September 10 Fringe reviews from Colin: Bondage, 5-Step Guide to Being German, and 7 Ways To Die, A Love Story

Chris Lam directs Bondage at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

What happens in a faceless erotic encounter? According to playwright David Henry Hwang, a lot of talk.

BONDAGE

The footwear is wrong.

In Bondage, we’re in a kink dungeon in LA. The dominatrix, Mistress Terri, and her submissive client, Mark, are dressed head-to-toe in fetish wear, their faces covered. So far so good. But Mark is wearing scuffed work boots and Terri sports little open-toed ankle boots with low, faux-wood heels—which no dominatrix worth paying for would be caught dead in.

Authentic kink and eroticism are both noticeably absent from this production—but one could argue that kink and eroticism are not the point. David Henry Hwang’s script is a deliberate exploration of interracial sex and love. The status-driven scenes that Terri and Mark get into are all about race. At first, she’s blonde and he is meekly Chinese. Then she’s African-American and he’s a bumbling white liberal. Finally, they become warring Chinese-Americans. As Terri and Mark, a pushy bottom if ever there was one, struggle for dominance, their encounters explore who’s wounded and who’s guilty.

The stakes intensify when Terri and Mark flirt with revealing their true identities. Why does each fear the other’s sex so much that they have to be masked?

Still: kink dungeon. She spanks him, ties him up, and makes him lick her boots. In this production, which was directed by Chris Lam, there’s no charge to any of that. The emotional risk also feels minimal. Terri and Mark wander easily, even diffidently, in and out of scenes. The transitions between passage are vague.

Because it places so much emphasis on physicality and voice, Bondage is a tough acting challenge, which the performers in this mounting only partly meet. To maintain the mystery about race, I won’t reveal the actors’ names, but I will say that the man is sometimes wooden and the woman sometimes inaudible.

The script’s ideas—as well as the performances and the overall production—are engaging enough that I was never bored. But I was never enthralled either.

Remaining performances at the Vancity Culture Lab on September 12 (7 p.m.), 14 (9 p.m.), 15 (9:25 p.m.), 16 (3:15 p.m.), and 17 (8 p.m.)

  

Paco Erhard is presenting 5-Step Guide to Being German at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Stand-up comic Paco Erhard is bright and amiable. but his material gets repetitive. And Germany is far away.

5-STEP GUIDE TO BEING GERMAN

Paco Erhard’s 5-Step Guide to Being German is pretty straight-up, which is not my preferred position. To put that another way, Erhard delivers a standard stand-up routine about national stereotypes—mostly German.

A whole lot of his material concerns German guilt about WWII and the more recent German image makeover: Erhard notes the identity shift from “probably Nazis to saviours of the free world.” And his best line is about Germany’s place in the European Union: without Germany’s help, he says, Greece “wouldn’t be able to maintain a retirement age of 27.”

The day I saw Erhard, there were sprinklings of surprising wit throughout his set. But I tired of the familiar emphasis on guilt. I found some Holocaust-related jokes unfunny. And I just didn’t care about the finer points of regional German differences.

Remaining performances at the Firehall Arts Centre on September 12 (8:35 p.m.), 13 (7:15 p.m.), 15 (8:25 p.m.), 16 (1 p.m.), and 17 (7:20 p.m.)

  

7 Ways To Die, A Love Story is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

If you meet a suicidal, blue-faced woman, get her lined up with some professional help.

7 WAYS TO DIE, A LOVE STORY

Not my cup of hemlock.

In this wordless, masked performance, Rachel and Irving live across the hall from one another. She keeps trying to commit suicide. He keeps stopping her.

The form is repetitive—Rachel tries hanging, drowning, self-immolation, and various weapons—but the exploration of the physical business associated with these attempts isn’t inventive enough to make it interesting.

And the emotional landscape is weird. Irving’s attraction to this self-destructive woman feels unhealthy, to say the least, and the man-saves-woman scenario has a long and reactionary history.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 10 (10 p.m.), 12 (5:15 p.m.), 16 (6:30 p.m.), and 17 (3:45 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.

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