Fringe Reviews 2012

Monday reviews almost 40 shows at the 26th annual Victoria Fringe Festival.

Kirsten Van Ritzen of Broad Theatrics heads up Fringe-provise Me! with Ian Ferguson and a rotating cast of Victoria improvisors.

The Abyss Burrow

Many Fringe shows capture attention by being LOUD, whether the attention is merited or not. The Abyss Burrow is a lovely, intimate lo-fi piece with fantastical elements that are even more arresting because they are quiet.

In her one-woman show, Vanessa Quesnelle is charismatic and engaging, effortlessly playing her inner notes. The piece is addressed to a lover – we don’t know where he is, and neither does she – and the tone is as if she sits next to us and whispers her anxieties. A performer requires courage to be this open, this available, to an audience.

Quesnelle’s script is filled with detailed memories, set in very specific times and places. The dimensions of a room, smells and sounds are invoked so that, through a kind of double-vision, we are there.

Meanwhile, movement punctuates The Abyss Burrow, like psychedelic liturgical dance. As the memories continue, small details arrive which force the character to acknowledge, “This isn’t right. This didn’t happen.” Because Quesnelle is so intimate with us during her recollections, we share her anxieties as these errant details intrude.

Elegant, warm and very, very human, Quesnelle captivates with The Abyss Burrow, leading us to a sad, but satisfying conclusion. M

— Brent Schaus

Downtown Activity Centre (755 Pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 3:30pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 5:30pm

 

My Aim Is True

 

This musical drama inspired by the moody Elvis Costello song “Allison” takes a look at how much a person will sacrifice for love.

Allison’s mother, Olivia, has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease and the 18-year-old wants nothing more than for her mom to fight for her life. Much to Alison’s dismay, Olivia has resigned from life and is perfectly happy wasting away on the couch all day, drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes.

Allison isn’t ready to accept the fact that she’s about to be orphaned and tries to convince her mother to seek medical assistance. The stress consumes her life and wrecks havoc on her budding romance with her boyfriend, Jack.

As relationships deteriorate under the weight of looming fate, each character decides how much they are willing to give of themselves for love and where to draw the line.

The three-person cast does well with both the acting and music with the highlight being the moment Olivia finally gets off the couch to deliver a swanky lounge singer number about her dream-lover Harrison Ford, complete with horns and piano by a fellow dressed as Elvis Costello.

— Mary Ellen Green

Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad)

Thurs., Aug. 31 at 6:30pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 3pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 4pm

 

Alone

 

Do you have a friend that loves to experiment with cooking? You’ll be invited over to try a new dish — the freshest ingredients, an inspired recipe — but perhaps the sauce hasn’t quite set? Or the inclusion of fennel was a little jarring?

Just before the performance of Alone, the venue manager announced that we’d be watching a “workshop” of a play. We were to adjust our expectations to a work-in-progress. That’s okay. This is Fringe. Many shows get their start on the fringe circuit before being tuned up for a more refined dining experience elsewhere.

And with Alone, all the ingredients are in place — a fine script and very strong performers — but at least one actor was still working from script. He did extremely well, considering, but the tightly-constructed text was begging for momentum to build. Frequently, though, the pace staggered and lurched. Sound cues were off, or out of place entirely. The result was distracting.

I enjoy participating in workshops — the creative process thrills and engages — but it may not be for everyone. I strongly suspect that, given the calibre of talent of everyone involved, the cast has been busting ass to bring the show up to speed.

By its second weekend, Alone will be much closer to the thoughtful, exciting drama about exorcism and abuse in the Catholic Church that it really is.

— Brent Schaus

 

St. Andrew’s School Gym (1002 Pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 2pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 7:15pm

Awkward Hangouts of History

 

Relive uncomfortable moments between famous characters as this historical tragi-farce explores intimate connections between two fascist dictators and two of the world’s most cherished storytellers.

Join Mussolini (Graham Roebuck) pilots a German plane over Russia with Hitler (John Demmery Green) at his side, puffing his chest and recounting grand tales of battle scars and past victories. The only thing that stops the Fuhrer from rolling his eyes is fear and holding on for his life.

Then join a boisterous Hans Christian Andersen (Brian Wrigley) as he overstays his welcome at Charles Dickens’ (Roebuck) summer estate. Wrigley’s Andersen is animated and boisterous, with a touch of Borat and a pinch of Jim Carrey.

Both acts are filled with sharp wit and slapstick humour. Awkward situations, awkward silences and awkward handshakes abound in this show that should be of special interest for history buffs and those looking for a good laugh.

— Mary Ellen Green

 

Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield)

Fri., Aug. 31, 7:30pm

Sat., Sept. 1, noon

Sun., Sept. 2, 7:45pm

 

Beautiful Obedient Wife

 

Mail-order brides, eager Canadian suitors and get-rich-quick schemes fill buckets of potential in a play ― especially when those tensions surround a young Ukrainian feminist trying to stimulate women’s liberation in her country.

But for all the comedic effort of Beautiful Obedient Wife, the production feels closer to something you might have seen as a high school play, complete with over-used clichés, tired plot twists and themes in need of a vodka shot.

Without her knowledge, Masha’s Ukrainian mother and wannabe-rockstar boyfriend sign her up to be a mail-order bride. But when a Canadian suitor shows up to collect, a predictable battle of the hearts ensues. The play makes clever use of language, exposing the difficulties of translation in a way the audience can laugh about, and an unexpectedly dorky Canadian brings home the reality of what these unlikely business partners have got themselves into.

Viewers need not be beautiful or obedient, but patience could be a virtue.

— Danielle Pope

 

St Andrew’s School Gym (1002 Pandora)

Fri., Aug. 31, 10:45pm

Sat., Sept. 1, 7:45pm

Sun., Sept. 2, 5:45pm

The Celtic Cross:

Set in Belfast during the period of intense violence and terrorism between Protestants and Catholics, The Celtic Cross revolves around the unlikely friendship that develops between Jacob and Thomas. Jacob being a Protestant loyalist and Thomas a member of the IRA. With some amazing performances by Bryan Sullivan and Matthew Jackson, whose chemistry and physicality blew me away, this is a piece that is at times intelligent and engaging. However, it’s also a piece that feels like it was still at the workshop level rather than a finished product. If I had to put my finger on the

play’s biggest flaw it would be that it doesn’t yet have a good handle on time or place. Frequently, especially near the beginning, the play jumps ahead in time, which feels like an excuse to get the formative period of their friendship out of the way. Despite these shortcomings, it’s a piece worth looking into for the acting alone.

— Matt McLaren

 

Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 5:30pm

Sun. , Sept. 2 at noon

Cougar Annie Tales

People who like their local history presented with tuneful, homespun charm should definitely check out this portrait of Vancouver Island’s “Cougar Annie,” the indomitable pioneer who somehow eeked out a living homesteading on an isolated patch of Clayoquot Sound. Written and performed by Katrina Kadoski, these Tales are presented as either songs or brief monologues, supplemented by a slide show displaying a slow crawl of archival photos, documents, and copies of personal correspondence. Despite being an urban girl who had lived in England, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, Annie ended up in a rainforest in the middle of nowhere and somehow made the best of it for nearly 70 years. She buried several husbands along the way – and, more tragically, a few children – but never wanted to leave her damp paradise. Between bagging cougars for the government bounty, running a hole-in-the-wall post office, and selling preserves to neighbouring First Nations and loggers, Annie made do … barely. She persevered well into her 90s, and by the time she passed away in 1985 she had long since become legend. As theatre, this has a “homemade” feel – absolutely appropriate for telling the tale of a woman who lived such a remote, hardscrabble life. In some songs the rhymes are bent rather roughly to serve the purpose of the narrative, but Kadoski, with adequate guitar skills and a pretty voice reminiscent of Lucy Kaplansky, has no trouble winning over the audience. It’s great to see our unique B.C. history being kept alive in so appealing a fashion.

—Robert Moyes

 

St. Andrew’s School Gym (1002 Pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 4pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 9:15pm

 

 

Dirk Darrow: NCSSI (Not Completely Serious Supernatural Investigator)

 

When taking a gander through the Fringe guide prior to seeing

Dirk Darrow, I noticed it had been labeled “Noir Comedy Magic.”

My reaction was, “What the hell does that mean?” As it turns out, just what it says. Dirk Darrow is a mutant hybrid of stand-up comedy, magic show, drug inspired interpretive dance piece and a sublime farce of film noir. Smug is too

small a word for private dick Dirk Darrow who growls out his monologues in a voice that would do Humphrey Bogart and all the old pulpy gumshoes proud. Half of the fun is the games Dirk plays with several audience members spontaneously selected as “suspects” in this increasingly convoluted mystery. Be warned: the fourth wall is not even given lip-service here and if you come you’re likely to get involved in the action. Somewhere in all this there is a kind narrative, but that hardly matters. What sells the show is Tim Motley’s charisma and how he manages to fully engage the audience.

— Matt McLaren

 

Downtown Activity Centre (755 Pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 7pm

 

Dying Hard

 

When 26-year-old Mikaela Dyke introduces her one-woman show Dying Hard, the young actress and playwright from Newfoundland weaves a remarkably neutral preface to an agonizing account of the life of miners on the Burin Peninsula.

Then, with nothing more than a pair of old reading glasses, she ages 60 years and transforms into sickly old Pat Sullivan, gasping for air as he recounts his experience working underground.

Dying Hard is a selection of interviews collected by anthropologist Elliott Leyton and adapted for the stage by Dyke, delivered in their own language.

This powerful piece of verbatim theatre delivers an honest and expertly performed look at the aftermath of the fluorspar mines in St. Lawrence, NL. Hundreds of miners became sick and died of silicosis and cancer from working without adequate protection from silica dust.

In a series of six monologues, Dyke conjures up four former miners of various ages and degrees of physical wellness, and two heartbroken women left to live with the consequences of life without their husbands, fathers, brothers and children.

And while the stereotype of Newfies being difficult to understand rings true here to some degree, they become easier to understand as you settle in and the show goes on. And while the Sullivan character was the hardest to understand, he was one of the most interesting to watch. It’s not only the words this rugged old man speaks, but also the physical idiosyncrasies Dyke assigns him that deliver his authenticity.

In the end, through all the pain and suffering, the real-life characters in this story share a degree of dignity in an honest life’s work. Cudos to Dyke for seeing that their stories aren’t forgotten. M

— Mary Ellen Green

 

St. Ann’s Academy (835 Humboldt)

Fri., Aug. 31 at 6pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 7:30pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 4:45pm

 

Earth Leader: Son of ‘Bub

 

It’s always so interesting to walk into a show without knowledge of what’s to come. When I entered the tiny performance hall, on stage was a guitar, a few large black boxes and a sign pointing the way towards “death.” From this and the synopsis I could surmise that there would be music, which there was, maybe some storytelling, check, and perhaps an enlightened end to something? In this show Rich Gauthier is an alien, musician, stand-up comic, Freudian doctor, spawn of Satan, frog that eats a special kind of fly, and just himself —  a guy looking for a way to find light amidst the darkness. I found myself pleasantly engaged in this charming performance and walked out feeling just a little bit lighter.

— Pippa Hirst

 

VCM Wood Hall (907 Pandora)

Fri., Aug. 31, 9:30pm

Sat., Sept. 1, 3:45pm

Sun., Sep. 2 6:15pm

 

Fear Factor: Canine Edition

 

From the moment John Grady takes the stage in his one- man show, you can relax because you’re in great and capable hands.

Everything about his performance has an elegant sparseness — from his simple grey suit to his non superfluous dialogue and movement. Grady’s pacing allows for potent pauses, which he uses masterfully. It’s refreshing to see someone take command of their space so seamlessly and effortlessly. His gentle humour weaves in and out of a deeply touching story and as soon as you are comfortable, he surprises you with full out hilarity. His timing is impeccable as is his entire performance.

This is a true story of love and loss and what it really means to not only be devoted to, but to admire an animal. It is impossible not to be moved. This is one of those rare shows that come along every now and again that should not be missed.

— Kim Bitensky

 

VCM Wood Hall (907 Pandora)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 6pm

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 9:15pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 5:30pm

 

First Day Back

 

Shows about suicide can be a tough sell as audiences are usually looking for something that will entertain. Rob Salerno’s First Day Back, however, is an exception. This thought-provoking one-person show about teen suicide is captivating and performed with such incredible authenticity; Salerno manages to embody the essence of modern teenagers with remarkable insight into their often terrifying world.

First Day Back begins in the aftermath of 14-year-old Ollie’s suicide. A safe space is set up at the Oshawa, Ont., high school where the openly gay teen was tortured daily. A group of Ollie’s friends, acquaintances and teachers are gathered to deal with their grief, come to terms with what has happened and begin the dialogue required to make change.

Using quick transitions between characters with varying points of view and experiences, Salerno manages to tackle a heavy social issue with compassion. He never lays blame — that’s for you to decide— and leaves you wondering what you can do in your life to be part of the change you want to see in your world.

Sunday’s performance was the world premiere of this play and Salerno’s performance was overflowing with emotion and (cautious) optimism. M

— Mary Ellen Green

 

 

St. Ann’s Academy (835 Humbolt)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 6pm

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 7:45pm

Fri., Aug. 31 at 4:15pm

Sat. Sept. 1 at 4pm

Fringe-Provise Me

 

Much like the aesthetic used on its poster, Fringe-provise Me! is the theatrical equivalent of comfort food. It’s fast, uncomplicated and does a nice job of satisfying those entertainment munchies. Headed by Ian Ferguson and quite a few of the minds and actors behind the Victoria improvisation soap, Sin City, Fringe-provise Me! sets out to recreate other shows in the Fringe Festival based entirely on key points from their blurb in the guide. The show I saw admittedly turned out a bit shaky with one improviser seemingly at a loss for words, while the team

seemed to spread itself thin with too many competing sketch ideas. However, that’s to be expected with this kind of show. Some nights are inevitably going to be stronger than others and part of the thrill has to be the knowledge that it could go either way. So while it may not always hit its mark, Fringe-provise Me! is the one I will absolutely see again.

— Matt McLaren

 

Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad)

Thurs., Aug. 31 at 8:15pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 6:30pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 7:30pm

Hello, My Name Is Matthew Payne

Victoria’s Matthew Payne, of Theatre SKAM fame, is one of the most interesting creators on the local theatre scene. Although he may take some joshing for naming a show after himself, Hello isn’t an ego trip so much as an exploration into the meaning of identity (with a few ego issues thrown in). The project consisted of Payne using Google to track down as many other Matthew Paynes as he could find — all so that he could briefly interview them about what it meant to be “Matthew Payne.” In certain respects, this turned into a project in search of a project, insofar as very few of the 500 or so target Paynes responded to emails or phone messages. Happily, our Payne not only recorded all his strange experiences of being left “on hold” or being told “he doesn’t live here any more”, he also recorded many YouTube postings of different Paynes who, however evasive, nonetheless wanted to share their singing or drumming skills with the world. He also got a long, weird interview with a fellow Payne in Australia who gives online prophecies. All of these encounters, near-encounters and non-encounters are presented either aurally or visually, with Payne — that’s our Payne — doing a great job of turning his presentation into a sly and often amusing performance. Oh, and Lyle Lovett has a surprising amount to contribute to the show. If you like your theatre on the meta-media side, this is a unique and engaging work in progress.

— Robert Moyes

 

St. Andrew’s School Gym (1002 pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 11am

Sun, Sept. 2 at 4pm

Henry V

Fans of Shakespeare will enjoy KeepItSimple’s strong and, in many ways, traditional production of Henry V.

Shakespeare’s plays are about the language and director David Christopher has a knack for staging so that the dialogue is central and clear. The lighting design and music choices, in particular, are apt and unobtrusive.

Ryan Levis is charismatic as the coming-of-age King, ably illustrating much of Henry’s self-doubts as they give way to growing confidence. Some of Shakespeare’s most famous passages (“Once again unto the breech” and Crispian’s Day) are here, and Levis gives them serviceable attention.

Andrew Axhorn as a virile Exeter exhibits serious martial power, Chris Harris inhabits three distinct and enjoyable personae and Corin Wrigley as Montjoy is elegant, fey and aloof.

The only misstep stems from the show’s description: “a great, ol’ Canadianized Shakespearean historical romp.” Other than a character in the French court that speaks with a Quebecois accent, this description is a bit misleading. Christopher’s production is, by and large, a traditional treatment of the play. During one regrettable moment, the Quebecois character rants using slang (“tabernak! Hosti! Chriss!”). The result is not offensive but, to my Montrealer ears, comes across as a bout of Tourette’s.

A final note: the play has been edited for length, so Falstaff fans may be disappointed.

— Brent Schaus

 

Metro Studio (1411 Quadra)

Sat., Sept. 1 at noon

Sun., Sept. 2 at 4pm

 

 

 

Hip.Bang! Improv

 

Devin Mackenzie and Tom Hill start their show running and clapping, which immediately gets the audience’s energy up as we join them.  They waste no time calling for a suggestion from the audience, asking for a descriptive word. “Gargantuan!” is called out and these two quickly set to work building scenes that run the impossible gamut from sparrow vengeance, escapes from Alcatraz and a freakishly large child to name but a few.

One of the most impressive feats is this pair’s ability to bring their seemingly unconnected scenes full circle, a skill that reminds you this is an art form and not just the random chaos it appears to be.

As with all improv, some scenes are funnier than others. It is the nature of the beast after all, you just never know what you are in for.

— Kim Bitensky

Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 6:30pm

Sat., Sept 1 at 4:45pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 2:15pm

 

Honesty Hour

 

Honesty Hour is playwright Kayla Hart’s first Fringe play, and unfortunately it shows. Many of the stories behind the series of monologues are very relatable to the twenty-something woman that I am, but Hart also takes a missstep in trusting her material to the hands of actress Marleis Bowering. While I appreciate the difficulty in being the only actor on stage, Bowering comes across as awkward and stilted, which kills the sprinkling of humour in the play. There were times I literally thought, “Well that could have been funny” but Bowering’s delivery was just off. To be fair, Bowering did improve as the play went along, suggesting a certain amount of opening night jitters were to blame, but not enough to make up for her rather impassive facial expressions and lacklustre energy during the first half of the play. Ambitious, not without its merits, but honestly misses its mark.

— Liz Marsh

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham Court)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 9;15pm

Sun. , Sept. 2 at 1:45pm

 

Human Body Project

 

It seems as though everyone and their dog has got an opinion on The Human Body Project, currently gracing Victoria Fringe with its third consecutive appearance – sometimes whether they’ve seen the show or not. Needless to say, this made going into it for the first time with a completely objective mind difficult. Now, finally having seen it for myself, I can only say that I appreciated aspects of it but also thought it was deeply flawed. Conceived by naked western dissident and teacher Tasha Diamant, the piece consists of the artist sitting bare-bones in front of a crowd as a statement on vulnerability. While I appreciate the intent and I love how passionate she is for her “work,” part of me couldn’t help but wonder if all we’d experienced was grumbling at what was wrong (so very wrong) about the world while looking at a naked woman. I’d almost recommend a radical re-working of the show dramatically, one where she could engage more with her audience and get them involved in participation and discussion. Right now this is a lecture prompted by the audience and not the lecturer, and it might work better the other way around.

— Matt McLaren

VCM Wood Hall (907 Pandora)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 7:45pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at noon

Sun., Sept. 2 at 4pm

 

 

In/Side the Box

 

Sinead Cormack’s performance art piece is about conformity or being cliche, I’m not sure which. That’s my way of saying it’s a tired premise with nothing more insightful to say other than lables are limiting, albeit in this more experimental format. There’s movement, there’s a giant box with string, and there are projected images. The box, in particular, was cool; I would love to play with it. And Cormack herself manages to exude charm without uttering a word, wearing a freaky barbie doll smile the entire time. The piece is also funny at times, with Cormack knowing full well just how adorable she is and using that to good effect. All in all, while I didn’t hate this piece, I can’t really strongly recommend it. It’s too wrapped up in its own unique presentation to wonder if what the audience sees is really any good.

— Liz Marsh

 

Downtown Activity Centre (755 Pandora)

Fri, Aug. 31 at 6:45pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at noon

 

Lies!

There are lots of nimble-fingered magicians out there — the, uhm, trick is to be entertaining, funny, and to carry a big shtick. Vancouver’s Travis Bernhardt delivers on all accounts with his new show, Lies! He started out deliberately small while warming up — and sizing up — the audience, then proceeded to make everything from wedding rings, limes, and toasters appear and disappear … or maybe show up in the oddest places. He also played with cards, did a slick mind-reading routine, and ended the show with a collective magic trick that cleverly involved every person in the room. It was all fine stuff and the audience happily ate it up, but a lot of the fun came from his faux-philosophical patter explaining why magicians are, in essence, liars. After quoting the dictum from famed illusionists Penn & Teller that “magic is the unwilling suspension of disbelief,” the dapper and personable Bernhardt went on to talk about how his performance was, for the audience, an acceptable lie and they were complicit in it.  “If I tell you I’m cheating then it’s like we’re in an open relationship,” he quipped. The sight lines in the venue weren’t great for presenting magic, but Bernhardt’s charm effortlessly carried the day. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved this show.

— Robert Moyes

 

Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 9:45pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 4:15pm

 

Love is for Superbeasts

 

Mily Mumford shows off her impressive ability at being cute, charming and utterly disturbing all at once in her play Love is for Superbeasts. Mumford plays Eleanor, one half of a serial killer duo being examined in prison along with her partner in crime, Dorian.  Joseph Goble plays Dorian, also Eleanor’s lover, and though he doesn’t always manage to match Mumford’s quirky charm, the two have a nice chemistry together. I could have used a bit more of a manic energy from both of them, but all in all, Mumford, who also wrote the play, does a nice send up of forensic crime shows like CSI.

— Liz Marsh

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 6pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at noon

 

 

Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups

 

“Strangely good.” This is what I heard one audience member say immediately following the show, and I’d have to agree. From the Beastie Boys to Patron Saints, sexy nurses to clapperboard girls, and commercial auditions that are “painful, humiliating experiences that usually lead to nothing”, this show leads to laugh out-loud fun. A combination of stand-up, storytelling and spoken word poetry combined with improvisational moments that found one audience member shouting out the punch line, I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times. James Gangl gives an animated and energized performance in a show that takes you on a personal journey with more than a few uncomfortable situations and awkward moments, ultimately leading you to the answer of whether or not he will “have sex despite his religion.” Strangely good indeed.

It was announced Sunday, Aug. 26 that Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups is the winner of Best One Person Show at the Canadian Comedy Awards. Don’t get hung-up buying tickets for the last two performances as they are sure to sell out!

— Pippa Hirst

 

St. Ann’s Academy (835 Humboldt)

Fri., Aug. 31 at 9:30pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 8:15pm

 

 

 

Zero Tolerance – Sex, Math and Seizures

 

An unusual, heartfelt performance that is part confessional and part public therapy, this 70-minute monologue is compelling and, at times, uncomfortable viewing. Barbara Selfridge’s muse for this piece is her sister, Margaret, who suffered brain damage shortly after birth due to a lack of oxygen and who also has epilepsy. Barbara walks us through her life of caring for her sister, from the management of seizures to arguments with her group home, powerfully evoking the love and admiration she has for her unusual older sister. The story loses focus a little when it broadens out into a discussion of her difficult relationship with her alcoholic father and passive but loving mother. But even when Selfridge seems to lose her way, it’s still riveting. Honest, in-your-face viewing with a particular resonance for those of us with disabled family members. Keep an ear out for the music before the show — Margaret Selfridge is part of the band, the sweetly melodic Magic Makers.

— Varnya

 

Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield)

Fri., Aug. 31 at 5:30pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 7:45pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 6pm

 

 

She Has  A Name

Human trafficking and prostitution are never easy topics to tackle, but at least She Has A Name attempts to bring light to these atrocities. Written by Andrew Kooman and directed by Stephen Waldschmidt, the play tells a tale of injustice against a prostitute and a human rights lawyer trying to save her. The two characters played by Carl Kennedy (Jason the lawyer and doubling as a Thai pimp) are weighted down by clichéd dialogue and awkward changeovers that make the performance overdrawn and predictable. The same can be said about Evelyn Chew’s portrayal of prostitute No. 18, as she does her best at a flimsy, wavering Asian accent and an over dramatization of her character. Noteworthy are performances by Glenda Warkentin as Marta, Jason’s boss; Sienna Howell-Holden as the Mamasan; and Alysa van Haastert as Jason’s wife. Kudos, however, to the playwright for bringing this very difficult subject to the stage.

— Eugene Lee

VCM Wood Hall (907 Pandora)

Sun., Sept. 2 at 8pm

 

 

Slut (R)evolution (no one gets there overnight)

Cameryn Moore isn’t afraid to tackle hard questions ― questions like, how quickly can you orgasm with a carrot and a romance novel?

The award-winning creator of Phone Whore returns to Fringe with a show that pulls the straps off the dress of stigma, and lifts up modesty’s shy skirt to bare all. Moore uses her courageous monologue to wrestle oft-unsaid topics to the floor, from teenage Mormon rebellion to sex with trannies, to BDSM kinks, lesbian bed-death, cheating and casual sex dates gone wrong: becoming long-term lovers instead. With her confident brand of sexy, Moore’s performance will stroke even the most inhibited sensibilities to a climactic end ― at least those brave enough to watch.

— Danielle Pope

 

Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 8:15pm

Fri., Aug. 31 at 8:15pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 1:15pm

 

 

 

Spark

Spark is so well-choreographed and performed, and by such attractive dancers, that it’s staggering. Nine sections trace the evolution of life from the titular spark, through crustaceans and reptiles, up to humans and robots. Along the way, choreographer Dyana Sonik-Henderson has the troupe live up to its name: Broken Rhythms. The effect is like watching Olympians at work as the athletic dancers indulge their muscularity. A martial theme runs through the piece, with glimpses of Capoeira (a Brazilian dancing martial art), hip-hop and tribal dance; sharp looks are exchanged and, frequently, a “character” appears to try to break out, only to be brought down a peg by the others. Many of the group numbers are not-quite synchronized — surely intentional — creating a jagged and moving effect. A highlight occurs in the section titled “Tree Dwellers” wherein two stepladders serve as trees. Surprising choreographic choices, discovering new spaces in and around the ladders, create a fresh set piece. You can almost smell the tree canopy. Musical choices are superb, too, many of them from the Vitamin String Quartet’s tribute to Mars Volta, an American prog-rock band.

— Brent Schaus

Downtown Activity Centre (755 Pandora)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 8:45pm

 

 

The tenant Haimowitz

 

I adored this show. I won’t for a second claim I fully understood it, but I knew I was seeing something incredibly special all the same. What loose plot there is involves young Daniel Haimovitz moving into an extremely dilapidated flat and falling asleep only to awaken to find that he has been joined by a host of bizarre strangers. Acting as both metaphors for the important figures in society and Daniel’s life, they lead the hapless young writer on a journey of self-discovery down the rabbit hole of his subconscious. This is some of the strongest music, choreographed group movement and ensemble acting I’ll ever seen. I desperately want to go back just to observe all the fascinating little details in the staging, lighting, music and the actors stage business. While this is certainly a more abstract type of show than some are used to, I want to stress that even if you aren’t always sure what’s going on there is always something happening in the moment to draw you in. Believe me, you won’t go easy on yourself if you let one of the most unique, mesmerizing and accessible visions of modern theatre slip you by.

 

—Matt McLaren

 

 

 

The Damned Girl

An utterly enchanting hour of dance and theatre that is over too soon.

In his notes, director and choreographer Andrew Barrett writes “don’t try to figure [The Damned Girl] out… there is no right interpretation. Let go of figuring out what is correct.” Sage advice, as it helps to prepare the audience for an other-worldly experience. Have no fear, though, as Barrett provides a number of visual (cords, jewellery), physical (gestures) and musical cues to guide our eyes and ears. Every movement, gesture and look is infused with emotional vitality. As a result, simple gestures hold great impact. Indeed, The Damned Girl can best be described as a feast of shifting moods, as if a Jackson Pollock painting has come to life. The show is presented by an ensemble in the truest sense, they work as a single organism. However, a few names deserve special mention:  Hayley McCurdy communicates some moments of heartbreaking vulnerability, Hayley Feigs has an astonishing emotional range, and vocal music composer Aulden MacQueen-Denz provides a brilliant a capella score. A final note: it is refreshing to see so many different body types on stage.

— Brent Schaus

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham Court)

Sat., Sept. 1 at 4:15pm

Sun., Sept. 2 at 3:30pm

 

 

 

Two Corpses Go Dancing

 

This musical comedy based on a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer warns us that we are not making the most of our lives. An unlikely mix of Yiddish folk tale, corpses, music and vast thematic questioning makes for an unusual and unique experience. The narrator reveals himself as a demon and gives two corpses a second chance at a somewhat modified version of life. While Two Corpses bills itself as a musical, there are long sections weighted down with dialogue. Add to that some diction challenges and the thread of the story suffers. Fortunately, it only takes a song to get things back on track and this is where the cast and story unites cohesively and clearly. The song writing is smart and darkly funny, paired successfully with a mournful folky style. The arrangements are simple and often hauntingly beautiful, taking on a Burtonesque like quality.

— Kim Bitensky

 

Metro Studio (1411 Quadra)

Fri., Aug. 31 at 5:30pm

Sat., Sept. 1 at 2:30pm

 

Fringe FamilyFest reviews:

 

Aladdin’s Secret Voyage

Wow! Exuberance, passion and flawless execution. You often find one of these in children’s theatre, but to find all three in one show is a really wonderful thing. Story Theatre begins with a polished, tightly scripted version of Aladdin’s tale, written by Story Theatre’s founder Jim Leard. The three actors tell the story of the boy and the genie with cracking pace — enough to hold the attention of youngsters of all ages. And despite the action-packed feel of the piece, there’s room enough for loads of wordy silliness. I had a bad case of the giggle fits thanks to some nonsensical rhyming. This work alone would be perfectly sufficient, but then the trio takes it to another level — with the scripted section done they delve into a spot of freestyle improvisation. The multi-aged audience couldn’t have been more delighted. But wait, there’s more! As a final flourish we’re treated to nursery rhyme jam — in this instance Itsy Bitsy Spider reworked as boy band, girly pop and then set to Gaga and One Direction karaoke. Check this out! You’ll be floored.

— Varnya Bromilow

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 2:30pm

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 6pm

Fri/. Aug. 31 at 12:45pm

 

The Green Beanstalk Conspiracy

Another winner from Story Theatre. Think Jack and Beanstalk meets An Inconvenient Truth. An energy-sucking giant is depleting the world of sun, water and clean air as he fuels his gigantic black cranium through a large black pipeline. Never fear! Marvelous Moo (Izad Etemadi) and the Green Grabber (Erin Mitchell), capes a-whirling, shall save the day! Beanstalk Conspiracy doesn’t have the whimsy of Aladdin’s Secret Voyage, Story Theatre’s other fringe offering, but it’s a vastly entertaining method of delivering a rather sobering message. The trio’s passion is utterly infectious as they play to their young crowd. Once the scripted play is over, they call upon the audience for inspiration to fuel some awe-inspiring improvisational storytelling. Last but not least, a reprise of Itsby Bitsy Spider (also featured in Aladdin).  Sure, you know the nursery rhyme, but I bet you never imagined its hidden power when reimagined as Lady Gaga karaoke? Suitable for five and up.

— Varnya Bromilow

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham)

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 2:30pm

Fri., Aug. 31 at 11am

 

The Night that the Knight Learned Wrong from Right

’Twas a valiant effort, but alas, the merry crew could have used a few microphones. The Langham Court Theatre was a trifle too cavernous for these eager young thespians. Nevermind, the show has heart and puppets and plasma cars — what could be better family fare? I took a three-year-old and a five-year-old. The latter was entranced, the young’un a little restless after the first 25 minutes. The 40-minute show follows the journey of a knight (from New York to New Zealand to Mexico) as he wanders the globe in search of tales for his king. The stories he finds are loose re-tellings of some of Aesop’s Fables. The knight was the sole performer without need of a mic and he was terrific. To appreciate the others, you’ll want to sit close to the front — all the better to appreciate their charming DIY cardboard castle.

— Varnya Bromilow

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 12:45pm

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 11am

Fri., Aug. 31 at 6pm

 

The Secret Life of Walter Manny

This guy is good. From the minute he takes the stage, Trent Arterberry as Walter Manny is the picture of pure artistic commitment. Using mime, dance and his winning grin, Arterberry brings the character of a wildly imaginative little boy to vivid life.  Walter, who lives with his grandmother for reasons that are left unsaid, dwells in a hypercolour world where he is a pilot, fireman, dancer, spy and naturally, Luke Skywalker. Arterberry’s genius is that he not only keeps the junior crowd thoroughly entertained sans props of any kind for 45 minutes, but he also leaves room for a wonderfully heartfelt lesson about playground politics. Walter is an eccentric, fated to great things perhaps, but like most of those souls a little lost in the rigour of the scholastic system. Considering his target audience, Arterberry’s message is surprisingly nuanced — imagination is a gift indeed, but a gift to be managed if it’s to really benefit you. Arterberry’s gift is twofold — storytelling that doesn’t patronize and the agility to make it vastly entertaining. Suitable for five and up.

— Varnya Bromilow

 

Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham)

Wed., Aug. 29 at 11am

Thurs., Aug. 30 at 12:45pm

Fri., Aug. 31 at 2:30pm

 

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