September 11: six fresh reviews from Deneh’Cho Thompson

Despite the byline above, which I can’t figure out how to remove, these reviews are by Deneh’Cho Thompson. – CT

Katharine Ferns is in Stitches is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Katharine Ferns does stand-up right: with elegance, simplicity—and depth.

KATHARINE FERNS IS IN STITCHES

It feels like Ferns and I have been best friends for years—and we have never met.

Katharine Ferns is in Stiches, an autobiographical stand-up show, is one of the most open and honest stories I have ever heard told—on-stage or off. Ferns covers a pile of dark topics, from domestic abuse to pedophilia. But it’s not all dark: “There are also jokes about kittens and cocaine. Something for everyone!”

Early in the show Ferns tells us, “I wanted to be perfect for everyone.” Then she explores the messed-up stuff that can happen to us when we strive to achieve perfection. This is a story of resilience, survival, and that all-too-human struggle to love oneself.

I have trouble with stand-up as a form, but this is how it is done right. Katharine Ferns in Stitches is very personal and it’s elegant in its simplicity. And what a journey! Even with all the truly awful things that Ferns has experienced, she ends the show with a beautiful transformation: “I don’t want to be angry anymore. I want to forgive myself for not being perfect.” 

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 10 (7:05 p.m.), 13 (5:20 p.m.), 16 (8:20 p.m.), and 17 (3:50 p.m.)

 

A Soldier's War is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Author Jack Ramsden has built a play out of his grandfather’s letters: A Soldier’s War.

A SOLDIER’S WAR

This play is a look into the traumatized psyches of soldiers at war.

Based on letters written by playwright Jack Ramsden’s grandfather, A Soldier’s War follows five young men as they ship out for WWII. The play is well written and well performed, and it hits all the right points along the way.

Harry (Donny Ready) has a girlfriend who won’t write him back. Leslie (Devin Wesnoski) is a good Christian kid who descends into drinking and smoking the more the war weighs on him. We also have the ubiquitous soldiers-drinking-and-singing scene, and, of course, one of the soldiers finally snaps and becomes uncontrollably violent.

The standout performance is by the playwright himself. Ramsden maintains a levity and joy that perfectly counterpoints the terrible realties of life as a soldier.

We’ve seen different versions of this story before, but this version is a pleasure to watch. 

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 14 (6:45 p.m.), 16 (7:45 p.m.), and 17 (3:15 p.m.)

 

An Arrangement of Shoes is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Solo artist Radhika Aggarwal uses shoes to represent everything from people to trains.

AN ARRANGEMENT OF SHOES

An Arrangement of Shoes addresses faith, family, loss, and love—all in a solo show about shoes. The performance is touching in its simplicity: the set is no more than a shoe rack and several pairs of shoes.

In a story that is set in an Indian railway colony (a temporary town set up as part of railway construction) during the Gulf War, Radhika Aggarwal plays one of a pair of twin sisters as she explores how her family members are adjusting to their new home. Throughout the play, she only embodies the other characters only a few times.

Instead, she puts the shoes to work. Creatively and simply, the shoes become trains, relatives, and the doors to the local cinema. The images Aggarwal creates are often interesting, but I became confused at times. Which shoe is Mom? But wait! I though Grandma liked the cinema.

Go. Enjoy yourself. But pay attention as the shoes dance around the stage.

Oh, and, to see the shoes, make sure you sit in the first two rows.

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 12 (6:15 p.m.), 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (9:45 p.m.), 16 (9:15 p.m.) and 17 (8 p.m.)

 

Soul Samurai is playing the Vancouver Fringe.

Brace yourself for some fierce fight choreography in Soul Samurai.

SOUL SAMURAI

Get ready for a throwdown.

Seriously, Soul Samurai is the best—and certainly the most intense—stage combat I have seen live. Ever. The show drags the vampire/action genre from the silver screen to the stage—by the hair, kicking and screaming.

I have always been interested in seeing if film could be transported into live theatre in an integrated and seamless way. These artists have set out to try. The performance is literally fifty percent live fight choreography and fifty percent pre-filmed scenes projected on the back wall.

The fighting is brutal and well finessed. The filmed scenes are clearly made by folks with a background in film, not fringe artists with an iPhone. And the acting is up to snuff. But, for the life of me, I don’t know why this isn’t a film; it certainly doesn’t need the stage.

Caution: The front row is not for the faint of heart. 

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 12 (8:50 p.m.), 15 (7 p.m.), and 17 (5:35 p.m.)

 

Setting Bones is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

The postmodern conventions don’t always work in Setting Bones, but the wacky bits are appealing.

SETTING BONES

This brief foray into post-dramatic theatre is somewhat satisfying.

Setting Bones is the product of this year’s Fringe New Play Prize, a development award hosted by Playwrights Theatre Centre. The prize includes dramaturgical support, space for workshops and development, and production support.

The play begins a bit slowly in a scene between two sisters, but it is not long before the sisters become the playwrights, who are crafting the show as it progresses.

At first, this convention seemed clunky to me: the transitions were awkward, and there were tasks and props that did not seem to add to the story. But then the two-world convention decayed, and I felt that the stranger the bits became—I’m thinking of the googly-eyed hand puppets, for instance—the more genuine the performances were. I desired more of this oddball storytelling because it seemed to draw out the true relationship between the performers.

I hope to see another iteration of this show to see where this experiment in form and structure leads. 

Remaining shows at Studio 16 on September 11 (7:45), 13 (8:30 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), 16 (12:30 p.m.), and 17 (8 p.m.)

 

Figmentally is playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Would “bigger, higher, harder” make Figmentally a better show?

FIGMENTALLY

Figmentally is amusing and charismatic, but that’s not enough.

The show features Drea Lusion and Eric Parthum, a pair of circus performers and educators from Oakland. The premise is a bit flimsy: essentially, Lusion writes Parthum into existence and, from there, gags evolve. Books and writing are a constant theme.

Both performers play the audience well, egging members on with a grin when things are going well. Figmentally includes some nice bits, including a disobedient chair. But I wanted more. The two things that really make a circus skills show work for me are great clowning and spectacle. I wanted bigger, higher, harder.

Don’t get me wrong; these are two skilled performers with an enjoyable show. Maybe I just prefer things turned up to eleven.

Remaining Shows at Studio 16 on September 12 (9:30 p.m.), 15 (5 p.m.), and 16 (4 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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