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Finally, Fringe Reviews

By Alan Hindle

Wednesday September 14, 2005

Before I start on the reviews, one brief preview. As the various companies, taking part in the Fringe circuit, which runs concurrently across Canada, made their way towards Vancouver they put on a number of private cabarets to entertain themselves. Just the actors, having fun, taking the piss out of themselves and each other, all improvised and off the cuff. It was a secret society that only the in-the-know knew about. Winnipeg, Saskatoon, etc. They had so much fun they are throwing open the doors to the public, one night only. I think tickets are still ten bucks, but fuck it. What’s a tenner to join the comedy Freemasons? This Thursday 15th at midnight at Carousel Theatre on Cartwright Street, catch the one-time-only insiders ball. Performing will be, amongst others, TJ Dawe doing his first multi-person character sketch, Jem Rolls reportedly getting naked, The Pajama Men, Patti Fedy, Jonno Katz, I’ve heard the Wet Spots may be there, and two others at last call that I don’t remember. The theme is Filthy Sex, or maybe Sexy Filth, I don’t remember that bit either, but it is the hidden pleasure of the Fringe, so be there and mingle with history.

Three former students of the Jacques Lecoq School of Mime and Physical Theatre in Paris, France in a series of sketches all roughly involving water in some way. Fantastic physical clown work, as you would expect, and while not all the sketches work (the apparently came up with the school in a few weeks a few weeks before they started touring it) what does is brilliant. Say, three quarters genius, one quarter needs more watering. Towards the end they did one involving two pompous, erudite French goldfish bemoaning their inept Lothario of an owner and his dating skills in furious French.

Once again Teri-Lyn Storey delivers the goods in what is probably the solidest drama at this year’s Fringe. Based loosely on actual events involving her little sister in which a criminally negligent science teacher allowed a class experiment to go horribly awry, causing devastating burns across most of the girl’s body. Despite the heavy theme, Storey imbues humour, and a lightness of touch that is all the more incredible considering the closeness of the tragedy. Storey flickers between fully formed and flawed characters like the dancing squares of a disco globe, A beautiful piece. There are several strong one-woman shows in this year’s Fringe, it seems to be one of the recurring motifs. This is one.

Sparkle Bunny
People freeze in whatever time period when they first felt truly comfortable with whom they are. Or when they achieved the defining success of their lives. Or whatever age it was they really started getting laid. Sparkle Bunny, a wandering soul traipsing through punk, grunge, Goth, riot grrrl, and existential angsty poet, discovered her bliss during the heyday of the rave, and now she’s trapped there, like she were in a fruity-coloured, sugar-powered, E-swozzled Twilight Zone episode. She decides to throw one last rave, just to put some love in the world, but everybody else has grown up and gone into condos. Sara Bynoe, creator of the recent Teenage Angst Poetry events and book, is Sparkle Bunny. She herself has a lot of energy and charm but the show itself is as empty as the calories in her sugar straws. A fun character study of a glossy loser, but with little purpose except to reminisce.

Yes! We Have No Bananas
A confused jumble of characters, including a black woman obsessed with bananas and her grandfather who happens to be a grand piano, a career obsessed actress and nymphomaniac with the dress-sense of a box of Christmas Satsuma’s, struggle for control of a prop-littered stage. A frenzied morass of unfinished ideas, it feels like performer Charlotte Schiøler from Denmark, came up with ten thousand ideas during the creation process, threw them all together and flung herself onto the Fringe trail. Up to the bath scene, where she transforms utterly into the mess that is her slightly more real self, Bananas is over-determinedly quirky and rambling but still cohesive and fascinating. Then the banana paste gets spread too thin. I bet Schiøler is one cool woman, and I hope she comes back next year with a bit more editing.

Knee Deep in Muck
Planting trees is an heroic endeavour, with folks struggling all weather to save the forests by simply making new ones, modern day Johnny Appleseeds. It’s also a hard fucking slog through filth, mosquitoes so big they could operate farm machinery if they felt so inclined, and the ulterior agendas of your so-called colleagues. Again, saw this show in tech where anything that happened to be technical or have more than two moving parts blew up, yet creator and performer Cara Yeates simply shrugged and carried on, doing a beautiful bit of storytelling. With the technology in place this show is even better than I thought it was going to be. Consistently selling out and gathering huge slabs of attention, the show is putting Yeates on the local theatre map and you should see the show now before her run sells out.

Wet Spots Big Ass Show
Ah, the Wet Spots. How can you go wrong with filthy, snappy songs and a burning agenda to spread perversion until the world is a healthier place? While this show is not quite up to the powerhouse that was their debut at last year’s Fringe it is still a shitload of fun, with the addition of a live band and Jen Cressey performing aerial scarf acrobatics. Cass King and John Woods are exploring what it is to be cabaret performers, sounding out new angles and strengths. But while last year’s show, an eye-opener and an education to be sure, with probing explorations of anal sex and, what for many people raised strictly on vanilla was one of the most liberating and thrillingly naughty low-downs on every down-low position and kinky possibility, this year’s show features little stronger than toe sucking. Don’t get me wrong, King and Wood are stars, and I predict when they come back next year, this will be, in retrospect, the good concept album between two milestone ones.

Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical
South Park is a crappily animated cartoon that looks like it was put together in Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s mum’s garage. That it is so well written, however, makes you realise there is a point, years after they could have afforded better production values, to looking so amateurish. Trey Parker’s film Orgazmo, about a sweet Mormon boy who falls into the porn film industry playing a superhero with a supercock so he can pay for his and his sweetheart’s wedding, was made entirely using “actors”, “dialogue” and sets from the adult film industry. It was meant to look amateurish. You have to be so good at what you do to act crap and come out smelling sweet. Cannibal is supposed to look like a bad junior high school play about Alferd Packer, cursed guide during the gold rush of 1874 and the only man in American history ever convicted of cannibalism when his party failed to cross Colorado in one bite. These folks don’t do it good. They so don’t do it. Casting appears to have been done between friends, who’s available for rehearsal, who owns their own kilt…They clomp around for a couple hours spouting beautiful lines while the set collapses from time to time around them. AND. They promised blood. Lots of blood. Plastic sheeting was supposed to wrap the first two rows and people were warned to wear not their best outfits. And they choked. They choked on the gore. Parker would be very disappointed.

Canadian Content
Urban Improv, one of Vancouver’s best instant-comedy troupes parade all their very best. Like SplasH20, when they are good they are magnificent. When they are not they are still fun. I think the show lacks somewhat in the actress-in-frilly-bits-wandering-the-theatre-looking-for-theatre-critics-in-lightweight-summer-cotton-trousers-and-slightly-chilly-laps, but that can be overlooked. The only real theme here is clichés, but there’s a lot of mileage to had out of that. These folks are so cute. I want all of them to warm my chilly lap. Except maybe Drew McCreadie. I have a feeling he has a very angular, pinchy bum. Chances are, if you are a regular at Urban Wells on Mondays, you will have seen fragments or pre-evolved versions of these sketches, but this is a greatest hits album. Songs you love you don’t mind putting on again, even when you know the words and tune by heart. Take Canadian Content out of their sleeve, slap them on and give them a spin. There we are with the lap imagery again. Sorry.

Four lads with stars in their eyes are assembled and milked for all they’re worth by a ruthless, shallow, prepubescence-as-commodity-fixated world. Then the queer one gets caught sucking off a cop and little hearts across the globe are broken. This is essentially the exact same show Ribbet Productions mounted two years ago to insane box office and snowballing media attention. There is a new performer, a new song, a couple new scenes, but basically the same show. The songs on Boygroove, while they are not my thing, are perfect parodies, the actors/singers/dancers having a definite respect and feel for the material they are satirising. Here’s a funny moment, though: So, the language in this show isn’t just blue it’s ultraviolet. “Suck my cock you fucking shitheap motherfucker chickensucker virginplucker asswipe fuck!” says one of the characters ordering a ham and cheese sandwich (or whatever, you get the drift). At the table directly next to me was a party of little old ladies, the combined age being around three hundred. They were so quiet during the simulated gay sex scenes, about thirty of them, but by the end, except for one lady who didn’t seem aware she was in a theatre, they were crying with laughter, unable to tsk and tut for want of air.

Cocktails With Lucky Eights
I hope you’ve all been getting out and seeing shows. Start your theatre binge with Lucky Eights at 6pm every day to get a sense of what’s available. Lucky, whose liver is actually uglier than his teeth, and when you see his teeth you’ll never want to eat liver again, is the drunken, syphilitic British tele host (with his third banana stooge Darling on the sofa) interviewing various other acts in the Fringe and giving away free underwear. Probably his own. Don’t worry, I understand all his diseases are the “dry” kind and can’t be transferred by mere fabric. Just don’t let him accidentally spit on you while he’s asking the skill-testing questions. A talk-show is only as good as his guests, and while Lucky (AKA Jason Bryden) is possibly the best comic improviser on the Vancouver circuit, there is a slight risk, as in any talk show, of a passing dud. Then you know not to see their show. See? The rest of the show is hilarious and you’ve learned something that will save you the price of a ticket.

Lazy Susan
A woman. Dead. Mysterious. A squirrel, or a mink, or maybe a flying squirrel, or Brigitte Bardot’s underwear, lies flat beneath her. More mysterious, and so tactile. Smelly. Four passing strangers find the body and get in touch with their morbid side. This show is so fucking good, I am a genius for calling it in my preview issue. Reworked considerably from Theatre Melee’s contribution to last years’ Theatre Under the Gun Festival, Lazy Susan, I think, deals obliquely with the taboo issues of death, necrophilia and frustrated self-love. There are more layers to this deceptively simple and blatantly weird play than a square of cosmic baklava. The cast is perfect. The new character of Wolf, standing in, I believe, as the personification of Death, is such a pristine pervert, he reminds me of myself in my old “weirdo” days which I don’t do anymore so it’s okay to sit next to me on the bus. Every night at 8pm. Go and rediscover what it means to be surprised by a piece of theatre. I’ll be the guy in the seat next to you. Say hi. It’s okay.

Melody Mon Amour
Speaking of perverts… Famed French pop god, conceptual album songwriter and controversy machine, Serge Gainbourg most intriguing character of Melody Nelson is incarnated as Gainsbourg’s everydemon and kidnaps Jane Birken and Brigitte Bardot and forces them to retell her story. This show, only half an hour, is actually, admittedly, so much more fun and silly than I thought it was going to be. Tanya Marquardt as Melody Nelson/Serge Gainsbourg has such a simultaneously charismatic and intimidating power to her lanky elegance, she’s mesmerising. Alexa Dubreuil is Bardot and Tara Jean Wilkin is Birken, and they are both funny, sexy and provide the solid grounding a show that could easily have spun into the artsiness of space needed. Three beautiful women hamming it up telling the story of one of the most interesting pop culture figures since pop culture was invented. Though only thirty minutes long there is as much richness to this show as any twice its length or more. Montag from Montreal was good too.

Woodburn Turns
There is no such thing as handicapped, really. There are problems to be solved, sure. Folks are born missing stuff, or things go awry as bodies develop, but resourcefulness, understanding, and love well placed is all that’s need to let kids grow up as whole and amazing as anybody else. There are plenty plenty of people with all their gears working who grow up more crippled than kids with spinal bifida, or cerebral palsy– I’m thinking here of George Bush– simply because too often children are brought up to consider their differences, and the differences of others, whatever they might be, as faults. As weaknesses. As their fate. For a good number of years now Kids on the Block has toured various shows across Canada and the US teaching kids to value who they are and all the incredible stuff they can do (as well as exploring ways for them to circumvent what they supposedly “can’t”). Woodburn Turns is a soap opera employing full-sized puppets for five-years and up that tell hip, funny stories about kids with differences to all sorts of kids. We are all regular. We are all special. Except George Bush.

Girls’ Guide
Eleanor O’Brien was bored, depressed, convinced she was going to be stuck in her job as a waitress, never to use her diploma in drama for anything more than making good use of a paperweight. Then she saw an ad in a magazine for aspiring professional dominatrixes. In her one day’s training in acquiescent subjugation she discovered the joys some men have in being taped up like mummies, getting shat in the mouth and having electrified steel coils inserted up the urethra of their penises. She also discovered, however, one small soul, desiring nothing more than to be wanted. O’Brien has been one of the discoveries of this Fringe for me. A more lovely, generous, thoughtful, talented person you could never hope to meet. By the end of her (quite brave, actually) show she had the entire audience up dancing. We would have got naked for her in a second, because she would have made us all feel beautiful.

Cosmic Banditos
A.C. Weisbecker’s cult classic about drug-running existential quantum physics rogues tells some kind of story but the fun is how they get to nowhere in particular. A hapless would-be scoundrel, his happy-go-lucky, trigger-happy Mexican warlord mate, and an ex-CIA dude who’s part Hunter S. Thompson, part Hunter S. Thompson, go in search of a microphysics professor and his überslut fifteen year old daughter they happened to mug while on vacation in Central America. Uh, the universe is in danger and, um things blow up from time to time. That’s the story. These are purely cartoon characters; there is n moral edification here. Science and grade ten humour strictly for entertainent purposes. It’s a hoot, if hard to follow, like watching a condensing of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to an hour, and probably better suited to college lads than anybody else, but if you are a fan of Weisbecker’s weird and impossible to find novels, you are not going to find a better adaptation. I just wish that stage at Venue 6 “The Gym” didn’t resonate so fucking stomping much. Lot’s of stomping.

Quiet little Ester discovers she is an accidental celebrity in the porn film world and goes to Toronto to collect her award. Her sister, a teen pregnancy and suicide, escapes Hell. International Sexologist Clarice DuBois decides to take up lesbianism as a lifestyle change and brings down a potential government. pornStar is part of this year’s delightful glut of fantastic one-woman shows. There is no accounting for such trends except in the larger sense than maybe women are taking up the form and reinventing it with such gusto a revolution is in the offing. Er, in the sense that there have been such a preponderance of one-man shows in the past, the phrase has been coined “One Man Show”? I Am I in a corner, here? Technically this even isn’t a one-woman show, as Chris Fassbender, playing all the male roles is equally fantastic as star Shannon Larson. Larson, however, sweeps the entire stage with her personality. This is one of the most beautifully staged, theatrical productions in the Fringe. A wonderful show, tied with Torched. Knee Deep in Muck and possibly Sea Peach for the show you must see after Stop Not Going. Lazy Susan, and Flamenco Flow.

This is Not a Show With Roman Danylo
Wandering observations and short, skewed Mother Goosian Buddhist Tales from one of the kings of the Vancouver improv scene. However. Danylo didn’t seem to be having a very good night of it when I saw him. The stories are faintly pedantic and failed to raise more than a few laughs from anybody except the absolutely delighted two women sat directly in front of me.

Stop Not Going
Holy Crap what are you doing? Do you want to see the evolution of comedy? I can’t, I can’t breathe. The entire audience, in fact, were paralysed with laughter for the entirely of Mark Chevez’s and Shenoah Allen’s Stop Not Going. Previously known as Sabotage last year, this is the absolute best comedy of the Fringe. Perhaps of any fringe ever. Did I sound effusive in my other reviews above? Once again, this is the best fringe I have ever attended, and I did Edinburgh, baby! However, ignore everything I’ve said. Everything else is hyperbole. This is cold hard, statistic-laiden fact. Go see this show. Please. These two boys wander back and forth between each other’s rhinestone brain with the same ease with which you stick your hand in the communal fridge and steal your roommate’s food. A glorious achievement I can not do justice to. You will simply have to see it, this is my absolute number one pick of the Fringe, followed by Ricardo Garcia’s Flamenco Flow, and I’d eaten three or four weed chocolate chip cookies for that one.

Ricardo Garcia’s Flamenco Flow
Was I effusive above? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Ricardo Garcia, a Spanish Gentleman living in Edinburgh with his Scottish flamenco genius wife, combines Latin stalwarts like Rumba, Flamenco, Tango and others (every region of Spain has specific flavours and music themes) with Asian, African, Jazz and, I’m pretty sure, occasional Heavy Metal rhythms, to create a unique and devastatingly original, awe-inspiring sound. I’m going to go on a bit more. They have this guy slapping on what looks like an obscure piece of Ikea furniture for whatever sound he needs to accompany the guitar. They have a guy… let me tell you, the point of break dancing I have never understood. Please. Break dancing? Forget about it. Until now, suddenly I understand the point of hip-hop footwork. Suddenly break dancing is meaningful. The entire history of break dancing has been leading up to this show. The hip hop guy and the flamenco dancer have dance-offs demonstrating, like you have never seen, the common language and familial connection of all dance forms. I never give standing ovations. Everybody does standing O’s in this town. For Flamenco Flow I stood up to clap so fast my eyebrows fell out and I ran over the heads of the audience to buy the CD

More soon, I promise.