Legoland, Where Bricks Are For Kids

Torn from their parents’ Hippie commune, young Penny and Ezra Lamb struggle to cope with the horrors of high school and the snap-together values and plastic people of the real world, which they refer to as “Legoland.” Penny finally discovers love in the lead heartthrob of boy band 7-Up, only to have it crushed with his foul-mouthed hop-hip comeback solo album featuring chainsaw rape. So, she and her demented brother embark on a road trip to Florida to confront him with love and a mean ukulele, bankrolling their journey dealing from their abundant supply of prescription drugs.

Celine Stubel as Penny is a black-bobbed hellion with a heart of tinsel and lace soaked in gasoline. She appears ready at any moment to simultaneously dissolve into tears of angst-ridden love or burst into flames of righteous confusion. Ezra, a miniature Edgar Allan Poe in a black cape, is that terrifying little boy you used to babysit who could turn pancake mix into a fragile explosive if you didn’t let him watch Muppet Babies.

The show is phenomenal. Every line a throwaway zinger, every scene an instant favourite until the next comes along. Stubel and Amitai Marmorstein, playing Penny and Ezra Lamb, never falter nor miss a beat of an intense, complex and deceptively complicated show. I watched Legoland with a broken rib, the pain of laughing nearly killing me, which just made it the more sweet.

Also useful to know, high school students get in for five bucks!

March 18 – 22, 2008 at 8:00pm at Performance Works, 1218 Cartwright Street Granville Island. www.rumble.org

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Chewing the Obscenery

Halloween is over, but the monsters are only just starting to crawl from the shadows. This week sees the 2007 Here Be Monsters arts festival at The Dollhouse Studios (42 West 8th Ave) running from November 7th—11th. Theatre, cabaret, visual art, nipple tassels and a small Asian man lapping from a hamster wet bar strapped to an innocent bystander’s crotch — these are just a few of the creatures parading themselves about for your sordid pleasure. Also, The Pretty Titty Burlesque, This is Cancer— Live! (a man made blind from cancer, but…is very funny about it) Atomic Vaudeville (a collective which includes pretty much every artistically bent person in Victoria) will all be there. What a scene! Fumble your way out of the porn sites, drag your sweaty fingers across the keys until they spell herebemonsters.ca and put your pants back on for Christ’s sake. You’re still at work and it’s not even Casual Friday yet.

Please kindly direct your attention to the image above. This is the dreaded yodeling Crotch Ghoul, or ‘Loungezilla’ one of several monsters you will see at the fest. It has one foot, one arm, plus another giant hand growing out of its ankle and an inability to stop embarrassing itself.

You see? Monsters. All over the place. Now, take your pants off again. The boss is gone out for a smoke and you’re not fooling anybody that you actually know what you’re supposed to be doing so you might as well surf. Try typing in ‘Granny’ and ‘Donkey’. I’ll show you something monstrous…

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The 2007 Fringe Festival: Post-Mortem

The 2007 Fringe Festival is over, and despite the controversies and burned bridges, it felt like a good one. Mistakes were made — which, in good faith, performers hope will be sorted for next year — and audiences seemed full and happy. I saw a fraction of my usual 50 or 60 shows, but just about everything I saw I liked or even loved, which is as good as any Fringe can get.

The Picks of the Fringe have been announced, so if you missed these shows, or even the whole damn Fringe, you can go a small way towards redeeming yourselves by catching them September 20-22 at the Waterfront Theatre, the Jericho Arts Centre and the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. The picks are Uber Alice by Jonno Katz, Dishpig, So Kiss Me Already Herschel Gertz and Randy Rutherford’s Singing at the Edge of the World (so baby boomers can once again see the same thing he does every year­: shows for baby boomers to see once again).

Here, though, are some post-mortem reviews in the hopes that next year, if any of these performer return, maybe some recollection will stir in you of what they did this year and help you go see them.

Loungezilla
Filth at the highest level of lowliness. Fiely A. Matias, a scrawny little Chinese guy with a wee pot belly (don’t get upset Matias! I’m sure you have a raging penis hidden under that rose bush you wear strapped to your crotch that draws parades of men with scuffed knees to you) who, with musical accompaniment from his pianist, Scary Manilow, cavorts and frolics through a near perfect cabaret. The songs are fun, dirty, almost in tune, and short enough to survive Matias’ attention span.

Infested with fag hags and having an abiding love of crappy B movies, Loungezilla manages to be both slick and chancy because he can effortlessly incorporate his audience’s reactions. Folks are comfortable with Matias. Straight guys are happy to go on stage as recurring foils to his fantasies because he is such silly, unthreatening fun. Now, perhaps there is a risk of him being a “professional fag”, inviting us to laugh at him BECAUSE he’s such a queen, but he’s so professional and funny, I have a feeling this is really who he is. Another reviewer in town scolded him and told him to relax, that it was okay to be gay. I can see that point, but I have a feeling Fiely’s perfectly content with being homo.

If anything, the message I got from the show the night I went is that it’s okay to be straight. Straight dudes, all but carrying bowling balls and rolled up Playboy magazines tucked into their back pockets as affidavits of hetero-ness (actually, that sounds pretty gay, doesn’t it? I didn’t describe that very well) romped with Loungezilla and it was just like watching kids farting around playing and being goofy. For all it’s over the top gags about cocksucking and atomic penises, this show actually creates a sort of innocence. And I loved this one moment, peering back at the audience in 3D glasses provided for the final number, like that iconic 50s image of the crowd wearing red and green paper specs watching some radioactive iguana on the big screen. Except this 50s crowd was laughing watching a scrawny little half naked Chinese guy with a wee potbelly singing about his gigantic cock. Progress.

The Fugue Code
Music is math made tangible, arrangements of abstraction that fill the ears and can beguile the brain. Mathematicians and musicians have a lot in common: goatees and a lot of drugs. But also a love of games involving patterns, boiling down complicated ideas into expressions of elegance and devising secret codes that can destroy the world.

In the Fugue Code, four rather odd men — a musicologist, a composer, a singer and an organist — are thrown together to crack a code hidden inside the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which threatens to unleash untold horror and destruction upon the world. I think.

Alex Eddington, creator and performer of Fugue, is obviously a frighteningly clever guy, and while he is not a trained actor, he has put a lot of thinking and ideas into this play. But what he is trying to do is write a 700-page conspiracy thriller, compress it down to an hour and perform all the roles single-handedly. He makes the mistake of assuming the audience understands what’s going on his head, where this play all make perfect because he has a masters in advanced music theory. The characters have the same creepy mannerisms, manic pacing, and breathless, all-knowing voice. They race about the stage, swapping lines of incredibly dense script with blurring speed. The audience has no access, then, to an obscure subject, and Eddington offers little help.

A few good jokes that crack through, mind, and the appearance of a JS Bach as a sort of demonic Arnold Schwarzenegger in a silver afro was hilarious, but overall, Fugue Code is an impenetrable wall of ideas.

On Second Thought
Performer Paul Hutcheson’s face is like a movie screen, on which his slightest gesture is twenty feet high and every special effect is on display. He tells of going from being a boy who knew he was different but afraid, and second guessing himself constantly, to being a man who has not only jumped out of an airplane and wrestled with a whirling lawnmower, but now spends his days concocting faux-shit to paint his legs for Fringe shows. Hutcheson is absolutely focused and engaging as a performer, exuberant and child-like in his glee at his own embarrassments. He’s so open and generous I wanted to run up on stage and hug him. Except, y’know, he’s got all that shit painted on him, and I was wearing my good linen trousers…

Having worked a whole ten days in the biz, I related to his experiences working in a porn shop. Although, he did considerable more time. The reasons for my leaving the industry involve accidentally beating myself with an elephant-cock animatronic dildo, but we’re talking about Paul here, OK?

His stories about working with folks with learning difficulties drew a brief and uncertain hush from the crowd, until it was realised his amazingly accurate physical portrayals. In the hands of a lesser performer and human being riffing on retards could have been grotesque, but Hutchenson gave an affectionate tribute to the folks under his care. As he points out, if the so-called ‘mentally challenged’ were the majority, what a different and hug-filled world it would be. Except, of course, you know, there’s that thing about the shit getting on my pants.

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Freak Showowow

When it come to freak shows, everyone knows the name Jim Rose. Sure Jim has a phenomenally lucrative and world famous freak show, filled with, well, freaks and such. And sure he has his own television show and has appeared on the X-Files, but did you know Canada has it’s very own traveling Freak Show? Well, it’s true. The Great Orbax Sideshow is filled with nail in the face hammering, brick on dangling hook and face in broken glass crunching craziness, and he’s here for one night only at the Cobalt. All the way from Ontario, The Great Orbax and his vaudevillian gang of freaky freaks wander the vast lands between Guelph and this precious coast of ours, revolting college audiences everywhere they go.

Having begun his freak show career in 1998 while working on his degree in physics, the indomitable Orbax was side lined in 2003 after his “set me on fire” trick went terribly wrong and he was actually set on fire and suffered terrible, terrible burns. After months of rehab and skin grafting he returned full force and has never looked back. Now he takes his freak filled Side Show from here to there, fueled by Jagermeister and an appetite for the retarded. It’s gross, messy and has a lingering odor, so its basically tailor made for Vancouver’s premier Hardcore motor lounge. And if you follow this kind of stuff, you’ll be excited to know tonight’s performance will feature the return of everyone’s favourite freak, the famous Lizardman (also seen on the X-Files ). So if you like freaks or are one, get there early ‘cause tickets are only available at the door. And remember, the show promises to be offensive, sick and twisted and all those other good things that make Freak Shows so much fun.

Tix $16 – Door 8 - Show 8:30

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The 2007 Fringe Festival Reviews

Round Five

Grummelot – Stories from the Attic
Miserly Pantelone’s mushy son Flavio is in love with pompous Il Dottore’s gushy daughter Isabella. Meanwhile, the servants — food-obsessed rapscallion Arlecchino and gullible Riccolina — fool around with a slapstick, dine on flies and plot booze heists.

Commedia dell’arte is a very traditional form of Italian theatre dating from the 15th century, but which spread throughout Europe. Employing masks, mime, outrageous clown characters and simple, archetypal storylines, little troupes of players used to wander from town to town entertaining locals in dirt streets or nearby fields.

Stories from the Attic put on a reverent, old style commedia show, but being so true to a six hundred year old form renders it a museum piece. Their cardinal sin is to revere the irreverent. In their day, commedia troupes were just milking pennies out of locals for jokes about farting. The bare bones plots would be hung with the latest local events and scandals, making them relevant to the viewer. As with Shakespeare’s work, which took a great deal from commedia, a play can employ traditional techniques but must speak to its own time to have meaning. The Simpsons is basically commedia dell’arte, using cartoons rather than masks, stock characters and situations to poke fun at the current world.

Also, while the Simpsons have a whole cartoon world to play with, their stage is a small television screen, so the small gestures become just as important if not more than the huge. Less is more is the clown maxim. Ancient commedia used huge, rigourously styled physicality because they were playing to large crowds. Attic are in the tiny, intimate Beaumont, and might have scaled down and intensified their performances to make comedy rather than present history.




The Great Orbax Sideshow
Freaks are great. Once you’ve made the decision, wholeheartedly, to cover your body in lizard-themed tattoos, implant horns in your head and split your tongue in half, it’s really, really hard to go back to mainstream society. And the mainstream is now more fucking weird (maybe) than ever, which makes freaks the only normal people out there. Granted, folks have been saying their times are the most interesting for 5000 years. (“Pharaoh! Some Jewish guy is splitting the ocean in half and going walkabout with all our slaves. Meanwhile, it’s raining frogs.” “Man,” says Pharaoh, “That is so fucking weird! Get my frog umbrella, I wanna pop out and see this!”)

The Great Orbax Show have been crisscrossing Canada sticking things up their noses and inflicting pain on themselves, probably mostly for college kids for whom a man who can swallow a condom and inflate it out his nose is the closest to mysticism they’ve ever seen. I’m not saying I could anything of what these guys do. I don’t even have a Hello Kitty tattoo. But having seen some freak shows I was expecting something more visceral. Also, way too much talk. The opening act of reading some Vancouver crazy’s END OF THE WORLD tract, found taped to a lamp post, for ten minutes and commenting on its spelling airs is something I can do myself, cheers. Granted, it is a little more interesting being read by a lizard.

Maybe Orbax scaled down what he usually does because he thinks he’s in a respectable venue, or that Fringe audiences have weaker stomachs than students, or fire regulations demand he doesn’t set his head on fire. But when I see freaks I at least expect them not to rely on volunteers from the audience being the butt of their jokes to get a reaction. That said, the split tongue thing is pretty damn cool. Maybe I should that instead of Hello Kitty.




The Aleatory Project
A mysterious emergency outside leaves a man and a woman stuck together in a hotel room, getting to know one another and test each other’s destiny. Flipping coins, overturning random cards from a deck and the midway point of an hour on a digital clock will determine the paths their lives will take. Each card is a new direction or rule guiding their fates, but do we really have a choice in our lives, or is everything predetermined? After half an hour they swap roles, the passive aggressive professor and the curious prostitute he has arbitrarily picked up to spend the evening chatting with, becoming each other in a new sex and with a slightly different viewpoint.

Supposedly, by its very structure, every show is different. I can only take them on their word, although they do offer a chance at the end to win a free ticket to see the show again as proof. Frankly, I don’t believe it. Declaring the rules as he goes along, the professor always has complete control of the game. The only possibility to see the rules in action is when somebody picks, say, a ten again. But when it happens, the players suddenly ignore the rules and continue following a scripted plot. But what makes it so unbelievable as improv drama is the stiff, actorly acting — the obvious repeating of rehearsed lines in controlled voices. You can fake spontaneity but you can’t spontaneously deliberate. Perhaps each card is a chance module of a fixed action; pick an ace we do this scene, pick a four we do that. And maybe the process of working all these modules seamlessly together while continuing to tell a story with a very obvious beginning, middle and unbelievably coincidental, contrived end, creates an appearance of stagnant plodding. But what’s the point?

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The 2007 Fringe Festival Reviews

Round Four

Die Roten Punkte
LIVE, direct from Berlin via a bunch of places, comes the greatest punk band in the world — Die Roten Punkte! Ja! But of course, ah so. Zhey are zuper!

Brother and sister Otto and Astrid are in a band, hammering out punk songs on child-sized instruments, rocking Vancouver, and knocking over everything on stage including each other. Die Roten Punkte is a brilliant clown show of infantile incest and lipstick smeared pouts, but I don’t have many notes on the show because I stupidly sat in the front row and when I tried to scribble stuff down they busted me. Fortunately Astrid misread my scrawls and thought I thought she’s hot (so I might have a chance there if I can pry her away from her leering, angry, hateful, desperate, sexually frustrated and confused, deluded, regressed, ugly brother who is not so cool as me. Nein.).

Taboos are so cliché now, but Die Roten Punkte manages beautifully to make the audience squirm with fresh revulsion. The plot is nothing more than a chance to play a bunch of songs, and the characters are simple and huge, which lets Astrid and Otto go anywhere they please in their delightfully inbred sickness. This is a short review, not just because I haven’t any notes to work from, but because there is only so much a theatre critic can say except the show is terrific and already a crowd favourite at the Fringe. It seems they have a cult following, who probably travel the world following Die Roten Punkte, lavishly devoting themselves to the pasty faced pair while secretly scheming ways to distract Otto and get into Astrid’s frazzled tights.




Get Off the Cross, Mary
Bruth (not ‘Bruce’, anybody named Bruce could be called Bruce. Bruth is unique!) the flamboyantly arrogant former Hollywood superstar, and the most famous puppet ever to look like a giant turd with Elton John’s glasses for eyebrows, is shooting for a comeback. The only subjects big enough to warrant such a major filmic event are Jesus Christ and herself. So, the slaphappy bitch decides to do her biopic as Jesus. Gathering together friends from a burned out past and some sexuality-flexible puppeteers willing to stick their arms up her ass, Bruth sets out, on a budget of cheesestrings and second hand sequins, to make a picture bigger than Mel Gibson’s Passion. Well, bigger than the film, anyway — maybe not Mel’s passion for booze and Jew baiting.

There are a lot of clever ideas here, for a production that one of the performers told me was created in and hurry and on the hoof. (Or the woof. Or the weal and weft. No? Textile humour gets no play anymore?) The metaphysical and satirical joke of white slave “handlers” catering to “black” puppet bosses’s crazy whims while still being the ones manipulating their masters manages to hold throughout. Weirdly, it’s the gayness of the thing that gets in the way. There’s lots of stretching of punchlines and overuse of gags (along with the occasionally absolutely brilliant ones) but shows that feel simply using the word ‘gay’ makes them funny… Saying “queers can be funny” is like saying “Hollywood has some funny people living there.” Gay being funny is better than funny being gay, I think.

More time and Get Off the Cross, Mary will sing. Right now it’s lip-syncing.




Not Even an Ostrich
Claire, a promising former student, moves in with Professor Phil, a poetic, middle aged academic wreck, who secretly has only a few months to live. The power relation of randy teacher and hot student shifts inevitably at the words “Oh, professor!” but there is not a single cliché in sight during this show. Acting wise, the show is pitch perfect. Drew Taylor as Phil, the philosopher in shorts trying to seduce his boarder, isn’t so much world weary as weary of himself. Urszula Petrykowska can be bubbly and enchanting and moody; selfish and thoughtful all at once. The coolest thing about Ostrich is the way the environmentalism angle, which at first I took as a token cause for the professor to espouse, as a metaphor for the cancer eating him up, is effortlessly turned it into a comment on the care fatigue people everywhere ‘suffer’ regarding the issue. The problems of the world today seem so huge, insurmountable, and somebody else’s fault, we feel unable to energise ourselves to make the changes needed in our lives in order for life to continue.

A very professional, tight, utterly human and subtly pointed production. And the poetry is actually good! I was thinking the Firehall Theatre was a venue just too far off the Fringe track for me to trek out there, but this show convinced me to spend more time seeing what’s on there.




Miss April’s Day School for Burgeoning Strippers
Miss April takes you by the hand (and only the hand please, gentleman) and leads you on a tour of the life of a journeywoman peeler. Obsessed with television soap operas and dreaming of going to soap opera school herself, young June turns to the Heartbreaker Strip Joint for easy tuition money and becomes April, the favourite pole jockey and lap-warmer of men named Steve holding wads of folded fivers in their greasy wallets.

Let’s put aside the ethical and moral issues of stripping and dancing for money. The power relationships, the subjugation of women, the manipulation of weak and lonely men. In purely theatrical terms, it would be nice to see why, exactly, April is drawn to the adult entertainment industry, how she can survive as meat for hungry eyes. The need to pay bills and finance hopeful dreams isn’t enough. There is something in her letting her do this degrading work, but she and we never really see it. This is a ‘slice of life’ autobiographical piece from June Morrow, creator, performer and former dancer in bars around Ontario. She doesn’t need to justify her life, or apologise for it. Fuck that. But if it’s to be theatre it seems to me this should be focused on as the fascinating core of Miss April.

On a purely technical note, there are some good jokes, and Morrow has comedic timing. She can obviously sing, but a musical demands you can really SING. Her preferred range is in the middle, but she appears more accomplished in the highs and lows, and more power and confidence is needed. Morrow strangely doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin, and no amount of stripping will cover that up.

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The 2007 Fringe Festival Reviews

Round Three

Daniel Packard’s Boys to Men
The first Fringe festival I reviewed when I returned to Canada, whenever I saw a show that was so bad that I got angry about it, I went downtown to the Crush Lounge where Daniel Packard’s Live Group Sex Therapy was running every night. Packard was my healthy down-time. Four Fringes later he’s still perfecting an amazing combination of sit-down comedy, disturbingly effective libidotherapy and public confessional. Over the years, however, as he’s gotten better at audience management, it has felt like a distance has grown between him and what he does. Packard is best when in a tight corner, but his moves are now so slick he never seems to seriously be in trouble.

Boys to Men, essentially an autobiographical self-therapy session, is a new direction and a chance for him to strip off some of those layers of skin he has grown. Talking about his father’s inability to give love and support, and how that helped make him the neurotic, obsessive compulsive, passive aggressive, manipulative, glasses-wearing, Jewish, hairy chested… Where was I? Oh, yeah, Daniel Packard is a mess. Such a show could easily wander off to fields of deep wallowing, and occasionally it does, but Packard uses his chilly upbringing to let the audience discuss their own childhoods. All of us wallowing together makes it less precious. It creates the liberating equivalent of being part of a nudist colony as opposed to be one naked guy in a park. Although, lone streakers are pretty entertaining, too.

Packard’s regular Live Sex show, also in this years Fringe, has hit a bump in that the owner of the BYOV venue went bi-polar and chucked him out for no good reason at all. Packard is currently scrambling to find somewhere else, so this show may be your only chance to see him.




Fluffy 10th Street: Confessions of a Dirty Puppet
Fluffy wakes up in a tea chest, handcuffed and confused. She’s been locked up there for 25 years, which you can do when you’re a puppet, but it’s still not comfortable. Naturally, upon liberation, she promptly launches into telling of her fall from being a celebrated actress of classic fairy tales and a principled artiste to becoming a seamy stripper enjoying raunchy sexcapades with Pinocchio and his lumber.

Bunraku is a traditional Japanese form of puppetry in which puppeteers are present on the stage, dressed and shrouded in black to manipulate the large puppets. Tara Goerzen, openly hidden behind the scene, invests Fluffy with much filth, especially in the big finishing dance number. The story is slim — it’s only 20 minutes long — and the poor girl’s been locked in a chest for a quarter century, c’mon! This show’s magic is in the details; the 100% cotton hand absently stroking a polyester-mix knee while she reminisces and fantasises about highly polished wooden knobs, the arching of her supple back while she stretches her shapely leg over her head, the… hmmm, speaking of fabric, the denim of my jeans appears to be shrinking.

The shortest show in the Fringe, it’s an easy snack between larger productions, and while it would have been nice to have had a longer, more involved story rather than a brief A to C with B being decades in a box, it’s also nice to have a bit of fluff now and again. Fluffy is as fluffy does, and Fluffy definitely does do. If this is ever reworked I’d like to hear Pinocchio’s side of the story. Even if it were just a pack of lies, it would great to see a little more man-wood out there.




Flamenco Con Fusion
Ricardo Garcia returns to rip and shred the air with his classical guitar and Flamenco rhythm, reassembling the pieces into a beautiful picture for your ears. This guy was one of the absolute highlights of the 2005 Fringe, and he brings with him again an incredible Flamenco dancer, Laeticia Jimenez, and a vibrantly fun hip hop break dancer, “B Girl Bounce” Jen Casimir. In fact, between Jimenez’s rather hypnotic feet and sleek, filmy dresses clinging to her lithe body and Bounce’s floating gyrations and filthy, sexy leer…you kind of have to remind yourself about the quiet Spanish guy with the guitar making it all happen. I mean, he’s there, but… those dresses…

It takes supreme confidence to use your show to showcase others, and Garcia’s decision is a wise one. Laeticia reveals herself to also be a brilliant clown, and while Casimir is not quite the physical powerhouse of the dancer from Garcia’s previous show, Flamenco Flow, she’s just as fun to watch. The cat fight dance-off between the two has so much chemistry and mutual respect; the statuesque and somewhat dangerous looking swan and the pugnacious, streetwise hawk (I went from Cat Fight to Bird Battle in the same sentence and it only make sense once you’ve seen the show) circling each other with killer moves. Meanwhile, Ricardo sits back smiling like a beatific judge presiding over the hyper-energised draw. His music is the floor on which they dance, and their combined, effortless performance creates a complete experience that absorbs the audience entirely.

Once again, one of this years must-sees. The CD’s pretty amazing as well.

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The 2007 Fringe Festival Reviews

Round Two

Tale of a T-Shirt – Fixt Point Theater
“Make me something with two seams, four holes and two sides. Go to the place where people work the hardest for the least.” Something else, something else, point it… It was a lot of stuff to remember, and it was delivered by a sock puppet. Charged by her fiancé to unravel his riddle before he will consent to marry her, a young girl — the town fool — must travel to India, China, and back to the US following the life of a simple T-shirt from a puff of cotton to a cheap scrap of clothing ending up in a discount shop. Along the way, the backbreaking labour of Third World labourers — the sweat and blood we fail to see on the bleached and dyed fabric — leaves its mark on our heroine.

Fixt Point Theatre — three remarkably focused clowns — present a rather looser show that tries get its audience to imagine, for at least an hour, how the world might be better if we paid more attention to where the things we blithely consume really come from.

The performers, Amber-Kelly MacKereth, Sophia Laggner and Lisa Marie Dilberto, are wonderful clowns making a sweet show on a budget of around nine dollars. The show itself is so rambling and unkempt that it’s actually a little hard to follow, which is weird because usually I don’t care where a clown show goes. The fun is in the going. Tale, however, is a show of conscience, with an important and immediate political message that is both rammed home and left to wander at loose ends. That’s not to say it’s slack — these are folks trained by Phillipe Gaulier after all, who’s all about working and reworking. It’s Just an awful lot of fabric to work with to make something as necessarily tidy as a Fringe show on the cheap. However, it is funny, with stacks of heaps of sincerity and heart. Plus, the three performers have something big to say, which is nice to see in a Fringe.




The Cody Rivers Show: Flammable People
If the Pajama Men are intense, the Cody Rivers boys are energetic. Dressed in matching green boiler suits with stylish suede crotch zippers, they whirl and whiz and chop with such precision that if you threw a carrot at them, it would be julienned. With relentless word-choreography and Gene Simmons hair, they fling themselves about the stage, melding into each other, splitting apart like amoebas in a poetry dish full of coffee, yammering streams of high octane gibberish until I felt exhausted on their behalf. The machine gun delivery means I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, which they anticipate and alleviate somewhat by ensuring clear punchlines bracket the expulsion of air from their lungs. Actually, I’m not sure they actually breathe. They might take in oxygen through their eyelids like lizards. It’s the only way to explain how they can go on for so long. Oh sure, they might just be masters of some obscure Swami mouth-breathing technique that allows them inhale air while drinking a glass of water, but I think it’s just as likely they are giant lizards in green plumber outfits. Queen Elizabeth II is frequently seen wearing her boiler suit, and she’s well known to actually be a lizard from outer space.

Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor could be funny eating jam, but virtuosos displays of energy are not enough. While it does dazzle an audience, they are at their most hilarious when they slow down enough for us to see and hear them as more than a whine and a blur. Their kinetic dancing actually slows them down and lets us appreciate more what they are actually saying rather than simply being impressed with how fast they are saying it. They are super-powered action heroes of comedy, but I wish they had slowed down just a bit for my poor mortal brain to appreciate better their daring do.




Jem Rolls Up – Big Word Performance Poetry
Having recently returned from living in India for six months (apparently preparing for his future career as a spokes-model for a shampoo company with luscious, flyaway blond hair) Jem fills yet another Fringe hour with relentless, booming, hilarious and often deeply insightful observations.

Rolls’ style has changed over the five years I’ve been seeing his shows. The structure of his poems and presentation is much looser, less technical. Occasionally the polish gets a bit thick as the variations on delivery he used to employ make way for what has proven to work time and again. The up side is the more general looseness that he now employs. Don’t get me wrong, see Jem Rolls and you are in for a barrage of Scots-Cockneyisms, bellowing with arms churning like a windmill and Vulcanised facial expressions stretching like saltwater taffy. But where Rolls has previously just bitched about stuff, there is now a definite and coherent philosophy being expounded. I’m not sure what exactly it is, I have too much fun watching him flap and boom to pay TOO much attention to what he’s saying, but where once there was an energetic beat poet/stand-up comic, there is now a world-weary prophet, standing on a plastic milk crate on a mountain somewhere, spouting universal messages to the trees.

The point is: If you’ve seen Jem Rolls and like his stuff, then he’s back in town and you should go see him. If you haven’t seen him before, you should see him anyway, and wonder what he looked like before he discovered conditioner. Either way, decide for yourself if this veteran Fringer isn’t halfway to becoming something bigger than what he is now: A true poet. (Hah! I can’t wait to see what he says about that at the Fringe bar.)

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It's Always Sumthin'

It’s always sumthin’, innit? This year there is much controversy amongst the performers about the Vancouver Fringe’s decision to mount the Encore Series at the same time as the Fringe itself. Counter-programming against, the phrase on many people lips is “this is the year the Fringe ate itself.”

Where the Fringe is traditionally unadjudicated and shows are selected by drawn lots, the Encore series showcases past successful performers for which the Fringe disallows regular passes and charges $18 a ticket. Performers feel slighted and disadvantaged, as they must now compete with professionally marketed repeats of proven shows at large, audience-absorbing venues, concurrent with their own shows, which they pay to put on. Some shows have ended with the performers discussing the situation with the audience, and one performer is actively picketing outside the Granville Island Stage.

Strictly speaking, only some of the Encore shows are repeats. The Pajama Men’s Versus vs. Versus is a new show, as is TJ Dawes’ Maxim and Cosmo. The Georgia Straight aren’t the media sponsors this year, possibly because the Fringe would not or could not pay the ‘sponsorship fee’ the Straight demands of the arts events it ‘supports’. The Vancouver Sun is the paper of record this year, and with big bills to pay in the wake of the previous artistic director’s bunglings, perhaps the Fringe genuinely thought the Encore Series was a way to promote the festival overall, and fill the drained and leaky coffers.

Personally, I feel torn. Whether or not the Encore Series was a bad idea (it basically was) many of the performers regularly involved at the Fringe have become friends of mine over the years. Several of them are very dear to me, even though I only see them once a year. However, I will say this: All these people are beautiful people just trying to put on a great show. If you see any of the Encore Series (which you obviously should) throw a penny in the karma well and make of point of seeing two others not in the Series. Or three. I’ve been in Vancouver too long if I’m actually using references to ‘karma’, but in this case it’s true.

The Fringe bar kicks the tapioca-brown shit out of last years; kudos like chocolate-wrapped-in-gold-foil to Heather Lindsay and her helpers who set it up. Be there, drink there, see bands and shows and cabarets there. I’ll be reviewing stuff regularly as the festival unfolds, though nothing like as much as I usually do. I’m older now and the oxygen tank gets heavy carting it about all day. Get yourself a programme with dates, times, venues, and see fucking everything.

Check out the first round of Fringe reviews here.

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The 2007 Fringe Festival Reviews

Round One

Bye Bye Bombay – Cara Yeats
A billion Indians escape the squalor by watching three-hour epics of froth and frenetic colour pouring seemingly daily out of Mumbai (née Bombay). Young, self-absorbed Gori flees the repression of not having a cool enough life in Vancouver to the vast, vertical spectrum that is modern India, where fairy tale luxury sits kitty-corner to dazzling poverty. And now: DANCING! Hi ya! Karate chop! Aliens? Time to SING!

Hand held puppets, film, music and adorable, scrawled cartoons on a slide projector accessorise the day-glo sari of a show wrapped around Cara Yeates’ actual adventures in India earlier this year. Yeates, whose sweet little tale of planting trees, Knee Deep in Muck, was a wee gem, has decided to go for the whole tiara. While it is impossible to convey the sheer immensity of India, Cara smartly presents a slim slice using puppets, dance and a film/slides media accompaniment. Yeates’ physicality continually improves, assisted no doubt by her director for this show, Jonno Katz (no slouch himself). Her gift for simply yet sharply defined characters gets stronger every year.

With bouncy athleticism, she flits about the bare stage of Playwright Theatre Centre, invoking India not so much with the computer-projected parade of images taken there (which give a sense of the place but, understandably, no more) as by recreating a handful of the people she met there, each probably an amalgamation of several individuals.

The next step of evolution will be to move beyond story telling with films on the side. Yeates is so charming she can own any room she walks into, so it will be amazing when she feels ready to take her audiences into deeper places. Another kick-ass show. But now we must SING! DANCE! FIGHT! MAKE ROMANCE!




Versus vs. Versus – The Pajama Men
Barefoot and flannel-fluffy, but make no mistake, these men are dangerous. Recently, the Pajama Men performed in a theatre before 80 eighty-year-old women, all of them millionaires. After the show the audience fell into a riot over who would take them home and make them hot chocolate. Pearl necklaces and false teeth clashed while the boys slipped out the back and escaped in their Pajama Mobile, a large pillow with wheels. Whatever you do, don’t take your grandma to this show. She’ll get that look in her eye and then she’ll be on stage trying to wrestle homemade socks on their filthy feet.

Versus vs. Versus is actually a new show, not a rehash, although several popular characters return and several new ones are variations of previous. As with all new material, some of it doesn’t work quite as well except as links and springboards. Marc Chavez and Shenoah Allen, however, never fail to make me cry — usually through laughing, but again, I mention those filthy, stinky feet. While there is controversy surrounding their show as being part of the Encore series, I cannot bear the idea people might miss them because of it. So, Dear Adoring Readership, I charge you with this: If you decide to Catch Versus vs. Versus (and you should) then you must counter the bad ju-ju and voodoo and karma and mojo and whooshy-whooshy-ping by seeing TWO non-Encore shows. You should anyway.




Apa Kabar! – Theatre Bagger
The world is a mad place. I read that somewhere once, and sometimes the only release is to simply let yourself be mad. Once a year in Indonesia, folks apparently give themselves over to the craziness with clown and mask shows, and general ridiculous mayhem in huge public performances.

Mask work is hard stuff to do, and finding decent masks harder. Thomas Jones has somehow got his hands on 50 of the most incredible, beautiful masks I’ve ever seen. Some of them must use glass for the eyes, giving them such a clarity, luminescence and life of their own that I was half convinced they were actually on springs and capable of moving. Of course, that is actually the knack of the experienced mask performer, and TobyBerner, Sarah May Redmond, Tallulah Winkelmann and Tom Jones are all brilliant, creating massive, intensely human characters while they cavort on the stage doing, well, very little at all, really. Although we all wear masks shielding our inner selves from the world, actually wearing a mask frees the body to communicate all sorts of stuff because our eyes no longer focus on the human face we think we know.

Once upon a time there was a perfect face, with even features laid out with mathematical precision. The next face, which could not hope to be perfect, was ever so slightly askew. The third face thought, ‘What’s the point? I might as well relax and have some fun!’ and went nuts. Eyes bulging in opposite directions, nose like a turnip, eyebrows like a badgers and a mouth like a crazy, laughing fish. Every human face is a caricature of every other human face, and the most human are those veering most wildly from the notion of ‘perfection’. Apa Kabar is the truly beautiful people laughing at those of us cursed with non-pumpkin-shaped noses, inviting us to relax and wallow in madness.

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