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Vancouver Fringe Festival 2005 Previews For Want of a Snappy Title

By Alan Hindle

Thursday September 8, 2005

It’s a lot of work hating people, when you’re as full of love for the world as I am. This year’s previews are just of the plays I think folks should be seeing, either because I’ve seen stuff they’ve done in the past, or because I get a genuinely good feel from their press pack or the basic concept of whatever it is they’re doing. Because I love everybody and hate crapping on people. Unless I see their show and they’re shit, then I hate them for duping me with their sweet voices in my ear and promises of sex in exchange for good previews, and for causing me to dupe you simply because I have no moral fibre to resist bribes and empty sexual advances. Then I want to crush them. Crush them like cheesecake between my toes. That, however, comes later. The following twenty-five or thirty plays out of the hundred being mounted at the 21st Vancouver Fringe Festival are the ones I feel pretty confident about. There is a lot of companies and shows in the programme I’ve never heard of that still entices but we’re going to keep to the hedges. As the Fringe continues I’ll be updating Only’s website with reviews as I see them, and we’ll be back to sheer bliss or hell-for-leather-blood-on-the-ceiling-fan. Take or leave as you will, but by all means see stuff. Spend a few bucks. Risk a few hours. Then get to the bar and trumpet your discoveries or warn of the shit-heaps, draw a map for your friends and all strangers you meet guiding them to joy as well. We’re all in this together, so let’s enjoy. See you at the bar. I’ll be the one crying in his beer that nobody actually ever did offer sex-for-reviews to and I’m just a sad, lonely man with cheesecake between his toes.

September 8-18. Previews in alphabetical order. Get yourself a Fringe programme for venues and times because I’m too lazy to tell you. More info at Tickets available at 604 257 0366.

Another Instant Classic
smokin’ naked drunk
John Murphy, from last year’s Pick of the Fringe, The Heretic, and Lee Tockar, from last year’s popular-but-not-quite-pick-of-the-Fringe, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll (possibly the Georgia Straight’s theatre team thought The Heretic had religious and philosophical underpinnings and therefore more class) combine themselves to concoct Another Instant Classic. Could it be Pick of the Fringe, 2005? It has the word “Classic” in the title, and therefore the requisite “class”. Regardless, Tockar and Murphy are two very funny subversives with enough deviancy between them to derail the entire course of Western society. No idea what the show is about, but Murphy, back in his Gutwrench days, is the only man to ever make me actually pee myself laughing. And he can take that to the bank. Murphy can take my pee to the bank. To the pee bank. Liquid gold. Lock it up in a watertight safe and let the ages increase its worth. “Daddy, will I be able to go to college?” “Don’t worry, pensive child, I have a quantity of piss gathering interest at a secure location to look after you when I am gone. Now eat your borscht.”

Boygroove II
Ribbet Productions
I avoided this show last year like the plague (Why would I want to see a play about boy bands for duck’s sake?) Then I stumbled into it by accident and came out kicking myself in the boygroove for having put them off so long. Last year’s show was a brilliant and tight satire and parody, and even if the style of music wasn’t my sort it was cornered enough I could appreciate what it was setting up without wincing. Now Ribbet productions are back with an apparently revamped, reworked version. Sure, it would have been nice if they had made something from scratch, but obviously they feel there is still enough meat left in the subject to warrant more soup. We’ll see. In any case, this is a talented bunch of pros and while the end result might leave you a bit moreish (or, might just be warmed kielbasa that stuffs up nicely your gizzard) you will never leave a show of theirs feeling empty. Last year I had a lot more crappy puns on Boygroove. For some reason I went all Polish at the end there.

Canadian Content
Urban Improv
A Scot, a French, a First Nations and an Inuit are stranded inside a wheat silo on the Prairies during the hard-luck 1930s until a train comes slowly by on tracks being built as it goes by Chinese and Blacks escaping from the American South. They all have freckles, wear overalls, suffer from deafness, blindness or polio, eat poutine, raise chickens and argue over which wheat field will get rain that year, before the locusts come, before the fish stop spawning, before The Government Man repossesses their land. Suddenly a grizzly bear rears up from behind a stalk of wheat and eats of the more attractive if sickly children and the entire community gathers to console and get drunk on moonshine before heading off to multi-denominational, obscure churches to pray. Don’t you hate the repetition in Canadian theatre/books/TV dramas/films/grandparents’ anecdotes? So do Urban Improv, one of Vancouver’s best sketch troupes. They’ve decided to declare war on Canadian clichés. Join them and throw in your suggestions as you would hand grenades and let’s demolish some hoary institutions. Also, I believe Urban Improv company member, actress/sex-pot Penelope Corrin, will be obliged to get practically naked at some point and “stumble” onto any theatre critics in the audience.

Cosmic Banditoes
Bissett and Goodkey
A.C. Weisbecker is a cult-hero novelist/ philosopher/amateur astrophysicist/gonzo journalist and former drug-runner. So exotic and mysterious a character is he that for a long while nobody was sure if there even was an A.C. Weisbecker, or if it was a nom de plume for an author of a book nobody could find but had heard of somebody who loved it so much they gave it away to somebody they don’t remember. Since then it has been nailed down he IS a real person, and the book IS back in print, so go out and find it. This show, created by Matthew Bissett (once involved with The Cosmic Pie serial which ran at Ms. T’s before it burned down) and Kennedy Goodkey (with whom I had a raging, angry, invective-swollen flame-mail battle after my desultory preview of Spice of Life last year, and who subsequently invited me to his Christmas party) have the authorised rights to this show from Weisbecker himself. If the material is as good as its legend, and Bissett and Goodkey do it justice (and Goodkey is all about this justice) this will be a cult hit at the Fringe.

Daniel Packard’s Live Group Sex Therapy II: Love The Monkey
Spontania Productions
Armed again with elastic bands and a rubber face, Packer is back to incite, delight, incense and dispense. Frankly I don’t know how much further he can refine his methodology before he’s required by law to wear a lab coat on stage and seek approval from the Ministry of Health. Basically, Packard sticks his arm in your head any which way and plucks out your beating neurosis for group therapy through humour. We’ll call it comedic probing, although that’s probably also what the aliens call it when they abduct somebody. Packard’s at his best under confrontation, so women should go with a taste for blood, because he will dig and he will let you have at him equal measure. You spar, you laugh, maybe you learn something about yourselves. I’m a little worried an agenda has been developing in his work that’s both obvious and antipathetical. Men and women are equally screwed up, when it comes to love and sex, and equally beautiful. Although, let’s be honest, it is the men who are assholes most of the time.

Doug and Al in Life is But a Dream
Mustachio Theatre
Clowns have a bad rap these days. Folks going on about how scared they’ve been of clowns ever since they were children just because one of them, for a laugh, abducted a few kids from the audience as part of their circus act and tried to stuff them into the human cannonball’s cannon, or threw them in the lion’s cage, or accidentally forgot to give them back and took them on tour for nine years as a midget or The Amazing Rat Boy/Girl. Clowns are lovely people who only want to make you laugh and be happy. Then Doug and Al come along, waving guns and jars of flaming bile and throw the whole greasepaint=relaxation movement back a few decades. Doug is the rangy, angry one with the red nose, and Al is the dumb, happy-go-lucky harmless one with the red nose. Don’t get them mixed up, whatever you do.

Flamenco Flow
Ricardo Garcia
Combing his native Spanish melodies, the academic rigour of Scotland where he now resides, and melding them with the rhythms of Asia, Africa and American Jazz, Ricardo Garcia creates a unique and potent fusion of musical styles on his classical guitar. Presented by the CBC at the Waterfront Theatre on Cartwright Street, traditionally the Fringe’s flagship stage, the show sounds like a considered front-runner. World music enthusiasts and anyone looking for something more mellow, classy, and erudite, this may be the show for you. It would be improved by letting the audience spread out picnics and several bottles of chilled wine on the floor and across the seats of the theatre, but I won’t quibble.

Girls Like Me
Pink Vixen Comedy Arts
Morgan Brayton makes me want to be a lesbian. I mean, even more of a lesbian than I already am. If queers have their Fag Hags, I think lesbians should have Dyke Mikes. I am Brayton’s Mike. Artistic director of the Pink Vixens Comedy Arts Network, former and recently reinstated artistic director of the Vancouver Comedy Festival, regular columnist in XtraWest magazine, mentor and teacher for countless aspiring young comedians (who knew you could teach funny?) and saucy little minx who I know for a fact doesn’t always wear undergarments, Brayton is one of the funniest people around. She has her own cult following, I’m sure, so she doesn’t need me to sell her, but I’m buttering her up because I think she has a connection to get me my lesbian surgery on the cheap. This show is simply a collection of her favourite monologues, sketches, characters, routines and funny dances. There. I said dances. Now, through the power of the media, she is compelled to dance at her show.

Is This the Way to the 1st World
Carnival Sized Cinnamon Hearts
Two short epics from marionettist Gloria Hole, and her troupe, Carnival Sized Cinnamon Hearts, including the return of the live band. Last year her show went slightly sideways, but she is once again playing to her strengths, telling poetic, lyrical fairy tales about this earthy life we lead. One recounts the steady (actually, rather rapid) disappearance of the buffalo herds that used to blacken the face of the planet, and the other is a meandering journey of a bug setting out for the promised land. I still remember the show she did at the Sugar Refinery before the various city bureaucracies shut it down for not spilling out enough drunken meathead louts at the end of an evening to go screaming around Robson street in their convertibles puking on their skimpy, scanty, tottering dates, and picking fights with cops/homosexuals/racial minorities and crippled grandmothers. Come to think of it, that IS the first world. Why would any sensible bug waste its time trying to make its way here?

Big Word Performance Poetry
Jem “The Living Gatling Gun” Rolls trundles back to Vancouver to assault your ears with more syllables than you can imagine one mouth could fit. Rolls is funny, literate, and capable of creating either cotton candy or Fabergé Eggs out of mere air and saliva, but what most defines this guy is the sheer passion to perform. I worry about this boy. His voice, his voice, how long can the guy’s tonsils spins like a pair of boleros back and forth across Canada and the UK before they start developing nodes and cankers the size of nesting songbirds? Jem Rolls makes most slam poets look like lazy amateurs in Speedoes. I have no idea where the Speedoes come in but my annual tea-binge psychosis is kicking in, so I’ll blame it on that. The point is, Jem Rolls is a stallion of the poetry set, and any guy with the balls to list his title in the programme in capital letters just so readers are compelled to notice him deserves out respect and patronage. Plus, if TJ Dawe (see below) does succumb to Hingeous Jawboneflatula Rolls becomes, by default, the fastest talker in the West.

Jolly Roger
Jonno Katz popped over from Australia to do a Fringe show a few years ago and decided to stay and never leave Fringeland. A classy clown, mime, raconteur and now puppeteer, Katz tells wandering stories that eventually get somewhere but you won’t be sure how to get home, or where you left the car. You should be taking your bike anyway. In this installment of Katz’s peregrinations, he plays Phil, a man in search of his father who washes up on the shore of an island that is nothing less than the physical manifestation of his soul. Cue Mr. Roarke and his diminutive sex-fiend Tattoo. Roarke. Roarke. Such an Irish name for such a stupendously Mexican gentleman. While on this island Phil encounters a new friend, an inner demon named Roger who probably hasn’t got Phil’s best interests at heart. I’m guessing this will be a sort of comic spiritual Robinson Crusoe sort of number, but nothing like the DeFoe classic whatsoever.

Knee Deep in Muck
Clutz Productions
Everybody knows somebody who’s been tree-planting and we admire and envy them: Out all day with your mates in the sunshine singing, getting stoned, planting seedlings and saving the world. Anyone who’s actually been tree-planting, however, knows, yes those things are true, and the environment is being saved one inch at a time, but it’s a long, hard, dangerous, punishing slog, and sometimes those mates ain’t so matey. Cara Yeates has seen both sides and she brings it all to her one-woman show, Knee Deep in Muck. It’s a multi-media affair, with video and still projections, soundscapes and what-have-you, but these are merely embellishments on a beautiful bit of storytelling. I saw a tech run of this show months ago that was, technically speaking, a disaster, but Yeates waded through the electric carnage and simply told a sweet, funny, harrowing tale of survival, accomplishment and meatballs the size of watermelons. Having toured Canada on the Fringe line, the wires are smoothed out and the show got five out of five stars at the Victoria Fringe. Plant yourself in front of her and grow.

Melody Mon Amour
Brownbike Performance
A short piece by Kris Nelson and featuring Tanya Marquardt, Alexa Dubreuil and Tara Jean Wilkin resurrects French Marquis de Pop, Serge Gainsbourg, the critical darling of Paris’ Left bank in the late fifties but somehow sweeping into mass celebrity in the sixties with his hilarious, dark, occasionally misogynistic, sometimes incestuous, frequently powerful, always tuneful music. Juliette Greco, and pretty much everybody in the St. Germain-des-Prês pop era covered or were inspired by. Melody Mon Amour takes as it’s jumping place the album L’Histoire de Melody Nelson, with live musical reinterpretation Montreal’s electro-pop group Montag, and explores the love three women had for this celebrated asshole/saint

Patti Fedy in… Lovers Rock!
The Chop
Patti Fedy (AKA Emelia Symington Fedy) returns to the Fringe destroy everything she didn’t knock down the last time. This time Fedy demolishes every loving relationship she has– well, the only one she has– in her pursuit of love. It’s odd, the few times I’ve got to see Symington Fedy in a “posh” show, for Bard on the Beach or the Arts Club, or whatever, quietly filling the minor character roles as she pays her dues and earns her chops in the “respected” world of “legitimate” theatre, and then connecting that with the whirling dervish of gleefully malevolent grotesquery of Patti Fedy come festival time. She is such a powerhouse on her own terms, I wish somebody in the “real” world would give her a chance to wreck unholy terror and rip down all these pretentious quotation marks on a mainstream stage. Although, she and co-creator/director Anita Rochon, a huge talent in her own right, did manage to scoop a Jessie this year for Best Something Or maybe that’s the point of Fedy. The mainstream fills the rent cheques but the heart is utterly on the fringes. In any case, Fedy is a perennial favourite, one of the ticket-selling queens, and will likely continue to be so.

International Theatre Collective
Siamese twins Andromeda and Eugenia despise each other, and that’s not likely make family reunions any easier now the brothers are drowned dead (but still hang around out of absent-mindedness) while mum thinks they all look alike, and who are we kidding, all children do, really. That’s why so many parents dress them the same, it’s the only way to tell them apart. In Jeremy Sher’s new play Saltwater sounds almost like a bit of Czech animation in its premises, and everything I have heard from Fringe performers doing the circuit is that it is a fascinating, unnerving, otherworldly trip. Once again, I am forgetting the stated intention of this year’s preview of only giving you solid recommendations, but there is a buzz surrounding this one from folks I respect, and avante gardism, maligned though the word may be, has value in this increasingly literalist world. Take a chance on this one, especially if your tastes run to the experimental, and it’s a good bet for success

Sparkle Bunny: Last Raver Standing
Theatre in the Corner
We all remember raves. No we don’t We were all too fucked up to remember anything but being really exhausted and dehydrated when we woke up in the skip in the alley the next morning. Sara Bynoe, however, creator and editor of the Teen Angst Poetry Book earlier this year, has fond memories of the day. A part of her, the happy part that overflowed with love, including those chemical, alchemical, and alchy in nature, has remained in the 80s. I have a theory. Much as in The Sixth Sense, ghosts were people who didn’t know they were dead, nostalgics are people who don’t know time has moved on. A period arose in which they were content. People respected them. The music was fulfilling. The dress sense suited their taste or lack thereof. They were social heroes, kings of their high school, or freshman year, or whenever. And they freeze there, remaining entranced with an era or certain aspects of culture, for the rest of their lives. Sparkle Bunny wants one last chance to revive that love, that power she had when she was Queen Raver, when everything seemed moving in the right direction and she was atop the flow. Join her, and her bunny ears, and her teddy bear, and reminisce about the days when your hair was a piece of art.

Companie Houppz!
Jacques Lecoq, who died the week I returned to Europe eight years ago intending to sign up for his physical theatre course, which lead to me working for criminals and underground mole people, was possibly the greatest teacher of mime and clowning in the last century. Graduates of his school permeate world theatre scenes and even Hollywood, commanding an almost mystical respect from those who knew who he was. There are still fantastic teachers out there, don’t get me wrong. But to my mind the techniques and mindset of the Lecoq school made it the finest of its kind. Companie Houppz! From Paris, comprised of past students of the Lecoq school, which apparently survived the passing of its founder, making a shambles of my stupidity in thinking without him there was no school so I didn’t bother continuing on from London to Paris but wound up working for criminals and underground mole people, bring their inventive, dazzling clown show SplasH20 to the Waterfront Theatre. I intend to see these people twice, soak up their techniques through the time-honoured methods of eyeballing and theft, then get stinking bitter drunk in the bar cursing their names and the hideousness of Fate.

The TJ Dawe Box Set
Big Sandwich Productions
Five of Dawe’s best shows on different nights. TJ Dawe is completely hollow, an empty person-skin, full of goblins, leprechauns and imps. That’s the only way he could possibly keep up the pace he does and spew such endless torrents of magical words. Imps on goofballs. Goblins gobbling reds and blues like magic jelly beans and translating chemical energy into fantastic worlds you can fall into simply by listening. That’s all la-di-dah bullshit. He’s just a really talented guy who works his ass off. I’m just joshing you. A couple years ago he was fully one tenth of the entire Fringe’s programme, what with plays he’d written, produced, directed or was performing. Anecdotes and tall tales of shitty jobs he’s had (That we’ve all had. What are they on rotation until everybody has tried them and equally died a little inside?) are melted together and stirred into a highly structured (though you don’t realise until the end) piece of theatre. This is not high drama, there is little emotional catharsis, but there are hundreds of clever and insightful observations and mini-koans along the way, and if you’re very lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of the magical little bastards peeping out of the seams of his ass.

The Party and After the Party (Not Starring Peter Sellers)
One Crazy Frenchman and Your Little Pony
Trying to explain what this show is about would be like trying to explain hot-kniving to somebody from The Land Of Forks. There’s just too much weirdness going on. Jacques Lalonde, the Vancouver theatre scene’s resident beautiful freak, plays, amongst others, Peter Sellers during his most vibrant years (though having recently assaulted the back of a bus with his head during a high-speed bicycle chase and shattering his collarbone, Lalonde is going to have to be a bit low-key for the show, I think). Joining him is Burchu from Something About Reptiles, Caitlin Stadnyk, and several members of the Hot Saucy Girls Burlesque dance troupe. Sex, booze, craziness and broken bones figure in this audience-interactive cabaret that seems determined to remind the world that Fringe festivals used to be decadent hotspots of unpredictable debauchery.

Three Chicks in a Tub
Naked Goddess Productions
Sandra and Nicole of Naked Goddess Theatre have tended in the past to do extremely confrontational drama. This time round they’ve decided to have some fun and get silly in the bathroom. Their own bathroom. They’d adapted their watercloset to be a Bring Your Own Fringe Venue, so you can see them frolic, or whatever girls do in the loo, in their home environment. Maybe in the future everybody will mount shows at home and we won’t go out anymore. I’m wondering who the third chick is, being there are only two of Sandra and Nicole. Maybe YOU dear reader get to be the third. Assuming you are a chick. Or that they are so particular. In any case, their blurb promises to be a no-holds barred presentation, and since their idea of no-holds is rather graphic (e.g. The Crackwalker), this should be an interesting experiment in home theatre. Don’t forget to flush.

Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical
Shrimp Paté
In 1874 Alferd Packer and five other gold hounds trekked across the frozen state of Colorado towards the mines near Breckenridge and vanished. Two months later, looking rather fit and demanding only whiskey and a toothpick Packer turned up again flashing money out of other men’s wallets. His story was that he had been the guide of a doomed adventure, but he was tried for murder and cannibalism, for which he went to jail, was subsequently released after seventeen years on a technicality, and became a minor folk legend. Did he or didn’t he? Who cares, slap some snappy tunes on this bloody tale and you got yerself a whambang geehaw moosical extravaganza! Written by Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, and promising heaps of gore (the front row is to be given protective plastic sheeting) this one promises at least to be a mess, one way or the other.

Trying to Tackle Enthusiasm
Funtime Productions
I’m trying to remember the Fringe show these good-for-nothing bums put on a couple years ago– Shit Happens When You’re Ripped, or, Everything’s Fucking Stupid When You’re This Pissed And I Love Everybody… I was hammered when I saw and laughed and then somebody passed me something with fire on the end of it and later, when we were all staggering out, or maybe later still at the bar, the producer of the show gave me a Screw The Fringe T-shirt which I still have and periodically still wear to Fringe media releases. The show was like being at the Cambie but with punchlines you could repeat afterwards, and was about two guys with a flat and their friends who come over to party and then one of them grows up and becomes a brownshirt or something and marches on Poland. No, that can’t be it. But they were fun, loud, musical, drunk, boisterous and the entire show essentially transferred to the bar afterward, so it was a great night. Whatever it was that happened.

The Wet Spots’ Big Ass Show
The Wet Spots
The moistness is back. The stain spreads ever wider. The love has never been more supple and lubricated. Transcendant filthmëisters The Wetspots are back from Toronto with another show, this time focusing a wee bit more on the late discovery at their last show that Cass King and John Woods are amazing comic improvisers. With their encyclopedic knowledge of stuff you never knew there were questions for, their wonderful, evangelistic fervour of human sexuality, and their clever, snappy songs, King and Woods blaze a path to righteous orgasm for us all. I’ve heard criticisms that all their songs are basically cheap punning explorations of anal sex, and this may be true. I’ve never had anal sex, for all I know there really are an infinite number of ancient wisdoms to be discovered up my bum. I don’t think I even have an anus. All I know is when I sit down on the porcelain aquarium in The Sitting Shrine I release little brown fishes every night, and sometimes in the morning. That this magical nether region could be open to pleasure is something I have to take the Wet Spots word for, and frankly, you should too. Sex is repetitive, that doesn’t make it less beautiful. The Wet Spots are not repetitive. They just know when you’ve found that spot, oh yeah, that spot right there, that’s it, yeah– you keep working it ‘till you bliss. So, see you there. I’ll be the one in the darkened corner taking notes with a confused look on my face.

Yes We Have No Bananas!
Tarzan’s Wife
I know this preview was to be of stuff I felt I could reasonably guarantee, through past experience, was a good bet, but I have a gut feeling about Yes! We Have No Bananas that says this could be a winner. I dunno. Charlotte Schiøler from Denmark sent me one of the sweetest, most sincerely offbeat press packs ever. The way she uses words and conjures images suggests a beautiful brain. Her quirky humour seems unforced in a way many “zany” press packs do not manage. The show is about a woman on a stream of consciousness journey escaping her magical life to reach a mundane one as a housewife in Alabama, and realizes her mistake too late. Or it might be. I dunno. In the bio of her bumph, with a happy candour she describes how when she was five she saw a snake charmer on television, fell instantly in love with him and decided to devote her life to finding him by reanimating her toy elephant. And then followed through. It makes no sense, but she sounds a loveable kook.