Archives for September 2018

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.

 

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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SMALL TOWN BOYS

> Sarvin Ismaeili *

Small Town Boys helped me to understand men’s vulnerability.

Performer/writer Sean Casey Leclaire introduces us to a group of boys who start hanging out together in suburban Montreal in 1970. Then the narrator follows his pals Bruno and Triple D out west. It’s a love story of sorts. But only one boy survives.

When Leclaire says, “No man is born violent”. I couldn’t agree with him more. And, in Small Town Boys, Leclaire looks for the roots of violence in the boys’ histories, their parenting, and their society.

That said, there are problems with Leclaire’s acting performance. When he walks onstage, he brings no energy, so it’s hard for him to drive his scenes. There are unnecessary pauses and the show feels under-rehearsed.

Still, Small Town Boys shifted my negative judgments of violent men—and that’s something.

Remaining Performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 13 (6:45 p.m.), 15 (6:15 p.m.), and 16 (3:15 p.m.)

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 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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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

 

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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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

 

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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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

 

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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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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GOSSAMER OBSESSIONS

> Sarvin Esmaeili *

Watching Gossamer Obsessions, I spent half my time laughing and half my time trying to figure out why I was laughing.

This sketch comedy opens with two British-accented narrators (Amy Shostak and Paul Bilnov) who introduce us to the world of the Ouija board, roommates who live in different realities, an unusual spat between a daughter and father, and more.

The success of their absurd sketches depends on how surprising the journey is. A piece about Alaskan King Crabs starts with Shostak crying, “I need a divorce. You put a crab in my butt!” but it ends happily with the couple dancing as crabs. The man and woman discover something about their relationship. On the other hand, during a supposedly terrifying staff meeting, the characters stand around for five minutes as they introduce us to the ancient pastime of frog gambling. The end has the same mood as the beginning.  Nothing changes.

Gossamer Obsessions is an experimental sketch comedy. For me, the experiment proves that sketches work best when they involve discovery.

Remaining performances at Revue Stage on September 11 (9:30 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), and 15 (4 p.m.) 

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 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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TEN TIPS FOR A COLLAPSED UTERUS

We’ve all been there. You have a lovely, taut Fringe show, and then overnight—bam!—theatrical bloat strikes like a Mack truck.

Say you’re an actress named Colleen Brow. By your own admission, your storytelling comedy about motherhood has been gestating so long it’s now discussing middle age. En route, your once-supple production has sagged, gaining 20 minutes beyond the listed program time. Your show has literally prolapsed.

What’s a performer to do?

Consider chucking some of the staler material. Phone-obsessed hipsters? Complicated Starbucks orders? Is that run about Gwyneth Paltrow promoting steamed vaginas really necessary?

An overhead projector is an excellent performance-enhancing aid, but it demands precision. Perhaps streamline the slides to avoid so many technical hiccups.

After all, the innermost layers of your show are strong and hilarious, and the excellent features—such as a dry observational wit, a candid delivery, and a rockin’ tan pantsuit—will be better showcased if you tighten up the slack around the edges.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 11 (5:25 p.m.), 15 (6:25 p.m.), and 16 (3:10 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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