COCKY

There is something deliciously seductive about witnessing Beth McLaughlin describe things. Her whispery voice, her expressive eyes, her precise cadence: you can practically bathe in her verbal portraits of a childhood Christmas morning or a dog’s funeral. Heavenly.

Cocky is a memory play about lots of things, but mostly, it’s about McLaughlin’s father, with whom she had a scattered relationship. Over an hour, she spirals and twists thoughtfully through her history and beyond. In one moving section, she tenderly reads her parents’ wartime love letters.

Accordingly, the show’s structure is almost as messy as said relationship with her dad, but it appears perfectly poised to weave together in a devastating emotional climax. So when it… doesn’t, but instead simply ends with a whimper, it’s a little disappointing.

Cocky adds up to less than the sum of its parts, but to be fair, that sum is already fairly high.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 9 (1 p.m.), 10 (5 p.m.), 13 (8:35 p.m.), 15 (8 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.

……….

 

C-

It probably says something regarding American postsecondary education that Eric Jaffe interviewed 65 men about their college experiences and failed to come up with a single fascinating anecdote for his Fringe show.

Throughout the hour, Jaffe makes vague reference to the research project he was working on (presumably this show), but he never goes into much detail regarding his intended goals. That’s a pity, because the five minutes near the end when he breaks down some subject statistics are the most engaging section.

Mostly, this show is a hazy whistle-stop tour of goofy classes, drinking, partying, and changing majors. Nothing is wildly funny, but the material generates a decent baseline level of chuckles. Along the way, Jaffe impersonates a half-dozen alumni buds (mostly frat bros with names like Mules and The Sponge) and, while his imitations seem credible, they’re never in service of anything compelling.

At one point, he concludes a reminiscence by grinning impishly and saying, “That was a interesting interview.”

All evidence to the contrary, I guess.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 9 (2:50 p.m.), 12 (9 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), 15 (4:45 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.

……….

 

 

AL LAFRANCE: I THINK I’M DEAD

About halfway through Al Lafrance’s I Think I’m Dead, I wrote in my notebook: “Things are happening. And he’s talking really fast. But nothing matters.” Then Lafrance turned it around. Big time.

In this autobiographical solo, Lafrance covers a lot of ground: the insomnia that started when he was in high school, a traumatic incident that flipped him into believing in concurrent realities, even a hurricane.

But Lafrance’s aggressive delivery feels like a mask. For too long, he shows no vulnerability—and, without vulnerability, there are no stakes. (When things threaten to get tender, Lafrance assumes a mocking sissy voice and says things like, “Oh, that’s so romantic!”)

But then he makes a beautiful flip: opening up about his panic attacks and depression, he leads us to a magnificently generous conclusion.

Ultimately, I Think I’m Dead is a gift. I just wish Lafrance hadn’t made it so hard to unwrap.

Remaining performances at the Arts Umbrella on September 9 (2:45 p.m. and 10 p.m.), 11 (6:15 p.m.), 12 (8 p.m.), 13 (9:45 p.m.), 15 (6:15 p.m.), and 16 (8 p.m.) > Colin Thomas

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.

……….

 

POLY QUEER LOVE BALLAD

Like a modern romance, this show feels like it’s making up its own rules as it goes along—and that’s a beautiful thing.

In Poly Queer Love Ballad, Gaby (Sara Vickruck) and Nina (Anais West) fall in love with one another—but Nina is bi and poly and Gaby is “the straightest gay you know.”

In the early going, the tenderness and rapture of this story made me weep big, nostalgic tears.

And I love the way the permeability and multiplicity of romantic options are reflected in the play’s structure. The storytelling happens in Gaby’s poppy folk songs, in Nina’s poetry, and in shorthand conversations: “Do you believe in God?/Do you believe in threesomes?” Favourite quote: “My ex-lovers stretch behind me. No novels. Just a short-story collection.”

The script doesn’t quite live up to its promised complexity. That’s at least partly because Nina has no shadow side: she’s a too-perfect spokesperson for polyamory.

Still, Poly Queer Love Ballad, which is an original script, is a major accomplishment.

 Remaining performances at the Revue Stage on September 8 (2:45 p.m.), 9 (3:30 p.m.), 10 (9:15 p.m.), 14 (10:15 p.m.), and 16 (5:15 p.m.) > Colin Thomas

Tickets

 

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

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

……….

 

JAN & PEG’S RITUAL SACRIFICE

Jan and Peg would like to remind you that this is nota cult. “Not a cult!” the hostesses burble, as they prepare for the Supperware party we’ve been invited to. (Supperware is like Tupperware, but with more pentagrams.)

They also stress that this is nota pyramid scheme, and obviously not a ritual sacrifice. “Absolutely nothing to be nervous about!” the Minnesotan ladies chirp, as they adjust the horned idols and refill the snack bowls.

Spoiler alert: it’s not called Jan & Peg’s Normal Party.

This show is dumb. Like, spectacularly, wonderfully dumb.

Writer-performers Celene Harder and Val Duncan, however, are whip-smart and clearly having a hoot. Their improv is razor sharp: the off-the-cuff throwaways are routinely funnier than the scripted bits. And, with the show running at a brisk 40 minutes, nothing overstays its welcome.

Jan & Peg’s Ritual Sacrificeis a perfect, fizzy, Fringey cocktail. But may the Dark Lord help you if you, like me, foolishly attempt to open your Supperware container without permission.

Remaining performances at Performance Works on September 9 (9:30 p.m.), 11 (7 p.m.), 12 (7 p.m.), 15 (3 p.m.), 16 (5:45 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 from the Vancouver Fringe.

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

……….

 

 

MARTIN DOCKERY: DELIRIUM

The less acrobatic it is, the better it gets.

Fringe storyteller Martin Dockery’s trademark style can be fun. He’s got a raspy, enthusiastic voice and he flaps around so much that sometimes it looks like he’s trying to take off. When he’s building a narrative, Dockery takes a similar delight in embellishment: he loves to twist around in tangents and then relish your surprise when he finally gets to the point.

That can be great as far as it goes, but it goes too far in Delirium. This collection of stories takes too long to land.

I found little of consequence in Dockery’s first tale, which is about proposing to his wife Vanessa. (What’s at stake? And why does it take so long?) The second story, which unfolds at Burning Man, doesn’t find itself until it trips over the theme of death—about 20 minutes into the evening. Then, all at once, it’s gorgeous. So is the third tale, which starts off being about monarch butterflies. By the end of that one, I was sucking back sobs. And Dockery was standing still.

Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 8 (4:30 p.m.), 9 (12:30 p.m.), 10 (5 p.m.), 13 (8:45 p.m.), and 15 (8:15 p.m.)  > Colin Thomas 

Tickets

 

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

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

……….

 

FORGET ME NOT – THE ALZHEIMER’S WHODUNNIT

“Getting old,” retired detective Jim (Rob Gee) muses, “is a bit like getting mugged.” Jim is losing his mind and it’s coming at a bad time, since he has one final case to investigate: his wife’s suspicious death in a dementia ward.

Gee is an elastic performer who nimbly contorts through the dozen-plus characters. Forget Me Notis a moderately successful murder mystery, but the biggest strength is the melancholy streak that permeates the show.

There’s a lot going on, and the script might benefit from shedding a few elements, like the too on-the-nose scene-change music, or the endless mixed metaphors of the comic-relief police inspector. And, although Gee’s slam poetry background lends the narration charm, it distracts more than it adds.

Still, the production delivers a series of quiet emotional gut punches that justify the meandering. Forget Me Not is a bit like getting mugged, and Gee certainly knows how to land a knockout.

Remaining performances at the Revue Stage on September 9 (5:30 p.m.), 11 (7:45pm), 12 (6:45 p.m.), 15 (9:15 p.m.), and 16 (3:30 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 from the Vancouver Fringe.

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

……….

 

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

Tickets

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.

 

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.)

………

 

 

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

Tickets

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.)

……….

 

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.)

 

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.)

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!