Archives for September 2017

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.) [Read more…]

September 11 Fringe reviews from Colin: Ain’t True and Uncle False, A Night at the Rose Coloured Discotheque, and The Messenger

Paul Strickland's Ain't True and Uncle False is playing at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Kentucky storyteller Paul Strickland will charm your socks off—and open your heart.

AIN’T TRUE AND UNCLE FALSE

God, we’re fragile. God, we’re beautiful.

In Ain’t True and Uncle False—which is, I guarantee, one of the finest and most original shows you’ll ever see—solo artist Paul Strickland introduces us to his friends and relatives from the Big Fib Trailer Park. The main employer in Big Fib is the pea-punching plant, where locals make regular peas black-eyed.

The homespun inventiveness just keeps coming. In stories that are announced as if they are revelations from the Almighty, we hear about Will, the boy who lost his hand—simply misplaced it—when he was 7, and the conjoined twins who were born a year apart. Underlying all of this, there’s a touching meditation on temporality and decay, on dementia and death. In celebrating the trailer park, Strickland is also trying to preserve it.

“When the peculiar becomes familiar and safe, that’s when you know love”, Strickland says at one point. Just before hearing that line, I had written in my notebook, “I feel safe.”

Remaining performances at Performance Works on September 11 (6:50 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), and 16 (4:35 p.m.) [Read more…]

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.) [Read more…]

Deneh’Cho Thompson reviews Distractingly Sexy at the Vancouver Fringe

Despite the byline above, this review is by Deneh’Cho Thompson.

 

Mily Mumford is performing Distractingly Sexy at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

“I think of myself as pretty sexy. I am a scientist.” Mily Mumford in Distractingly Sexy

DISRACTINGLY SEXY

Distractingly Sexy teaches, tickles and tempts—oh, and overtly challenges the patriarchy.

Once again, Mily Mumford, artistic director of Nebula Company Theatre, brings us a quirky and comedic show but, this time, instead of science fiction, Mumford is bringing science non-fiction. The show is one part The History of Women in Science, and How They Got Fucked Over and one part Mumford’s own experience of applying to be an astronaut. (Yes, a real-life astronaut; we have those in Canada.)

Right out of the gate Mumford is on the attack! She enters as scientist Tim Hunt, whose sexist comments spawned #distractinglysexy, and ultimately saw him dismissed from the University College of London. After a striptease, in which she peels Tim Hunt off and discards his presence, the audience is asked to, all at once, shout out names of famous female scientists. Only one trick: you can’t use Marie Curie.

Distractingly Sexy does a great job of pointing out the shortcomings our society still has in relationship to women, but is fun and humorous the whole way through.

Required reading for anyone who is not a woman scientist.

Remaining Shows: Studio 16 on September 10 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (6:45 p.m.), 15 (8:35 p.m.), and 16 (2:45 p.m.)

New Fringe reviews from Colin (Sept 9): Multiple Organism, Roller Coaster, Just Not That Woman

Here you go! Three more!

 

Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. is presenting Multiple Organism at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

She will turn around. And that mouth will start talking.

MULTIPLE ORGANISM

Yay bodies! Yay sex! Yay pooping!

In Multiple Organism, Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel from Mind of a Snail Puppet Co., celebrate all the glorious weirdness of being embodied. And they throw in a generous spin on gender norms to boot.

In this wildly risk-taking and welcome new show, they tell the story of an objectified artists’ model who falls into the toilet with a couple of toothbrushes, and…Just wait. It’s worth it.

Their theatrical techniques are terrific. Using overhead projectors, they create a kind of wacky shadow puppetry. Like regular actors do, they also play characters, and, in a fantastically surreal device, they use their bodies as projection surfaces.

There is a kind of genius in the combination of abandon and skill that Ziner and Gabriel bring to this piece. Before this, I didn’t understand Mind of a Snail’s popularity. But I get it now. I am a Snailhead.

Remaining performances at the Firehall Arts Centre on September 10 (7:30 p.m.), 12 (8 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), 15 (10:15 p.m.), 16 (noon), and 17 (4:15 p.m.) [Read more…]

Three Fringe reviews from guest critic Deneh’Cho Thompson

For the first time, I have a guest critic on my blog. Welcome, Deneh’Cho Thompson!

Here’s how Deneh describes himself: “Deneh’Cho Thompson (Dene) is a mixed-race First Nations writer, director, actor, and arts administrator based in Vancouver. Through work with various local organizations—including The Talking Stick Festival, The Vancouver Fringe, and the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance—Deneh works to elevate the voices of under-represented artists on our stages.”

Here are Deneh’s first three reviews—and he’s got another six coming!

Swordplay: A Play of Swords is at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Seann Murray will steal your heart in Swordplay: A Play of Swords

SWORDPLAY: A PLAY OF SWORDS

Swordplay: A Play of Swords is an ode to my childhood.

This joyous, swashbuckling, nostalgia-filled romp from Toronto’s Sex T-Rex should be on everyone’s shortlist. I sat on the edge of my seat, bounced up and down, giggled, and howled with laughter.

The frame of the show is 80s and 90s video-game culture. This might seem a bit niche, but I saw audience members of all ages enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, staying true to the video-game framework led to my only complaint: a million false endings. Regardless, the show follows through well.

Two things make this show for me. The pop-culture references are innumerable: Dumas, Tolkien, Chrono Trigger, 80s pop, current politics…the list goes on. This makes it easy for everyone to find something to latch onto, something to make them smile and remember happier days. The second winning factor is the skill of the performers. Strong improv skills from the entire team make the show present, alive, and enthusiastic.

This is a show for everyone. Expect it to sell out.

Remaining Shows: False Creek Gym on September 9 (8:20 p.m.), 13 (5:15 p.m.), 14 (10:05 p.m.), 15 (6:45 p.m.), 17 (1 p.m.) [Read more…]

Vancouver Fringe: three more reviews from Colin (Friday, September 8)

Hey kids!

Here are three more reviews for you. Top picks so far: Six Fine Lines, Hyena Subpoena, and Brain Machine.

I will keep posting until Tuesday at least, so keep comin’ by!

 

Brain Machine is at the Vancouver Fringe.

Andrew Bailey gets philosophical about the Internet in Brain Machine.

BRAIN MACHINE

 Looking for a Fringe show that uses the word hagiography? Bingo.

In Brain Machine, solo artist Andrew Bailey explores connections and opportunities—mostly missed. Its historical thread is about the Internet: its potential and its degradation. Its more personal thread is about Bailey’s relationships and work.

There’s substantial material here. Bailey expresses his anger at feminists who diminish the suffering of men, including the suffering caused by being sexually assaulted. (“Twenty years later, on a bad day, sometimes I still shake.”)

And a lot of the show is very funny. Bailey is a master of reversal: “When I was 17, I felt disconnected and alone…unlike other 17-year-olds.” And he gets a laugh out of hagiography.

Bailey is confident, charming, a pro. This is the premiere of Brain Machine. Go see it. 

At Arts Umbrella. Remaining performances on September 8 (8 p.m.), 9 (4:30 p.m.), 10 (1 p.m.), 10 (8 p.m.), 11 (9:45 p.m.), 13 (6:15 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 15 (9:45 p.m.), and 17 (6:15 p.m.) [Read more…]

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.)  [Read more…]

It’s my birthday! Give me something!

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver theatre critic.

Keep this girl gainfully employed. She’s not somebody you want to run into on the street.

This post is shameless. It’s my birthday and I want you to give me something. But wait! You’ll benefit too!

Last year, just after I’d written all of my Fringe reviews, the Straight told me that the paper no longer required my services as a critic. Since then, I’ve been scheming about how to survive financially while continuing to write about theatre.

I have a plan. I’m playing the long game. All details will be revealed in the fullness of time.

But here’s something you can do to help right now—because it’s my birthday, and because it’s important to ensure the survival of independent theatre criticism: subscribe to my newsletter and invite at least one other friend to do so. (Feel free to share this post widely.)

The faster I build my subscriber list, the sooner I’ll be able to sell advertising—and eat. (I loved that eating thing. I miss it.)

Subscribers will get weekly updates of all of my theatre doings, including my reviews. There will be contests—and prizes. And, when the full plan kicks in, you’ll have front-row seats as I take over the media universe. Hell, you’ll be part of the conquering army.

Thanks.