BLACKBIRD

In Blackbird, playwright David Harrower invites us to witness a deeply unsettling conversation.

The lasttime they met, Una was a 12-year-old child and Ray was a 40-year-old child abuser.  After 15 years, Una has shown up at Ray’s office to try to understand how he has been both an example of love and a perpetrator of mistreatment.

Even though Blackbird gives full weight to the damage caused by sexual abuse, the script also acknowledges Ray’s humanity,and David Bloom, who plays Ray, does so with a passion and dignity that made it impossible for me to despise the character.

Stephanie Elgersma’s Una is both naïve and bold—and the shift from one aspect to the other gave me goosebumps. Elgersma allows Una to speak with her eyes. In them, I saw a river of blood and an absence of childhood.

Director Omari Newton’s blocking is repetitive, but he has also added a masterful touch: audience members who are too uncomfortable to sit in the room with Ray and Una can watch them from a safe distance on television.

Remaining performances at Shoreline Studios on September 7 (8 p.m.), 8 (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.), 9 (2 p.m.), 10 (8 p.m.), 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 15 (8 p.m.), and 16 (2 p.m.) > Sarvin Esmaeili

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This is a guest review.

Sarvin Esmaeili currently studies at Studio 58. She is a passionate 19-year-old theatre artist who cares a lot about diversity, inclusion and creating her own theatre and music. Sarvin is fluent in three languages: Farsi, English, and French. She loves reading, travelling, writing and going to the theatre. She is a co-playwright/performer of One of a Kind at the 2018 Vancouver International Children’s Festival and Doors of Choice and Identity at Vancouver Youth Theatre. She has done community theatre at Evergreen Cultural Center, Place des Arts and Pinetree Secondary’s Treehouse Theatre.

 

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TRAVELTHEATRICS

Writer and solo performer Keara Barnes has a warmly engaging stage presence—which counts—but her travel stories barely reach the level of being mildly interesting and there’s almost no sense in the script of growing insight or any other kind of accumulation.

 Remaining performances at the Havana Theatre on September 8 (2:55 p.m.), 9 (6:20 p.m.), 10 (6 p.m.), 12 (6 p.m.), 14 (7:45 p.m.), and 15 (2:55 p.m.) > Colin Thomas

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Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

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THE LADY SHOW

THE LADY SHOW

What a fabulous 25-minute sketch show! Unfortunately, the runtime is 55 minutes. The end result settles somewhat south of fabulous, but it’s still a net positive.

Four uproarious actresses present a variety of approaches—stand-up! sketches! stand-up sketches! movie trailers! vagina pants!—on the loose theme of… ladyness? Ladyism? Look, it’s feminist, it’s hilarious, and I laughed more times than I can count.

I also got bored more times than I can count. Pretty much every bit is overlong, with dead space you could haul a semitrailer through. A ruthless directorial eye would go a long way to shoring up the gaps, but the production embraces a slapdash feel, for good and for ill.

I loved Fatima Dhowre’s stand-up and Diana Bang’s surreal ballad. In contrast, a noir interrogation scene overstays its welcome by what feels like nine hours.

Still, the end result is dizzying, in all possible ways. Bring your loudest friends and remember to predrink.

Remaining performances at the Firehall Arts Centre on September 8 (8:15 p.m.), 9 (10 p.m.), 12 (7 p.m.), 15 (6:15 p.m.), 16 (8:45 p.m.) > David Johnston

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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 from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

 And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

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FIELD ZOOLOGY 101

Shawn O’Hara is my new Fringe hero. He created or helped to create two of my favourite Fringe shows: Field Zoology 101 and Fake Ghost Tours. (See that review below.)

In Field Zoology 101, O’Hara becomes lecturer Dr. Brad Gooseberry. And you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth—when he describes the African elephant as “the dick-faced jungle cow”, for instance, or shows us the basilisk, “which is what the bullfrog becomes when it experiences its first blood moon.”

This comedy is all about absurdity and surprise. And O’Hara torques it with his low-key, deadpan delivery—smouldering with lust when he describes the sensuous curves of the rock python.

Formally, he keeps changing things up, including with the super clever use of an overhead projector.

O’Hara even slips in a head-twisting environmentalist message. Elephants, he tells us, are repositories of human suffering—so they really wantto die.

At the Revue Stage on September 6 (6:45 p.m.), 8 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (5:15 p.m.), 13 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (6:45 p.m.), and 16 (noon). Tickets > Colin Thomas (This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

 

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 And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

AWKWARD HUG

The medium, as they say, is the message and the medium in the moving and masterful Awkward Hug is writer and solo performer Cory Thibert.

Thibert looks like a wary Prince Charming. Athletic and a fan of screamo bands, he seems to be a guy’s guy. And, at times, he is so emotionally transparent that you can see straight into his heart.

This tension between containment and expressiveness is also what drives Thibert’s telling of his true-life story. In Awkward Hug, he explores his relationship with his parents, both of whom live with disabilities. Thibert’s mom and dad didn’t raise him with much of an emotional vocabulary, it seems, but he is aware of the obstacles and injustices they suffer. He loves his parents furiously, but how can he express it?

There’s a moment that distils some of this complexity. Thibert is walking with his mom when she falls. He hesitates to help her. A gym goon rushes in and scoops her to her feet. That guy judges Thibert and Thibert questions himself. But he’s also pissed with the guy: Thibert’s mom may have felt humiliated by the Samaratin’s intervention. So our hero ties himself into a good old knot.

I don’t want to give too much away but, when that knot finally came undone, so did I.

With the help of dramaturg TJ Dawe, Thibert has crafted very satisfying prose. Images—of pets and parents and responsibilities—accumulate and echo like musical motifs.

In director Linnea Gwiazda’s minimalist production, the stage is bare. A microphone stand appears at one point. A square of light evokes a small room.

This one’s the real thing. Go see it.

At The Cultch Historic Theatre on September 7 (8:35 p.m.), 8 (10 p.m.), 9 (1:45 p.m.), 12 (9:45 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), and 15 (3:45 p.m.) Tickets > Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

 And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

FAKE GHOST TOURS

You know that thing where you make shit up with your friends and laugh yourself stupid? Fake Ghost Toursis just like that—and you don’t even have to be stoned or 12 years old to enjoy it.

First, a disclaimer that is pretty much meaningless (I think): at the Victoria Fringe, I didn’t actually see Fake Ghost Tours, I saw a newer iteration called Fake Ghost Tours 2: Tour Fast, Tour Furious. But Abdul Aziz and Shawn O’Hara, the guys who wrote and perform these shows, assure me that the format—and the relationship between their two characters—are pretty constant.

In both shows, they tour you around whatever city they’re in, making up bullshit ghost stories. Their giddiness and looseness—they seem to be improvising a fair bit—are infectious.

And a lot of their scripted material is hilarious. In Victoria, my favourite ghost was of a lifestyle blogger who died when she got locked in a float tank over a long weekend. Apparently, when the sky is pregnant with a full moon, you can still hear her whisper, “Oh! You’ve never been to Thailand?”

At the Fringe Hub on September 7 (7:30 p.m.), 8 (3 p.m.), 9 (7:30 p.m.), 10 (7:30 p.m.), 11 (7:30 p.m.), 12 (7:30 p.m.), 13 (7:30 p.m.), 14 (9 p.m.), 15 (3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) Tickets> Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)  

And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

 

ROCKO AND NAKOTA: TALES FROM THE LAND

Rocko and Nakota:Tales from the Land is naïve, but it’s also so witty and openhearted that I’m very grateful for it.

In his solo show, Josh Longueduc introduces us to a little boy named Nakota who’s presenting a class project about a superhero. Very quickly, Nakota’s project threads in stories from his grandfather who comes to visit the little guy while he’s in the hospital: Nakota keeps passing out for some reason and he’s terrified that he’s going to die.

The story’s explicit and repeated message is that, if you speak your truth, people will listen. Yeah. Maybe. Depending on your truth.

But Longueduc slyly twists the trope of Indigenous wisdom: Rocko solemnly delivers bromides, but they’re not ancient lessons, they’re quotes from Metallica and the Beach Boys.

And, as a performer, Longueduc could hardly be more vulnerable or charismatic. 

At the Waterfront Theatre on September 7 (6:45 p.m.), 8 (3 p.m.), 9 (7:15 p.m.), 11 (5 p.m.), 14 (10:35 p.m.), and 16 (6:30 p.m.) Tickets > Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

 

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

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THE ADHD PROJECT

I like any show that makes me cry and, although it also made me laugh, The ADHD Project certainly succeeded on that front.

That’s because it tells the story of an outcast—and who can’t relate? Writer and solo performer Carlyn Rhamey, who has ADHD, was bullied and excluded for much of her school life.

Rhamey is buoyant, however: her charm is a large part of what makes The ADHD Project work. And she responds to the audience with the confidence of a comic pro. For me, the most touching material has to do with her success, as an adult, in easing the way for kids who are struggling with ADHD.

That said, Rhamey could strengthen her script considerably by concentrating less on general information and vague chronological progression and more on specific relationships—with her dad for instance. When Rhamey got frustrated with five-pin bowling as a little kid—the alley was over-stimulating—he suggested she bowl with her eyes closed. She got a strike. The guy’s a genius.

At the False Creek Gym on September 6 (6:30 p.m.), 8 (8:20 p.m.), 12 (5:15 p.m.), 13 (8:25 p.m.), 14 (6:35 p.m.), and 16 (1 p.m.) Tickets > Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)  

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UNSCRIPTURED

Unscriptured is very…alright.

In it, Travis Bernhardt leads us through an improvised church service. When I was there, we worshipped crying alone, which was a terrific audience suggestion—as was the runner-up, disappointing your mother.

Bernhardt structures the improv with a number of formats: in the show I saw, he led the audience/congregation in a hymn, which we sang in two parts, he read from scripture—a poem an audience member found on their phone by googling, “crying alone poetry”—and so on. This might make the evening sound like it was more fun than it actually was.

As an audience member, I found that Unscriptured offered little risk or reward. Playing his own invented game, Berhnardt, who is undeniably smart and alert, was having a better time than I was.

At Carousel Theatre on September 6 (8 p.m.), 7 (6:15 p.m.), 8 (7:30 p.m.), 9 (1:30 p.m.), 11 (6:15 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 15 (3:15 p.m.), and 16 (1:30 p.m.) Tickets > Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

  

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

 And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

ANGELS & ALIENS

Angels & Aliens: pros and cons.

In Angels & Aliens, co-writers and performers Sydney Hayduk and Jeff Leard take on the personae of friends and roommates Syd and Jeff who have just had sex for the first time. It was awkward. To distract themselves, they play with a new app in which, unbeknownst to them, they are determining in the fate of humanity. He (Jeff) plays for the angels and she (Syd) plays for the aliens.

The alternative realities, in which they become balletic angels and three-fingered aliens are trippy and the transitions between the three worlds are razor-sharp. I loved the surrealism of the pre- and post-show voiceovers: “Every person in this room is a person…Every person in this room is a fireman except they have hopes instead of hoses.”

But, in the historical unfurling—which is the majority of the show—Angels and Aliens runs through the checklist of major events without finding enough comedy (surprise) or content (insight). And I didn’t care about the roommate couple: he’s obtuse and she’s inarticulate.

At Studio 1398 on September 6 (8:30 p.m.), 8 (1 p.m.), 9 (9:30 p.m.), 11 (5:15 p.m.), 15 (6:30 p.m.), and 16 (3 p.m.) Tickets> Colin Thomas(This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.)

  

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews from the Vancouver Fringe. (During the regular season, FRESH SHEET is stuffed with the world’s most fascinating theatre news. Here’s a taste.)

 And, because theatre needs informed, independent criticism if it’s going to thrive, check out Colin’s Patreon campaign. (It takes a village to feed a critic.)

 

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