VANCOUVER GREENROOM 6: Twelve Vancouver Fringe reviews (from Victoria)

I’ve already seen 12 Vancouver Fringe shows. That’s not because I can time travel—the Vancouver Fringe opens tomorrow, September 7, and runs until the 17th— it’s because I know how to buy a ferry ticket. I sailed across the Georgia Strait to see the dozen shows that are travelling from the Victoria Fringe to Vancouver.

It’s a good year. I especially enjoyed the top four in the list below—I urge you to see Vancouver artist Mack Gordon’s heart-opening Six Fine Lines; if anybody asks you what a Fringe show should look like, this is it—and the top nine all have things to recommend them.

Mack Gordon is presenting Six Fine Lines at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Mack Gordon opens his heart—with skill—in Six Fine Lines. I defy you not to love this show.

SIX FINE LINES

Yes! An artist is flying.

Mack Gordon’s solo show, Six Fine Lines is as openhearted as it is intelligent, innovative and unpretentious.

In Six Fine Lines, Gordon explores a breakup—somebody else’s, apparently. The difficulty of knowing one another—“Language is all we have to connect us, and it doesn’t. Not quite”—slides into the slipperiness of knowing anything. As Gordon’s on-stage alter ego describes his friend Sarah, whose marriage has collapsed, he acknowledges that we will all form our own ideas of her: “I want her to be real. But she doesn’t have to be constant.”

Each of the play’s four chapters contains six elements: a quote, definition, short story, challenge, poem, and gift. The poems, including one that mentions bandages under change-room benches, are humble but concrete. The stories are faceted with ambiguity. The challenges, including a game of Family Feud played with the audience, are pure hilarity.

And the whole bloody show is a gift. “We all have different things we do to hold our tenderness tight in public”, Gordon says. In Six Fine Lines, he loosens his grip.

At Carousel Theatre on September 8 (10:45 p.m.), 9 (3 p.m.), 10 (7:45 p.m.), 11 (6 p.m.), 13 (10:45 p.m.), 14 (8:00 p.m.), 16 (10:30 p.m.). and 17 (4 p.m.) 

 

Spoken-word artist Cat Kidd is performing Hyena Subpoena at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Cat Kidd cooks up some serious magic in Hyena Subpoena.

HYENA SUBPOENA

Spoken-word artist Cat Kidd is the real deal—skilled and compelling.

In Hyena Subpoena, her theme is predator and prey. She begins in Africa with poems about hyenas, antelope, and a lioness, and then segues into material about a Canadian girl’s sexual vulnerability.

Kidd’s use of language is rich, rhythmic, and often witty: she describes antelope as knobby-kneed schoolgirls, for instance. And, her voice is amazing—deep and enchanting: a river.

Here sense of physical theatre is also spot-on. Kidd makes imaginative use of her the nylon tent that is her major set piece. She uses slides elegantly. And she fully inhabits her expressive, athletic body.

For me, the African poems are more satisfying—more original, oblique and complex—than the Canadian passages. And I wanted a greater sense of completion at the end. But I am a big, big fan of Cat Kidd and Hyena Subpoena.

At Studio 1398 on September 8 (5 p.m.), 10 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (6:55 p.m.), 15 (8:45 p.m.), and 16 (3 p.m.) 

 

Trent Baumann and Sachie Makawa are performing The Birdmann and Egg: Birdhouse at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Trent Baumann, who wrote Birdhouse, is the kind of guy you want to throw stuffed toys at. That is a compliment.

THE BIRDMANN AND EGG: BIRDHOUSE

Kids are the original absurdists. Trent Baumann (The Birdmann) and Sachie Mikawa (Egg) take giddy advantage of that recognition in Birdhouse, which is both kid- and adult-friendly.

The artists serve up innocence with a fresh side of deadpan. When Birdmann and Egg hear that a monster called the Regurgitator is chewing up forests and spitting out ugly concrete buildings, Birdmann says that they’ll do what they always do in difficult situations. “Give up?” Egg asks.

But they don’t. Their point is that fun can save the world. So, because it’s fun, there’s a plush-toy fight. You get to throw things! Yay! And audience members tell jokes. “Why are lollipops so easy to pick on?” a boy asked at the performance I attended. “Because they’re suckers.”

And you know what? Fun can save the world. Joy a survival strategy.

At Railspur Park on September 9 (7:15 p.m.), 10 (4:15 p.m.), 10 (7:15 p.m.), 13 (7:15 p.m.), 14 (7:15 p.m.), 15 (7:15 p.m.), 16 (7:15 p.m.), 17 (3:15 p.m.), and 17 (7:15 p.m.) 

 

Beaver Dreams is an excellent show to take kids to. Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Maggie Winston and Mika Laulainen are having such a good time in Beaver Dreams that you will too.

BEAVER DREAMS

Innocence and stagecraft are a disarming combination.

In Beaver Dreams, we meet a family of beavers and a family of humans who are trying to share a lake in the Laurentians. When the beavers build a lodge, they flood the humans’ dock

There’s an engagingly handmade quality to the cardboard set, the little cabin that pops up out of a book, and the video that uses a child’s drawing as a backdrop. The beavers speak in gibberish that sounds like sopranos gargling. And there’s lots of playful audience engagement: one of the puppet beaver babies tried to get a sip of beer from a woman sitting near me.

There are structural problems: the story is episodic rather than sustained, it doesn’t always make sense, and the resolution doesn’t arise from the action.

Still, Beaver Dreams is so stylistically thorough—and fundamentally gentle—that it’s a pleasure to embrace.

At the Havana Theatre on September 8 (8 p.m.), 9 (9:30 p.m.), 10 (1 p.m.), 12 (9:30 p.m.), 14 (6 p.m.), 16 (5 p.m.), and 17 (2:15 p.m.) 

 

In 'Tween Earth and Sky, Mark Lyon tells Irish folktales.

Don’t let the leprechaun photo put you off. Mark Lyon is a skilled storyteller.

‘TWEEN EARTH AND SKY

Confession: I was not looking forward to this one. I thought it looked twee. But Mark Lyon is an excellent storyteller.

The solo artist from Nevada City, California tells four Irish tales that feature leprechauns, witches, a talking corpse, and, in a memorable guest appearance, the Evil One.

Dipping into these fantastical worlds feels like a holiday. Story to story, Lyon changes up the tone. Vocally, he uses a full, expressive, sometimes musical range. And his writing is has an antique, well-tooled quality. Favourite phrase: “a dishy dashy leather apron.”

I laughed. I smiled in appreciation. And, in one startling moment, my blood ran cold.

At Studio 16 on September 8 (10:30 p.m.), 9 (4:30 p.m.), 10 (1 p.m.), 11 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 16 (8:15 p.m.) 

 

Gigantic Lying Mouth is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Kevin P. Gilday’s Gigantic Lying Mouth proceeds from an excellent premise.

GIGANTIC LYING MOUTH

Existentialism lite—and kinda charming.

The set-up for Kevin P. Gilday’s Giant Lying Mouth is clever: he dies in a freak yoga accident and finds himself in an afterlife in which services, including spiritual counselling, have been outsourced. In the most innovative bits, he travels to both heaven and purgatory with the help of video projections and a portal that looks like a garment bag.

Unfortunately, the format becomes schematic. As Gilday ascends through the levels of hell, he performs a poem at every stop—he’s a spoken-word artist in real life—and repeatedly learns too-tidy lessons.

Hamlet does it better. But his show is much longer.

At the Revue Stage on September 7 (8:15 p.m.), 9, (1 p.m.), 10 (8:50 p.m.), 14 (6:45 pm.), 16 (5:45 p.m.), and 17 (2:45 p.m.) 

 

Interstellar Elder is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Interstellar Elder, which features Ingrid Hansen, has a terrific sense of the absurd and a less certain sense of structure.

INTERSTELLAR ELDER

The premise—and the opening monologue—are fantastic. A leggy robot informs us that Prime Minister Justin Bieber’s decision to deforest the country and plant organic Swiss chard has finished off the Earth’s ecosystem: organic chard has taken over the planet—and it’s inedible. Now, we are on a spaceship. We will be cryogenically frozen and orbit the Earth until it becomes habitable again.

When the story proper starts, a 31-year-old named Kitt is thawed out so that she can act as a “sleep custodian”: she’ll dust the rest of us.

Then Interstellar Elder’s creators, Kathleen Greenfield, solo performer Ingrid Hansen, Britt Small, and Emma Zabloski lose the thread. Instead of asking, “What is Kitt trying to do?”, they ask, “What weird thing might happen next?”, so events become random and the story goes slack. There are some giddy moments within this arbitrariness: Kitt uses her duster as a phallus. But Kitt also plays with tissues. So what?

In the final movement, Interstellar Elder acquires more narrative coherence—and there’s a sweet surprise.

Like a coast-to cost Canadian trip, Interstellar Elder is fun at the beginning and the end but, because not enough happens in the middle, it feels like it takes longer than it should.

At the Waterfront Theatre on September 7 (7 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 15 (6:40 p.m.), 16 (12:30 p.m.), and 17 (5:15 p.m.)

 

Lovely Lady Lump is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Lana Schwarcz gets off some good lines in Lovely Lady Lump. She also works too hard.

LOVELY LADY LUMP

You think it’s easy being a theatre critic? Okay, you be the person to say publicly that the breast cancer survivor’s autobiographical solo is only okay.

Australian comic Lana Schwarcz animates her experience of diagnosis and treatment, presenting a nightmare as a horror movie, for instance, and enacting a difficult biopsy by donning a hard hat and miming a jackhammer. But this compulsion to illustrate keeps things superficial. (Comedy needn’t be.) And, when Schwarcz addresses her trauma directly, she does so without the artistic skill to make it land, so her acting out feels false.

Schwarcz does get off some great lines, including, “You know you’re having a really bad day when you think, ‘I know what will make me feel better. A mammogram.’”

Other people will love this show. It has won awards. But don’t try so hard, I say. Just tell the story—and trust its depth.

At Studio 1398 on September 7 (6:45 p.m.), 9 (8:30 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 14 (10:20 p.m.), 15 (6:45 p.m.), and 17 (1 p.m.) 

 

Blood Countess is at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

In Blood Countess, Sharon Nolan shows a strong instinct for physical theatre.

BLOOD COUNTESS

Did Elizabeth Bathory really torture and murder over 600 girls at the turn of the seventeenth century, or was the Hungarian countess the victim of character assassination, a plot designed to steal land from a powerful woman? The zeitgeist being what it is, creator and solo performer Sharon Nowlan prefers the latter view, although she doesn’t explicitly support her musings with evidence.

Why should we care? Well, Nowlan performs with admirable focus and she moves skilfully. A couple of images, including the dramatic use of a whip, are arresting. Nowlan’s sense of theatricality isn’t matched by narrative craft, however. Because the terms of the central conflict are unclear (Who is Bathory’s antagonist? What is she trying to do? What’s the climax?) Nowlan’s telling of this tale lacks shape.

At the Waterfront Theatre on September 8 (5 p.m.), 10 (5 p.m.), 11 (8:45 p.m.), 12 (9:15 p.m.), 15 (8:40 p.m.), and 16 (4:15 p.m.) 

 

DK Reimener's Help! I'm American is at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Just in case you’re not sure he’s American, DK Reinemer starts the show like he’s warming up a TV audience. Everybody clap!

HELP! I’M AMERICAN

Other people laughed.

LA sketch comic DK Reinemer is good-natured, hyperactive, and playful, and some of his premises are inventive. I just don’t think he’s funny.

Be warned (or reassured): Trump is only an incidental part of Help! I’m American; the show is a grab bag of bits, many of which are interactive. In one of the more successful passages, Reinemer invites an audience member on-stage to dance with him and the dance turns into an extended war-movie fantasy. Less impressively, Reinemer presents two bits in which he becomes the captain of the Titanic: transgression is not the same as wit.

Interestingly, the show is soaked with sexual energy. It’s there in Reinemer’s vibrating presence and in his constant references to dating. I hope he gets laid.

At the False Creek Gym on September 8 (5 p.m.), 10 (7:30 p.m.), 12 (5 p.m.), 15 (8:30 p.m.), 16 (2:05 p.m.), and 17 (8:05 p.m.) 

 

The Inventor of All Things is about physicist Leo Szilard.

Popular poet Jem Rolls is less successful telling a sustained story in The Inventor of All Things.

THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS

Usually, Fringe favourite Jem Rolls performs his poetry. This time out, he’s telling a story—badly.

Rolls’s subject, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, was, it seems, both brilliant and annoying. Rolls makes the case that Szilard was the first to conceive of the atomic bomb. He also thought flushing the toilet was beneath him.

Rolls undermines his project in two ways. His performance style is relentlessly aggressive: he hollers loudly and gestures boldly. That makes some sense when he’s delivering passionate, politically charged poetry. But, when he’s trying to tell a more sustained story, it’s exhausting.

And Rolls fails to craft a compelling narrative. I never had a sense of Szilard’s vulnerability, for instance, or what he might be learning, so I didn’t care about him—ever.

At Carousel Theatreon September 8 (8:00 p.m.), 9 (5:45 p.m.), 10 (3 p.m.), 11 (10:45 p.m.), 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (6 p.m.), 15 (10:45 p.m.), and 16 ( 1 p.m.) 

 

The Man Who Sold the World is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

David Ortolano’s The Man Who Sold the World includes some classically awful lines.

THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD

Oscar Wilde said that all bad poetry is sincere. The same could be said of bad theatre—and The Man Who Sold the World is extraordinarily sincere.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to give away the entire plot. In his solo show, David Ortolano plays a guy who commits suicide because he’s so alienated. His afterlife looks a lot like Hawaii, but he fucks that up, too, by teaching the happy locals how to lie. Because of his influence, they quickly move on to murder and world war. The man tries to save them, and he achieves instant political power, but he essentially turns into Trump.

This is as boring as it is grandiose. The central character asks a series of large, dumb questions, starting with “You’re an audience, right?” and moving on to, “What is this place? Is this my mind?”

At the Revue Stage on September 8 (10:20 p.m.), 9 (4:35 p.m.), 10 (noon), 13 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 16 (7:30 p.m.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Leave a Reply