Archives for September 2019


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Larry

Larry is my kind of guy.

I’m in love with Larry.

In green coveralls and what looks like a paper cut-out beard, clown Candice Roberts plays Larry in this solo show. The guy’s a hoser — complete with an Ottawa Valley accent — a man’s man, who isn’t woke enough for the woman he wants to date.

The character is a fountain of dude vitality, a hard rocker who plays air guitar on a broom and uses a fan to blow his hair back so that he can look like his heavy-metal idols.

And, like all good clowns, Larry is so dedicated to his irrational viewpoint that he is both transgressive and hilarious: he says he went to the Women’s March and “had a little poke around the babe fest.” And he’s obsessed with his penis, which he claims is so big that it’s “like a baby’s arm hangin’ out of a stroller.”

One of my favourite things about clowning is that, when a good clown gets you laughing, she will not fucking let up — and that’s part of Roberts’s attack here. There’s a chunk in which Larry plays the acoustic guitar and, when he tries to sing, he can’t find the note ever, but he keeps trying and trying — and getting hopeful — and trying. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, remember a time when you were a kid and you got lost in the hysteria of an endless gag.

There’s a transcendent thematic underpinning to all of this too, but that involves a transformation so surprising I won’t give it away.

Go experience it for yourself. Larry is one of the very best shows at the Vancouver Fringe.

In the Havana Theatre. Remaining performances on September 9 (7:45 p.m.), 10 (9:30 p.m.), 13 (6:00 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 15 (3:45 p.m.)



As a kid, Rodney DeCroo got the shit kicked out of him. Fighting became a survival strategy.

It’s a gift.

In Didn’t Hurt, Rodney DeCroo shares stories about his brutal childhood and the resulting struggles in his adult life. But it’s not all grim; in fact, the most moving moments are the funniest and most tender. DeCroo is a gentle and engaging storyteller.

His dad was a Vietnam vet who passed his trauma on to his son by beating him with his belt buckle and punching him in the head. He, the cowboys who surrounded DeCroo in his early years in northern BC, and, later, the other traumatized teens who were his neighbours in a poverty-stricken area of Pittsburgh, taught him that being a man meant being a fighter.

Unsurprisingly, DeCroo has anger issues and complex PTSD.

To his credit, he hasn’t made Didn’t Hurt a simplistic fiction of personal triumph. There’s clearly been significant progress, but, for him, like for the rest of us, “healing” — he hates the word — is an ongoing project.

Emotionally, I came and went from Didn’t Hurt. Mostly, the material that hooked me was about DeCroo’s compassion for others. He tells a moving story about his gentle brother getting involved in a fistfight, for instance. And there’s a triptych of scenes involving little girls that resolves in simple and liberating beauty.

I feel like DeCroo could explain less, evoke more, and cut some time off his script.

But I’m grateful for this show. It’s about poverty and lack of education. The wickedness of war. It’s also about the brutality perpetuated by traditional gender roles; it counters the narrative that only women suffer the consequences. And it introduces the radical notion that maybe bullies should be forgiven.

In The Cultch Historic Theatre. Remaining performances on September 8 (9:15 p.m.), 10 (5:00 p.m.), 14 (5:30 p.m.), and 15 (2:30 p.m.)



Victoria Fringe 2019: Bedwetter

When Tamlynn Bryson was a teenager, her diaper was both friend and foe.

Tamlynn Bryson is a charm machine. (In case it’s not clear, that’s a very good thing.) In Bedwetter, she takes an unlikely topic — her own bedwetting, which continued until she was 15 — and turns it into a consistently entertaining hour.

Bryson performs Bedwetter solo — kind of. Kyle Kimmerly, who co-wrote the script with her and is running the tech, is also a presence: he turns the lights out when she fails to give him credit, for instance.

The baseline of this show is serious: it’s really fucking hard for a kid to negotiate things like sleepovers and camp when they’re terrified of humiliating themselves; even harder to conquer teenage thresholds like dating. And, as Bryson points out, sitcoms and movies routinely make thoughtless and degrading gags about wetting the bed.

But it’s Bryson’s resilience and comedic chops that sell this show. You’ve got to love the grade-six Bryson when she calls out her gym teacher for making a diaper joke. (You’ve also got to adore her parents for raising such a self-possessed kid.)

The script is often freshly funny: “Is that a strong enough story to end on?” Bryson asks late in the game. And, although not every convention is strong, Bryson’s delivery is unfailingly excellent. She’s effervescent, she pops in and out of characters in nanoseconds, and, in an eccentric trademark, she mines hilarity out of non-reactions like “Huh?”

Bedwetters of the world unite! I was one. Thanks, Tamlynn Bryson for being so out.

At Studio 16. Remaining performances on September 7 (4:30 p.m.), 8 (1:00 p.m.), 9 (5:00 p.m.), 12 (8:30 p.m.), and 14 (8:15 p.m.)



Vancouver Fringe: Advanced Field Zoology for Beginners

Playing Dr. Brad Goosebury, Shawn O’Hara is back with his moustachioed deadpan.

Shawn O’Hara’s new monologue, Advanced Field Zoology for Beginners, contains deathless lines, but it’s not quite ripe.

As he did in last year’s Field Zoology 101, O’Hara plays the highly unqualified field zoologist Dr. Brad Goosebury, who delivers absurd wildlife lectures accompanied by hand-drawn overhead projections.

You can’t beat the surprise of the best of O’Hara’s writing. In a tangent about astrology, for instance, he refers to “Leo the lion, the Ford Taurus, and, of course, Slytherin,” And the guy is quick on his feet. In the final section of Advanced Field Zoology, Goosebury takes questions from the audience. Asked, “How do you identify scat?”, he replied, “The easiest way to identify scat is the absence of saxophones.”

Chunks of the show, including the astrology bit, feel too tangential, though. Others, including “Wildlife Cooking with Brad Goosebury” aren’t sufficiently rewarding. And most of the sexual innuendo falls flat.

My guess is that Advanced Field Zoology for Beginners is going to be a whole lot better once O’Hara has had the chance to run it in and work out the kinks.

At the Waterfront Theatre. Remaining performances on September 7 (3:00 p.m.), 8 (7:35 p.m.), 10 (5:00 p.m.), 13 (10:15 p.m.), and 15 (6:25 p.m.)



Vancouver Fringe 2019: Guards at the Taj

Bet you haven’t see a show quite like this before. (Photo of Adele Noronha and Andy Kalirai)

Babur and Humayan are guards at the site where the Taj Mahal is being built. On the day it’s finished, they are charged with cutting off the hands of the 20,000 artists and artisans who have made it beautiful; the emperor doesn’t want them to contribute their skills to competing buildings.

Guards at the Taj is a comedy. You heard me. And it works. It’s poetic. That works too. And it’s thematically substantial.

A whole lot of the humour in Guards at the Taj arises from juxtaposition. Although the action’s set in 1648 in Mughal India, Babur and Humayan’s speech is contemporary. And the goofiness of their exchanges spins off the horror of their actions. When Babur complains that he’s the one who had to do the cutting, Humayan, who cauterized the wounds, counters that they could have switched. “But we couldn’t!” Babur insists. “We fell into a rhythm.”

Babur is an artist in his own right: gazing at the stars, he imagines space travel on a palanquin. Addressing the potential problem of falling off, he imagines seatbelts. Actor Andy Kalirai captures Babur’s sweet dreaminess as well as some very recognizable laddiness — when Babur imagines laying his eyes on the emperor’s harem, for instance.

Adele Noronha also shines as the more uptight Humayan. (“The happiest man is also the craziest man.”) Noronha is wearing a moustache for the role and her casting by director Paneet Singh emphasizes the performance of masculinity, which is already one of the playwright Rajiv Joseph’s concerns.

Guards at the Taj also opens up deeper conversations about the nature of beauty, about art and class, and — most potently — about complicity in and resistance to brutal regimes. Are there limits to our collusion when we are defending our privilege?

At the Vancity Culture Lab. Remaining performances on September 7 (1:00 p.m.), 8 (4:35 p.m.), 10 (7:00 p.m.), 13 (7:30 p.m.), and 15 (5:45 p.m.)



Vancouver Fringe 2019: Inescapable

Inescapable (with Jon Paterson and Martin Dockery) is skilfully performed — but technical.

In a clever detail, the preshow music is an endless loop of “White Christmas”.

The characters are in an loop of their own. One of them (played by Jon Paterson) has dragged a little homemade device out of a closet in his friend’s house. That pal is played by playwright Martin Dockery.

But what the heck was Paterson doing in Dockery’s closet in the first place? And does that little gizmo have anything to do with the fact that their conversation seems to be on a kind of Möbius strip, an apparently inescapable series of repetitions?

The Möbius thing is an excellent metaphor for middle age, that time of life when you’ve established your relationships and patterns and you’re sick of them, but you’re in such a deep groove that it seems impossible to get out.

There are variations in the repetitions: Paterson comes up with different reasons for being in Dockery’s closet, for instance. The actors’ mastery of those variations combine with their rapid-fire delivery to create a kind of virtuosity.

And these guys are funny: the way Dockery twists his limbs into a knot in frustrated outrage; the flickers of evasion and dawning recognition that emanate from both of them.

Inescapable becomes a bit of a technical exercise, however. No affection is ever credibly established between the two men, so, as they argue, there isn’t much to lose. And a third character who becomes central has about as much emotional resonance as a symbol in an algebraic equation. 

At the Waterfront Theatre. Remaining performances on September 7 (1:00 p.m.), 8 (4:35 p.m.), 10 (7:00 p.m.), 13 (7:30 p.m.), and 15 (5:45 p.m.)




Vancouver Fringe 2019: There Ain't No More

In There Ain’t No More, Willi Carlisle mostly disses a musical tradition he clearly loves.

Well, that’s … opaque.

I admire the musical skills of writer and solo performer Willi Carlisle, but I have very little idea what he’s trying to say.

In There Ain’t No More, Carlisle plays an old folksinger who’s giving what may be his last concert: he’s dying of congestive heart failure. Within that framing device, Carlisle explores the history of American folk music through flashbacks — and finds it wanting.

As a young man, Carlisle’s character is a fan of the genre in which tunes are “passed from dead man to dead man to the live wire of the strings”, a “link to old countries and old music”, but also a living form that allows settlers to build a new “house” in America. But this guy becomes disillusioned by the misogyny of some of the songs and, more deeply, by the contribution that folk music made to the Vietnam War.

Wait. What? What contribution was that exactly? Carlisle’s character entertains the troops and realizes that the version of masculinity that led to the slaughter in Vietnam was bullshit. But, given the centrality of protest songs in the folk tradition, drawing a direct line between folk music and the tragedies of the Vietnam War feels like a stretch.

And Carlisle treats folk music like a dying tradition; maybe he just doesn’t like the new stuff.

On another level, There Ain’t No More seems to be trying to mourn a lost — and flawed — vision of America itself. And there’s a heavy dose of individual mortality thrown in: both Carlisle’s central character and an old folkie he interviews as a young man are on their last legs. But the terms of There Ain’t No More feel so skewed to me that I found very little in it coherent or compelling.

That said, the guy can play — the guitar, the fiddle, and the squeezebox. At one point, he fiddles, sings, and step dances all at once. That was the highlight of the show for me.

At the Revue Stage. Remaining performances on on September 8 (5:30 p.m.), 10 (9:15 p.m.), 11 (5:00 p.m.), 14 (9:10 p.m.), and 15 (3:30 p.m.)



Vancouver Fringe 2019: Destiny, USA

Don’t let the humility of Destiny, USA fool you: this is what sophistication looks like.

Because it’s humble and autobiographical, some people might ignore Destiny, USA, but that would be a huge mistake: it’s one of the most skilful and moving shows I’ve ever seen at the Fringe.

Laura Anne Harris is the sole live performer in this production of her script. In her story, it’s 2016 and she has followed her husband Chris to Syracuse, New York, where he is pursuing a PhD. Astonishingly, Donald Trump has just been elected President of the United States.

Harris weaves together three threads: her relationship with Chris, her mom’s illness and death back in Canada, and her job as a relay operator for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Harris makes simple and effective use of technology: in some starkly poetic passages, for instance, her lyrics appear on a screen — sometimes with blank spaces that get filled in as she speaks, sometimes with significant words that disappear or repeat.

Her work as a relay operator gave her extraordinary access to her clients’ lives, which she has fictionalized here to protect their anonymity. In one of the most moving passages, a deaf woman of colour engages Harris to make a call to a suicide hotline. There’s a lot to this: race, disability, and the cruelty of capitalism — as well as the resilience of the caller and kindness of the call-centre worker. Tamyka Bullen, who plays the suicidal woman on video, is extraordinary. She takes her time. It feels like documentary.

Ultimately, it’s the compassion of Destiny, USA that makes it so shattering. We’re all mortal. In times like these, small gestures of kindness redefine the world.

In The Nest on September 7 (6:45 p.m.), 9 (8:45 p.m.), 10 (7:45 P.M.), 12 (5:00 p.m.), 14 (1:15 p.m.), and 15 (8:45 p.m.) Tickets

This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Josephine

If Tymisha Harris’s performance in Josephine can’t get you out to the Fringe, you’re probably already dead.

I cried three times watching Josephine. The first was because I’m so grateful when I get to see the real thing: Tymisha Harris is a star.

Harris plays Josephine Baker in this solo show, which the company describes as “a burlesque cabaret dream play”.

Baker was the first international black female celebrity and Josephine reminds us just how extraordinary she was: she not only escaped poverty in Missouri to find fame in Paris, she lived a life crammed with lovers of both sexes (the list includes Frida Kahlo), kept a pet cheetah (among other beasts), adopted 12 children of various races and — news to me — was a civil-rights campaigner whom Dr. Martin Luther King invited to speak at the 1963 march on Washington.

Crucially, Harris embodies the exuberance, the sheer, fucking unleashed Eros that Baker was famous for. In character, she says, “I was crazed by the music” and watching Harris dance, you can’t help but be swept away by her physical pleasure —the sensuousness of a fan dance and the childlike glee of wacky moves that might have come right off the street. Sweet mother of Jesus, Harris is sexy: I’m old, I’m gay, and felt the pull.

Partly, that’s about how confident she is as a performer, how present and responsive to the moment, whether she’s flirting with an audience member or improvising a little dance with a feather that’s flown off her boa.

Harris’s singing voice is as warm as her nature and as agile as her body.

The day I saw Josephine, it got a little lost around the Frida Kahlo section and struggled to regain steam after that.

But Michael Marinaccio’s direction supports Harris: before Josephine emerges for the first time in her pasties and trademark banana belt, for instance, she does a cheeky little shadow dance behind her dressing-room screen as she changes.

And there’s substance to Josephine. Baker’s songs of romantic loss emerge from skilful storytelling. So I wept when Harris sang Baker’s “Afraid To Dream”. And, because this script, which was created by Harris, Marinaccio, and playwright Tod Kimbro, clearly frames Baker’s story as a struggle for racial freedom, I was moved again when this Josephine sang Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” at the Washington demo.

There’s a line early in the script that sets you up for the dialectic between the cruelty of racism and the liberation of performance. Baker describes being a little kid in Missouri and coming across an unfamiliar structure in town. “At first I thought it was a gallows,” she says, “but, when I got a closer look, I realized it was a stage.”

In The Cultch Historic Theatre on September 5 (7:15 p.m.), 7 (7:50 p.m.), 11 (5:00 p.m.), 12 (10:00 p.m.), 13 (6:45 p.m.) and 15 (12:30 p.m.) Tickets

This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.


Victoria Fringe 2019: The Robber Bridegroom

Puppets can take you straight to The Uncanny Valley.

Yes! This is how you tell a story.

It starts with a wedding and a fainting bride. In her swoon — with the help of a chorus called the Grimm Sisters — the bride has the courage to confront her repressed memories.

In that backstory, the bride is sixteen and a poor miller’s daughter when she is betrothed to a wealthy man. But when she journeys to his house in the middle of a forest, she discovers horrors in his basement — horrors about missing and murdered women and girls.

With Jeffrey Epstein in the news and our knowledge of the Highway of Tears, it’s impossible to miss the relevance. And it’s unsettling to think just how archetypal this tale is.

But the tone is not didactic. This isn’t the most polished production in the world, but, as established by adapter and director Andrew G. Cooper, the surreal style of The Robber Bridegroom is studded with moments of magic.

Puppets take us into another dimension. To portray their characters, company members strap puppets around their waists — so the actors’ legs become the puppet characters’ legs. The operators move the puppets’ heads on rods and shadow the puppets’ carved hands with their own so the characters can pick up objects. The puppet characters don’t use language, they communicate in the elemental vocabulary of murmurs and moans, sighs and laughter.

At the Waterfront Theatre on September 6 (5:00 p.m.), 8 (4:00 p.m.), 9 (8:50 p.m.), 10 (9:00 p.m.), 13 (8:30 p.m.), and 14 (2:30 p.m.) Tickets

This review is based on a performance at the Victoria Fringe.

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