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

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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JON BENNETT: HOW I LEARNED TO HUG

> Sarvin Esmaeili *

The speed of Jon Bennett’s storytelling left me open-mouthed.

He starts by casually chatting with the audience. Then he subtly shifts into the heart of his show with the question, “How many of you have missed your plane before?… Well,nobody can beat my number. I’ve missed my plane 14 times during the years!”

From there, Bennett tells us about his childhood, puberty, and first love, all of which culminates in his inability to express his affection in public. He refuses to hug anyone, which interferes with his relationships.

I love how Bennett has no boundaries with his audience. He asks an audience member to zip up his shiny pink dress, picks someone to play the role of his granny, and asks someone else to hold a cup for him to pee into.

And I love how he evoked his relationships by showing pictures of his exes on-screen along with nicknames—including Boring Kelly.

Maybe Bennett is  such a speedy storyteller because he has so much to say in just one hour.

Remaining Performances at Waterfront Theatre on September 14 (5 p.m.) and 15 (4:20 p.m.)

Tickets

* This is a guest review.

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

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MAGICAL MYSTERY DETOUR

> Colin Thomas

Watching Gemma Wilcox perform is kind of like reading a children’s book—in which nothing much happens.

If Magical Mystery Detour were a kids’ book, the emphasis would definitely be on the illustrations. In this one-woman show, Wilcox’s central character is Sandra, but the actor transforms constantly—into Sandra’s dog, a housefly, her car, the Queen, an owl. It’s a primary-coloured world: Wilcox’s characterizations are physically crisp but never subtle.

It takes too long to establish the crisis: Sandra’s boyfriend Charlie broke up with her shortly after her mom’s death and Sandra is struggling to regain her footing. And the narrative wanders. Why does Sandra have to get stuck in traffic on her way to a holiday destination, for instance?

Still, there’s a kind of integrity in the stylistic consistency. And Magical Mystery Tour almost caught me towards the end. In a flashback, we glimpse a fight between Sandra and Charlie and we get a hint of a potentially compelling—but unfortunately untold—story.

Remaining performances at Studio 1396 on September 13 (5 p.m.), 15 (1:15 p.m.), and 16 (8:45 p.m.) 

 Tickets

 

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

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SELF-ISH

> Colin Thomas

When you unwrap Self-ish, there’s a gift waiting for you, but you’ve got to paw your way through a lot of packing material to get to it.

In this monologue, playwright Kuan Foo introduces us to a 35-year-old Korean-Canadian woman named Esther. She’s buttoned-down—“We are not a huggy family”—but bursting with feeling.

The script takes too long to find its subject, which is Esther’s grief over the death of her father. And, even when the play taps into that material, it keeps going off on tangents—about Esther’s too-cartoonish, praying mantis-like boss, for instance. Dawn Millman’s direction adds to the distraction: some of the things she has performer Diana Bang do with packing boxes are clever, but there’s far too much manipulation of these props.

Still, the heart of the show is a killer—thanks largely to Bang’s witty and transparent performance. Emotions pass over her like weather. She’s a star.

Remaining performances at the Revue Stage on September 12 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 15 (2:15 p.m.) 

Tickets

 

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NO BELLES

> Colin Thomas

No Belles may not be formally ambitious, but it is very well crafted—like a nicely cobbled shoe or a beautifully bound book.

With a feminist spin, three actors tell the story of eight female scientists. All of these researchers had to deal with institutional sexism, which limited their incomes and fuelled condescension. Rosalind Franklin made a significant contribution to the understanding of DNA, for instance, but her colleague James D. Watson dismissed her as a bluestocking and said she’d be prettier without her glasses. She never wore any.

Basically, the performers stand and deliver—or sit and deliver—their information. But there are effective twists. The material about Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who identified HIV, is repeatedly punctuated by a quiet refrain from a dying man: “Thank you. Not for me. For the others.”

Ultimately, in the text and the openhearted performances, it’s the stoicism and altruism of the scientists that comes through. And that’s what brought tears to my eyes. 

Remaining performances at the False Creek Gym on September 13 (6:40 p.m.), 15 (5:15 p.m.), and 16 (2:45 p.m.) 

Tickets

 

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MEL MALARKEY GETS THE BUM’S RUSH

> David Johnston *

Meet Mel Malarkey, Depression-era vaudevillian. They’re hosting one final show before the theatre is sold. Mel is delightful, but a little exhausting. Mel plays the musical saw! Mel feuds with donkeys! Mel recites love odes to an elephant woman! Mel screams! A lot!

Also, Mel has an invisible coatrack in their dressing room. Between sets, Mel repeatedly attempts to hang elaborate costumes, only to have every element fall into a heap.

Some metaphors are just too obvious.

And yet… I laughed at the invisible coatrack. And the screaming. And the odes are unexpectedly affecting. The productionis a glorified disaster, but it revels in its excess.

Perhaps even more variety in this variety show would help. Maybe fewer spoken word routines? There are many. Still, star Charlie Petch is so winning and aggressively joyful that, ultimately, Mel Malarkey feels like a triumph, even as everything falls to pieces.

Remaining performances at Performance Works on September 13 (5 p.m.), and 15 (4:35 p.m.) > David Johnston

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.

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THE BRIDGE

> David Johnston *

A man and woman trek eastwards across America. The apocalypse has happened. Or the rapture. Or a plague. Doesn’t matter. Point is, they’re alone, and they’re in search of a surviving colony somewhere near San Francisco’s famous bridge—assuming they make it that far.

Don’t come expecting logical consistency. Apparently, the apocalypse—or whatever—wiped out all books and music players (they have one digital recorder loaded with a single narratively convenient song) but left the countryside balmy enough to be traversed by two shorts-clad non-hikers.

Still, this two-hander is intermittently charming, if occasionally overacted. The central relationship is prickly and well-considered. Little fragments grab the spotlight: his frustration at half-remembered song lyrics, their wordless grief after consuming what might be the last peaches on Earth, a tender moment in which they attempt to learn to dance.

There’s promise here, but The Bridge is crossing over well-worn territory. And, ultimately, the story isn’t quite interesting enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 11 (7:45 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 15 (1:10 p.m.), 16 (8:15 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.

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