A CRITIC’S DOZEN: 11 must-see fall shows

The theatre season we’re in promises to be thrilling.

As you’ll see, six of my 11 top picks will be playing at Cultch venues. So, if I were looking for season’s tickets, that’s where I’d buy.

Here we go!

 

Les Belles-Soeurs

Tabernac! The cast! This Ruby Slippers/Gateway co-pro features an avalanche of talent that includes Patti Allan, Eileen Barrett, Lucia Frangione, Pippa Mackie, Melissa Oei, France Perras, Kerry Sandomirsky, and Beatrice Zeilinger—and that’s only about half of them! Michel Tremblay’s 50-year-old classic introduces us to a group of women in 1960s Montreal who get together to stick savings-stamps into books. But that premise is just the fuse in this incendiary comedy about class, religion, and gender.

September 28 to October 6. Co-produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre and the Gateway theatre. At the Gateway. Tickets.

 

Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn

Marcus Youssef knows how to collaborate. Peter Panties and King Arthur’s Nights, which he created with Niall McNeil, and Winners and Losers, which he wrote with James Long, are among the best shows I’ve seen. The guy won the Siminovitch Prize for playwriting for God’s sake. That’s huge—like $100,000 huge. And this time out, he’s collaborating with students at Studio 58 about what it’s like to be the first generation to have grown up with constant and easy access to porn. What could be more intriguing?

September 29 to October 14. Produced by Studio 58 and Neworld Theatre. At Studio 58. Tickets. [Read more…]

Mustard: Don’t let this put you off condiments

The Arts Club is producing Kat Sandler's Mustard at the Granville Island Stage.

Andrew McNee’s performance as Mustard helps to ground this production. And Heidi Damayo is solid as Thai. (Photo by Mark Halliday)

Hold the Mustard.

On paper, it sounds like playwright Kat Sandler might have created an engaging world. Sixteen-year-old Thai has an imaginary friend, Mustard, whom she can see and talk to. Thai’s getting sick of Mustard hanging around all the time, but Thai’s mom Sadie soon starts seeing Mustard, too, and she needs him: Sadie’s husband Bruce left her a year earlier and she is brutally lonely.

Watching Mustard in the theatre, though, the storytelling feels incoherent. The script contains elements of naturalistic grit and fantastical darkness that never fully mesh with its whimsicality. Early on, Sadie attempts suicide, for instance, thinking that Thai is in the house. Sadie describes her attempt as a “cry for help.” Still, she’s selfish enough to risk her daughter finding her corpse? And I’m supposed to like this woman? In terms of storytelling, Sadie’s suicide attempt feels like a convenient and under-motivated plot point—and it blocks my emotional access to the piece. [Read more…]

Kim’s Convenience: shop here

Lee Shorten and James Yi are in Kim's Convenience at Pacific Theatre.

Director Kaitlin Williams’s blocking helps to make the relationships in Kim’s Convenience resonant. (Photo by Jalen Saip)

Ah, the appeal of an almost-racist joke! In Kim’s Convenience, the play that spawned the TV series, writer Ins Choi finds the sweet spot as he tickles the edges of transgression.

Appa (Dad) and Umma (Mom) run a convenience store in Regent’s Park, Toronto. Appa regards the store as his legacy and he wants his 30-year-old daughter Janet to take it over when he retires, but Janet considers herself a photographer. Appa hit Janet’s bother Jung so hard when he was 16 that Jung was hospitalized for several days. He left home and hasn’t spoken to Appa since, although he still sneaks conversations with Umma at their church. [Read more…]

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: curiously, it both works and doesn’t work

The Arts Club Theatre is producing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Daniel Doheny’s thorough performance centres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Because its heart is simple but pure, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is both boring and moving.

Based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, Simon Stephens’s play follows Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, as he tries to figure out who killed Wellington, his neighbour’s standard poodle, with a pitchfork. Christopher’s dad, Ed, who is raising his son on his own, tries to discourage him, but Christopher persists and his sleuthing leads him to taking a solo journey by train from Swindon to London, which is a heroic quest for somebody so prone to sensory overload.

The relationship between Ed and Christopher is complicated. Ed loves his challenging boy furiously—sometimes too furiously: at one point, he smacks him in the face. And there are other transgressions. The scene in which Ed begs Christopher to trust him again is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the story is disappointingly straightforward, however; you can see its conclusions coming from light years away. [Read more…]

REVIEW FINDER: 40—forty!—Vancouver Fringe reviews

This website has the MOST—and the MOST INFORMED—reviews of show at the Vancouver Fringe.

Here you go: 40 of ’em. FORTY!

5-Step Guide to Being German

ADHD Project, The

Al Lafrance: I Think I’m Dead

Angels and Aliens

Awkward Hug

Banned in The USA

Big Queer Filipino Karaoke Night

Big Sister

Blackbird

Bridge, The

Brief History of Beer, A

C-

Cocky

Dyck Spacee – A Spy-Fi Improvised Radio Play

Fake Ghost Tours

Field Zoology 101

FIX

Forget Me Not – The Alzheimer’s Whodunnit

Gossamer Obsessions

Jan & Peg’s Ritual Sacrifice

Jasper in Deadland

Jon Bennett: How I Learned To Hug

Lady Show, The

Magical Mystery Detour

Martin Dockery: Delirium

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush

My Imagination Ran Away Without Me

No Belles

One Step at a Time

Poly Queer Love Ballad

Rabbit Hole

Red Bastard: Lie With Me

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

Ruby Rocket Returns!

Self-ish

Small Town Boys

Ten Tips for a Collapsed Uterus

TravelTheatrics

Unscriptured

Vampires in Barcelona

……….

 

 

BIG QUEER FILIPINO KARAOKE NIGHT

> Colin Thomas

Let’s hear if for queer representation from communities of colour! And let’s acknowledge that this particular show could be a whole lot better.

In Big Queer Filipino Karaoke Night!,Vancouver drag artist Davey Calderon remembers his first visit to the Philippines in 2016. He grew up in Canada, doesn’t speak Tagalog, and admits “Sometimes I feel like a Canadian alien in a Filipino bodysuit.”

Calderon’s exploration of queerness across lines of cultural identity can be moving—especially in a passage in which he describes interacting with a defiant and vulnerable bakla(queer) Filipino boy.

And, under Chris Lam’s direction, Calderon does a good job of working the space in the XY bar—sitting down at one of the tables to lead its occupants in a drinking game, for instance.

But Calderon’s drag persona Ate Dee Dee is an awkward combination of overbearing and uncertain. The night I attended, Dee Dee’s mic was way too loud. When she was singing—this is all framed as karaoke, remember—some of the notes she hit made me wince. And her show is far too long. On Thursday night, Dee Dee went over her allotted time by half an hour. That’s inconsiderate, especially at the Fringe, and there’s no excuse for it: it would be easy to cut huge chunks of this material. 

Remaining performances at XY on September 15 (3 p.m. and 7 p.m.), and 16 (2 p.m. and 6 p.m.)

Tickets

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

DYCK SPACEE – A SPY-FI IMPROVISED RADIO PLAY

> David Johnston *

Five actors are arrayed behind a microphone/sound effects table, while a sixth directs from a tech booth. We’re watching a live improvised taping of a detective radio serial that is equal partsnoirand sci-fi. In reality, it is equal parts tentative and awkward.

Noir and sci-fi are such impressively deep genres. Why, oh why would you combine them without a working knowledge of either?

I suppose it’s possible I saw Dyck Spacee on an off night and the basic, uninspired improv was not representative of the show’s potential. But between the scripted and unfunny setup, the inconsistent plotting, and the dozens of thudding jokes, I doubt it.

I did laugh occasionally, in the same way that hurling a jar of marmalade at a ceiling fan would occasionally get some on my toast. Dyck Spacee aims very high and almost nothing sticks.

Remaining performances at the Improv Comedy Institute on September 14 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.), and 15 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

 

 

MY IMAGINATION RAN AWAY WITHOUT ME

> David Johnston

This show is spectacular, by the strictest definition: a spectacle, and not much else.

There’s nothing in the way of plot. This story fragments in this 20-minute-long acrobatics recital range from simplistic (a man watches anime…and then fights an anime character!) to ludicrously insane (so the insurance salesman climbs onto the zombiecoaster…) and it’s unmemorable.

There’s nothing in the way of acting. Every line delivery from this eight-member cast has a rough, stilted feel rarely found outside of fabric softener commercials or porn.

So we’re left with the spectacle, which is unquestionably impressive and beautiful, with backflips and balances and body tosses. Is that enough? Well, there’s a tentativeness to some of the setups and they biffed the timing on a few of the complicated tricks. I’m hypercritical here because when the acrobatics is all there is, it sort of has to be perfect. Which this was not quite.

There’s a way to marry circus and theatre in a wondrous combination. This is not it.

Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 15 (10:10 p.m.) and September 16 (5:15p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

 

RABBIT HOLE

> Colin Thomas

When Rabbit Hole starts, it’s been eight months since Becca and Howie’s four-year-old son Danny was hit by a car and killed. The driver was a teenager named Jason Willette.

In its diligent examination of the emotional impact of Danny’s death on his parents and extended family—as well as on Jason—Rabbit Hole can feel like an illustrated grief manual, but it gives the actors lots of complicated and high-stakes emotions to play and this company finds considerable success with it.

Playing Becca’s mom, Nat, Linda Darlow is as working-class authentic as second-hand polyester. Darlow’s pushy, witty Nat is also beautifully emotionally bruised. Braden Lock brings similar responsiveness to Jason. And Lesli Brownlee contributes nuance and comic spin as Becca’s sister Izzy. Weirdly, Lori Watt’s Becca doesn’t share her family’s New York accent, but Watt’s fearlessness fuels this production’s most moving passage.

The only hole in the cast is Chris Nowland, who plays Howie with so little internal tension that, when Howie yells, he’s just…yelling.

Remaining performances at the Vancity Culture Lab on September 15 (9:40 p.m.), and 16 (3:30 p.m.) 

Tickets

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

 

BANNED IN THE USA

> Colin Thomas

There are a whole lot of performers on the fringe festival circuit who lean too heavily on the eccentricity of their delivery. But it doesn’t matter how quickly you can talk, how much you flap around, how much you sweat, or how cunningly you can transform yourself into inanimate objects if you don’t have a meaningful, well-crafted story to tell.

Gerard Harris, who wrote and performs Banned in the USA, speaks rapidly but haltingly. At the performance I saw, he kept fretting about how much material he could include and still finish his show on time. Dude, don’t bother me with that. Figure it out and get on with it. And that wired stop-and-start thing makes for a bumpy ride.

What’s all of this in aid of? Mostly a story about trying to catch a couple of planes on time. So what? There’s nothing particularly insightful, funny, or engaging here, so who cares?

Remaining performances at the Arts Umbrella on September 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (10 p.m.), and 16 (6:15 p.m.)

Tickets

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

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