up of spoken word I’ve fallen out of love with Poetry, and the cutting Masculinity is a Lie.
The story hinges on the “angel” making a deal with Gilday so that she can send his soul to purgatory – “hell is oversubscribed” she says, garnering a knowing tittle from the audience. In order to get to purgatory though he must first face his demons from various areas in his life, ego, lust, greed etc. before finally reaching his destination.
There is a projector in the show which is used best when he takes us on a trip to “Heaven” which seems like a delightful village in Scotland where he immediately goes to a pub, gets a free pint, and starts chatting to an attractive and intelligent woman. In my favourite part of the show, we also get a glimpse of purgatory which, Gilday realises in a hilarious sequence, means an eternity spent in Edinburgh.
It is thoughtful, honest and very funny in the moments it wants to be.
THRONE - Havana
This is a brand new piece of writing by Chris Nash, who is also one-half of BlackJacq Productions, and there is a lot to be applauded. I really liked the setup, the simplicity of the idea and the clever reveals to further plot. However, the some of the performers struggle to find the nuance needed in order to make the tension arc build correctly. An interaction we see first of all between a belligerent toilet attendant and a man who does not have the correct change to use the toilet is given the same aggressiveness and intensity by these two performers as the scene between the protagonist and his beaten wife who is leaving him later in the scene. It is unfortunate. This over-the-top opening leaves the other cast members, who are truly the main players in the story, nowhere to go. There are some stand outs in the show: Ryan Scramstad as Martin shows a great amount of range for a young performer, Kristina Hampton (Laura) holds weight as the only female in the cast and is heartbreaking in her portrayal of an abused partner and Ryan Rutherford (Big Walt) despite only having a small part makes a huge impact in his aggressive and brutish police role.
The play is short and comes to a very abrupt ending. I particularly wanted to see more of the relationship between the three main players: Conor, Martin and Laura. It was very nice to have live music but the time Conor sings would have been better spent showing us more of his character – I felt that despite being the lead, Conor is not engaging enough. I didn’t feel one ounce of sympathy or interest towards him and I think this is a missed opportunity to open up the character to make him real and three-dimensional, rather than just “a drunk who is a wife beater” trope.
I would love to see this developed into a full length play. It needs a good dramaturg and an accent coach.
BOUNCERS - The Cultch Historic
As a Brit this show is a no brainer - I remember studying John Godber plays and really enjoy the earthy, unapologetic writing, stereotypes and humour. The four geezers (Paul Herbert, Robin Richardson, Corey Schmitt and Scott Walters) play up all their tropes well – the drunken lads night, the screeching girls night, the posh toffs, the lowlifes, and most importantly the Bouncers who come out to greet the audience on their way in with a usual ‘Alright, having a good night ladies’ type of quip.
Lack of set and good use of lighting and sound with very slick ques made this 75-minute show zip by. Even though it was written in 1987 and is set at the same time so many of the themes and commentaries are as relevant, humourous, and at times devastating, today.
As a standard pet peeve of mine within the Vancouver theatre scene, it was great to see so many British accents (mostly) pretty solid. I appreciated the distinctions between characters vocally as well as physically. Transitions were smooth and the entire show was as slick as Lucky Eric’s hair.
Venturing off island always seems like a trek, especially when there is so much good stuff immediately on site. Bouncers is worth that trip.
NO BIG DEAL - Havana Theatre
No Big Deal examines the aftermath of a sexual assault on the woman, the perpetrator, and the woman’s boyfriend. It can be tricky sometimes to remain sensitive to these subjects without feeling exploitative. Luckily, director/writer Gerald Williams has cast three excellent actors. Lesli Brownlee is a powerhouse as the Woman - every emotion reads honestly, whether she is speaking or silent. Her triumphs are heartfelt, her pain palpable and devastating, without ever being overwrought. The Woman’s Boyfriend, played by Justin Anthony, seems like a simple-minded guy at first, but his eventual emotional unraveling just goes to show how far the ripples extend in matters like these. Henry Beasley as the Perpetrator is chilling with his pleasant demeanour. I didn’t want to sympathize with him, and thankfully I never felt as though the play was asking me to. He’s there to show how far we as a society have yet to go.
Tomo Suru Players aren’t exactly known for their lavish production values (the set is literally just three chairs). There is one moment near the end when the lighting shifts and enhances the proceedings dramatically. It made me wish there had been more of that. I understand that Fringe requires a quick set up with little tech time, but with no sets and simple blocking, it felt a bit too stark at times. A few more lighting cues could have gone a long way in helping set the tone. The actors deserved it.
Regardless, it’s still a powerful show. It may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault or are close to someone who has. However, it may help others work through their trauma by validating their experience. Every performance ends with a talkback session for audience members to engage with the actors in discussion.
THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS - Carousel Theatre
Performed by Jem Rolls, this was less of a show and more a history lesson about Leo Szilard. Not that this didn't make for an informative and even sometimes entertaining hour long sit down. With Jem front and centre in the Black Box of Carousel Theatre he waxed lyrical and in depth about Szilard's life, actions and anecdotes with quotes from people who had interacted with him.
What makes it interesting and worthy of a show is that Szilard was the one who birthed and laid the trail for the creation of the atomic bomb. Cast by Jem as a hero, one who fought political and military machinations to stop the information from getting to Hitler and his German scientists, its a fascinating story about a scientist largely forgotten by the world because of General Graves and the positioning of Oppenheimer within the Manhattan Project.
This is the info Jem provides and I, myself would need to dig into some research to verify his conclusions but with his lecture he piqued my curiousity and satiated it to a satisfying degree. At least one where I want to go out and learn more.
THE IMMACULATE BIG BANG - Studio 1398
Lets just start by saying that perhaps I am not the best reviewer for Bill Santiago's Go Big, or Go Home stand-up show. I freely admit to never having watched SNL and tend to find only pockets of joy within sets of the stereotypical american comic. I am inherently shackled, quite happily, to the whimsys of the under-confident and shifty looking performers from across the pond. My sporadic chuckles however seemed to have few bedfellows - with the majority of the audience ostensibly enjoying the bits they could follow; Santiago did inform the audience on a couple of occasions that we were a bit slow on the up-take, although he did comfort us later on with the tidbit that Edmonton was worse, insulting the next town across... one of the oldest tools in a comedian's kit.
Where Santiago excelled for me was the construction and concept of his set. He mixes wikipedia-intellectualism (my favourite kind) with touching personal stories of his departed father, young daughter and baked-potato-hurling mother. There is a delightful absence of... *shudder*... observational comedy. Unless of course you consider 'everyday pondering' to include noticing how similar Dr Seuss' 'Green Eggs and Ham' is to the Bible and most certainly how it is a vast improvement to Leviticus. Good foundations for motifs were sown early on but seemed to crop up a little too frequently and at times his constant mugging started becoming weary. The show felt long.
'TWEEN EARTH AND SKY - Studio 16
I'm not sure this show needs to exist. However, I'm loathe to be too critical of Mark Lyons as he seems to be a genuinely lovely man, based on his thanks to the audience at the end and encouragement to go see other fringe shows. His storytelling wasn't particularly bad either apart from stumbling over a few words. But this was all it was as Lyons told us four disconnected Irish stories. We could have all saved some time and been directed to the amazon page for Collections of Irish folk-tales. Or maybe he could put them on tape an avenue that would lend itself to this expression because theatre it is not. There was no narrative through-line, so no real analysis is possible and thus this hairy-fairy review. A reason from him for picking these specific tales or personal anecdotes connected to the source material could do wonders which would provide something for the audience to latch onto.
He did lead up to the conclusion of the show with the telling of his fourth tale that was either energetically exuberant or a full on breakdown. Too close to call. But I suppose then it could be considered art for that reason in the end... it's always a fine line.
SETTING BONES - Revue Stage
Kalik Arts is a multi-disciplinary company that highlights the often unheard or never-before-heard stories of the non-conformists; queer folk, people of colour, women and those whose cultural identity is diasporic in nature. 'Setting Bones' is an exploration of three sisters' connection to each other in the wake of the sudden death of their mother and grandmother. The piece explores both personal and cultural identity as well as the struggle to connect; to feel tangibly associated to ourselves, our society and our ancestral past.
The performers juxtapose narrative concerning their fictional selves with abstract dialogue directly to the audience; breaking from character to scrutinise their own writing choices and analyse the progression of the play. I found these latter moments more engaging as I could see more truth in the performance as opposed to dialogue that happens between the sisters, which although touching, seemed at times to be somewhat forced, as if the performers rather than the characters weren't listening to one another.
Visually this piece is exquisite; with intricate movement both conceptual and pedestrian. There is a glorious section where one of the artists slowly binds the other delicately in sheets. Another later has one artist laying a trail of breadcrumbs, so seemingly meaningless that they begin to eat them animal-like from the floor in order to make sense of them.
I walked away from the experience with a strange dichotomy; firstly that of having just witnessed a piece of new and original art, jarring with an odd familiarity - as if I had heard this story before, when I was very young- I guess a friendliness that lies within the absence of patriarchy.
BLOOD COUNTESS - Waterfront Theatre
Blood Countess by Sharon Nowlan is an intriguing theatrical piece about the life of murderer Elizabeth Barthory. I say theatrical because its the first fringe show I've seen with a story based plot and a solo performer who doesn't just talk to the audience.
Using voice-over, a dramatic soundscape and various torture based props, Nowlan successfully creates a haunting atmospheric show to suitably cloak its central character in. Indeed its climax was an engaging visual of glowing red whips with several strands on the dark stage enveloping and seeming to swallow the unseen Barthory. Was this a scene of guilt or the justifiable vengeance of dead spirits?
Nowlan in the end doesn't commit to an answer and seems content to shows us the information (and not tell- can't stress this enough) to let us decide for ourselves.
KURT VONNEGUT’S THE EUPHIO QUESTION - Havana Theatre
If you like silly sci-fi with some social commentary thrown in, look no further than Kurt Vonnegut’s The Euphio Question. A physicist discovers radio waves coming from space that, when transmitted, provide instant and intense euphoria. An unscrupulous DJ wants to capitalize on this and turn it into an app, where anyone could have access to happiness at the mere push of a button.
The show is mostly wacky, but takes a darkly comic turn when it becomes clear that, with happiness instantly available, all desires become obsolete and it could “destroy the world”. Matt Clarke has done a tricky job in adapting Vonnegut’s short story for the stage, but for the most part it works (setting it in the present day and making Euphio into an app is nothing short of brilliant). The original music by Graham Dawson fits the atmosphere perfectly. There was maybe one too many “happy-love-destruction” sequences for me, but the actors’ commitment to the chaos made it work. Not all the performers are as strong as the two leading men, Mark Ferns and Gregory Radzimowski, but there is enough fun being had that I didn’t mind. (As a commitment to the chaos, each performance features two different local Fringe “celebrity” cameos, which was a fun surprise).
The Euphio Question doesn’t take itself too seriously. We only touch upon the potential ramifications. I wish they could have explored more of the aftermath of the app’s release, but perhaps it’s better to leave that up to our imaginations. What kind of world will be left behind if happiness can be artificially created, and are we part of the way there already?
I AM FOR YOU - Culture Lab
I Am For You is basically a stage combat lesson with some plot holding it together. Still, it manages to appeal thanks to some thrilling fight choreography and solid performances.
Two teen girls are offered the chance to settle their differences with stage combat rather than actual violence. A student teacher guides them through the basics of fencing and swordplay for the production of Romeo and Juliet he’ll be fight-choreographing. The women are both physically strong from the get-go, but you see their confidence grow throughout they play as they tackle more elaborate and harsh combat. Calvin Carbonell is sometimes too quiet as their instructor, but he still commands our attention while maintaining a cheerful and positive attitude. It’s refreshing to see these tropes inverted - the calm man as peacemaker, diffuser of tension, and the women as hotheaded aggressors. (I only wish I had known what they were fighting about in the first place).
The fights are fantastic, expertly choreographed by Sylvie La Riviere. The final one, coupled with the lights and music, is particularly epic. Even though we learn all the tricks of the trade from the teacher, the violence is still realistic enough to elicit gasps from the audience. It’s fun to watch women take on powerful weapons instead of being relegated to the “tamer” types of violence Shakespeare often assigns them. This is one of the themes explored throughout the play - why are some expressions of violence deemed “appropriate” for men and not women?
I liked all three of the characters (and actors), I liked the way they interacted and how they facilitated each other’s growth, but if I’d know a bit more about them, it might have given the terrific fight scenes more emotional weight. If you are interested in a fresh and unique exploration of the themes of Romeo and Juliet, don’t miss I Am For You.
HELP! I'M AMERICAN - False Creek Gym
Despite the trigger-warning name, Help! I'm American is actually not as political as you might think with only one direct reference to Trump throughout this tour-de-force of sketches. We are treated to a plethora of characters within a light-hearted mish-mash of skits. This is the first one-man sketch show I have ever seen and throughout DK Reinemar relies on the audience participation as his scene partner. The warm-up assistant giving the audience the tools with which they can participate. The show does rely heavily on one audience member - chosen by Reinemar to be his 'date' - and to put so much weight into the unknown is always risky at the fringe. The volunteer in this show seemed to warm up the more she was used in the show and by the end was a welcome addition on stage.
DK is a charismatic and energetic performer who is instantly likeable - this show is a solid investment of your time and pennies.
SWORDPLAY: A PLAY OF SWORDS - False Creek Gym
Swordplay: A Play of Swords was fantastic, ridiculous fun! It was Blackadder on mushrooms with the basic plot of Zelda portrayed with all the 80s and early 90s video game tropes you could shake a fake sword at.
A devised physical theatre piece, the five members of Sex T-Rex (yes their production company name) poke fun at all the classic game plot points and twists; its stock heroes and princesses and most importantly themselves. All the while looking like they were having an absolute blast pretending to fly on chandeliers, fall off the sides of castles, swim underwater and fight fire-breathing dragons merely creating the differences with colour coded pieces of cloth. It was simple, effective and humourous.
Now before getting too giddy about it, I can admit that if you aren't familiar with your Link's, Mario's and Montoya's some of the enjoyment may have gone over your head. But I suggest that these characters and video games in this day and age have a near universal appeal as several members of the older generation in the audience were having a raucous time anyway.
If this is the point of Fringe, to give plays of this calibre a stage to be seen when otherwise they may not be; then this is a rousing success for both sides. I would love for all of them to be this good.
*Note: Ive two-minted because I feel this is the best Fringe has to offer and should be seen by all. It is by no means a Shakespeare with Rylance in it. You get the gist.
BONDAGE - Cultch Culture Lab
Bondage is an intriguing show for about 25 mins. Its a play that lasts 60... so that's a bit of a problem.
I say intriguing because the nature of the show draws you in. A male and female in full S&M costumes: faceless, humanless and their schtick is to take on different races and respond to the given stereotypes. They could be anyone within the boundaries of their S&M parlour. The ultimate fantasy. But then the obviousness of it all begins to drag the show down and bury itself under its own weight and self-awareness. Anybody who pays an iota of attention to current affairs (which most theatre goers are generally, hey! stereotype) would understand everything that is being suggested but the dialogue continues to try and be too clever for its own good in going above and beyond over-explaining and existing within known (for better or worse) cultural and racial differences.
After 40 minutes it was clear the audience was becoming restless and the original setup was wearing out its welcome. It didn't help that there was no suspenseful build up to the eventual unveiling of both characters. Ultimately it was a show that didn't deliver on its potential and seemed intent on explaining to its audience what it probably was aware of in the first place.
On reflection, it was over-written and read like an undergraduates first kooky idea of how to present social differences in a post-racist/sexist world. The notion being that were not there yet and intrinsically making judgements whether we like like it or not. The building blocks are there but its needs a re-write.
LET ME FREEZE YOUR HEAD - Waterfront Theatre
I will try to find kinder words for this show other than I hated it. From the stories of the 'heads' which did not seem to have much relevance, to the fateful links to his own real life, this show made an impact on me for all the wrong reasons. Even a day later I am struggling to figure out what this show actually is. It seemed to me like a poorly rehearsed presentation on cryogenics (sorry, cryonics as Neil McArthur repeatedly informs us in the show) by someone who has never spoken publicly before.
The language was sloppy, the story was non-existent and the performance was devoid of any nuance. Maybe this is more the crux, clearly McArthur is intelligent and the premise behind this is an interesting one; however our performer is not a performer, he sets up the idea that he is a 'salesman' which is instantly unbelievable - sure, one can put on a suit, however, McArthur lacks the glean and charm which aggressively emanates organically from salespeople.
I think I was drawn to the show from it's photo - McArthur with one of these sculpted artworks. Unfortunately, the heads - once placed on a table with two others staring you down became less intriguing and more gaudy. Were they supposed to be realistic? Were they supposed to be an artists opinion? Were they how he sees the faces? Do we care?
There is a lot of speaking, and not a lot to break it up - except for an odd moment with a step-ladder and a part where he throws a lot of letters on the ground. It felt long, and unnecessarily drawn out. I think this show will divide people, so I hope that my harshness is met somewhere else by someone equally as passionate about how incredible, intelligent, and groundbreaking it is. I can say this - it is shows like this that make fringe theatre, Fringe Theatre.
BLUE RIVER BLUES - Havana Theatre
Jim Sands tells a good yarn. I felt like I was hanging out with a lovable uncle who wouldn’t stop talking about that summer he got super high and worked at the big glacier in Alberta. Not only that, he plays a mean guitar. It’s so casual, it didn’t feel like we were in the Havana at all. Somehow, he makes a personal connection with everyone in the audience.
His stories are funny, informative, sometimes tragic, and well-told (though he occasionally got a bit flustered, he’s instantly forgivable). It’s like something my parents would listen to on CBC Radio on a Saturday afternoon - and I mean this in the most complimentary way. Homey, easy-going, with songs you will go home humming (I’ve still got the title song stuck in my head). A few of the stories do go on a bit, but I wasn’t especially bothered.
We learn a lot about one of Canada’s natural wonders - the Athabasca glacier - one that will likely be gone in a few generations. It’s a sobering thought. Sands brings it home with personal experience, heart and humour. It’s rough around the edges, sure, but that’s part of his charm. What you see is what you get with Jim Sands.
SOUL SAMURAI - Culture Lab
Another women-with-swords play is gracing the stage at the Culture Lab (the other being I Am For You). Both are strong, but they couldn’t be more different.
I have never seen anything quite like Soul Samurai, but I’ve seen enough to know where it gets its influences. Robert Rodriguez and Chan-wook Park immediately spring to mind. It’s pulpy, campy, grindhouse fun. The production is as slick as the fake blood that gets splattered across the stage. Suspension of disbelief could be a hard sell with a post-apocalyptic tale of vampires and lesbian samurai; the story is so over-the-top, but it looks and sounds outstanding, so we buy into it immediately. Nathania Bernabe commands the stage with her raw power and energy as Dewdrop. Lou Ticzon steals every scene he’s in as comic relief sidekick Cert. The entire cast throw themselves in full throttle. They look like they are having a great time, so we do, too.
The blend of film and stage is seamless. The filmed interludes provide us with backstory while giving us a break from the adrenaline-fueled fight scenes. Sometimes we are only watching the film, sometimes the performers appear in conjunction with it. You get a film and a play for the price of one, and it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The ending was a bit of a let-down after so much action, but by then we’re so exhausted by everything we’ve seen, the catharsis is satisfying enough.
Affair of Honor has made a smashing debut with Qui Nguyen’s Soul Samurai. They know what it is and they never try to make it anything else. It’s original, daring, violent and masterfully done. It pushes the envelope of what theatre can be. This is why I love Fringe.
FIGMENTALLY - Revue Stage
Figmentally is a nice little show which shows off the skills of it's performers well. It is a clown and mime driven performance, although on a few occasions we are treated to some contemporary dance also which is an enjoyable treat.
Eric Parthum is the stonger of the two performers; his technical ability, facial expressions and overall exuberance are hard to match although Drea Lusion is a very well appointed second. Together the two take us on a journey through which Lusion is attempting to write a book and becomes hilariously sidetracked by the appearance of Parthum, and we are transported through many different vignettes of clowning and physical theatre. At times it feels a little bit of a paint-by-numbers as the duo display many 'classic' facets of clowning, however, it is still enjoyable for the most part. However, on a technical note, the 'invisible ball going into the paper bag' routine dragged a little, and the grand juggling portion from Parthum suffered from some mishaps. I wish they had made a decision about whether they would speak or not throughout - as it stands sometimes they speak, sometimes they make noises, sometimes they are mute - it felt patchy and disorganised.
The performers tell us at the end of the show that they are both circus educators and this is apperent when you look for it - they are naturals at reaching out for interaction and generally engaging with their audience. I would love to be in a class of theirs. Parthum tells us that he hopes and believes that clowning can save the world, a lovely sentiment to round off a very enjoyable show.
DISTRACTINGLY SEXY - Studio 16
I really wish I had seen this show earlier to be able to recommend it to more people. Mily Mumford's one-woman show is really something quite special. As a scientist herself, Mumford sets out very early on what her goal in the show is - to show how women in science have been "f*$%ed over for centuries" and her own experience as a female in the STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) modern world.
She flips between multiple characters during her 'lecture' and it is incredibly funny, enlightening and smart. I was amazed to find out just how little I knew about the history of women within science, and indeed Mumford does get the feminist blood boiling with the true stories of incredible, massively undervalued, women - but with an air of humour and self-depreciation.
Ultimately, she says it is her biggest fear to die in obscurity, I seriously doubt that is even a possibility. Mumford might be the best superhero I have met.