Archives for September 2022

Hot Brown Honey: The Remix — exhilarating, liberating

publicity photo for Hot Brown Honey: The Remix

Yes, the Honeys do a fan dance — on their own terms. (Photo by Alan Moyle)

Hot Brown Honey: The Remix is one of the best political rallies you’ve ever going to attend — because it’s also a big, loud, slick party.

The Honeys, as they call themselves, are an ever-changing feminist group from Australia that’s made up of Indigenous women and women of colour. Their show, Hot Brown Honey: The Remix, is a revue/spectacle in which they take on banner-like issues in a succession of freewheeling formats: singing, dancing, rapping, hoop spinning, an aerial act …

Hosted by rapper and co-writer Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers, the performance takes place on and in front of one of the best sets ever. Tristan Shelly has designed a gigantic, hive-shaped mound that’s made up of hexagonal cells — like a honeycomb. Lit from within with computer-programmed cues that spell out things like “Fuck the patriarchy” and “Love, Respect”, in Paul Lim’s lighting design, it can also be lit from outside for dreamier effects.

Speaking of fucking the patriarchy, a whole lot of The Remix is fueled by ferocious female sexuality — let’s call it embodied liberation. If you’re a Vancouverite, you might have seen the original Hot Brown Honey, which The Cultch presented in 2018. The Cultch has already brought that show back once since then, but this is The Remix and some of the new material is fantastically edgy. [Read more…]

Animal: family entertainment in the truest sense

publicity photo for Animal (Cirque Alfonse)

Just hanging out with family and friends (Photo by Benoit Z. Leroux)

I didn’t get what I thought I was in for, but I did get a very good time.

Cirque Alfonse is a humble Québecois company: the acrobats and musicians are all either members of the Carabinier Lépine family or their friends. And Animal is a humble show that riffs — in freewheeling, often surreal ways — on farmyard animals and objects.

The skill level isn’t always dazzling. On the opening night of the company’s short Vancouver run, there were too many mistakes and redos off the top, and some of the numbers are dull. I didn’t need to see Geneviève Morin dancing around in an inflated cow costume, for instance. And the routine in which Julie Carabinier Lépine flips around a pair of sickles left me cold. It’s not like she’s juggling them, she’s just twisting her wrists and we don’t even know if the sickles are sharp.

But — and this is an enormous but — this show is ridiculously charming and there are some truly impressive human-scale skills on display. Once I let go of the idea of Cirque du Soleil-style relentless virtuosity, I realized that I was at an excellent party and I settled in. [Read more…]

The Thursday Night Bridge Circle: Decline the invitation

promo photo for The Thursday Night Bridge Club

White beneficence: Evangela Kepinski (Louise) and Allyson Riley (Margaret) in The Thursday Night Bridge Circle. (Photo: Nancy Caldwell)

I do not want to write this review.

I know that it takes enormous effort to mount a show — even if it’s a bad one. And I’m sure that everybody involved with the United Players production of The Thursday Night Bridge Circle has the best of intentions. But sometimes good intentions are really, really not enough. On so many levels, this production is a stinker. [Read more…]

Peter Pan Goes Wrong — and so does this farce (sometimes)

promo photo for Peter Pan Goes Wrong

April Banigan, Andrew MacDonald-Smith, and Alexander Ariate in a detail of a photo by Eric Kozakiewicz

Farces can be beautiful machines: marvels of comic timing and physical business so dazzlingly funny they leave you gasping for breath. But, of course, the thing about machines is that you want them to work all the time. This production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong hums along very, very well for extended stretches. It also splutters. [Read more…]

VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Spooky & Gay Cabaret

Promo photo for Spooky & Gay CabaretI got goosebumps, I laughed (a lot), and I cried — all in one show. Of the performances I’ve seen at the Fringe so far this year, this is my favourite. Writer and performer Bruce Ryan Costella frames Spooky & Gay Cabaret with a scary story about an eleven-year-old lesbian who dares to venture into a haunted house on Halloween to talk to the magic jack-o’-lantern. She’s heard it grants wishes and she doesn’t want to like girls anymore. From there, Costella riffs on All Hallows’ Eve, ghosts, and queerness.  Some of it is light fun. He goes through the list of the five worst Halloween candies: “Circus Peanuts self-identify as the cool older brother of housing insulation.” Some of it is chilling: although he doesn’t name names, Costella’s story about the Pink Death is clearly an indictment of Ronald Reagan’s indifference to the AIDS epidemic. In Reagan’s later years, a demonic embodiment of the Pink Death comes for him in a  stealth form to wreak revenge. And some of Spooky & Gay Cabaret is moving. Costella emphasizes the importance of queer culture and queer cultural spaces, including bars. Accompanying himself on his ukulele, he sings Cher’s “Believe” and tells us that, when he was a lonely gay kid in Florida, that song “was like a weird astral projection from Cher. Like she was looking out for me.” At the performance I attended, the audience began singing along to support him. Costella started laughing and crying at the same time: “Nobody’s ever done that before!” He was verklempt. We were all verklempt. It was perfect.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Performance Works: September 12, 4:45 pm, September 13, 10:30 pm; September 14, 8:45 pm; September 18, 3:00 pm. Tickets


VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Summer Teeth

publicity photo for Summer TeethPlaywright Bill Marchant’s Summer Teeth is an odd assemblage. It starts with one of the most riveting monologues I’ve heard in ages. The givens are that we’re in a post-plague near-future somewhere along the Pitt River in what seems to be a rural community. At least it was a community. The only survivors are sisters Gin and Esme, and a guy named Harry who scavenges for the three of them. In the opening monologue, Esme mourns the death of Stefanie Norton (Snort), for whom she felt (an unconsummated) love. Marchant’s language is biblical — from a rough Bible. Here’s Esme on men: “Dirty claws and teeth on all of ‘em, Mom said.” And on knowing Snort: “Every part of me is altered, unsettled, never to be the same again.” If you love language, you’ll love this speech. Actor Jess Smith goes a tiny bit over the top sometimes, but she brings such passion to the language, such deep engagement with its imagery that I was smitten with her. Then the play flips into a scene between Gin and Harry. Harry wants to fuck Gin. She says no, but she teases him. With Gin in control, the dynamic is very Miss Julie: lots of repetitive, sadomasochistic push-me-pull-you that bored me. RJ Fetherstonhaugh does a fine job with Harry’s blunt butchness, but Deborah Simons (Gin) seems to be floating above the text, adopting an attitude more than inhabiting the specifics of the images and moments. In the final panel of the triptych, Esme returns for a scene with Gin. It’s great to have Smith’s Esme back onstage and there’s a surprising plot turn, but there isn’t enough accumulation in the piece to make the ending satisfying. Still, I’m a fan of Marchant’s use of words and his willingness to experiment with form.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre: September 12, 10:30 pm; September 13, 7:00 pm; September 16, 1:00 pm; September 17, 2:45 pm; September 18, 8:20 pm. Tickets


VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: The Disney Delusion

promo image for The Disney DelusionIt starts off charmingly. In The Disney Delusion, which he describes as “an (unfortunately) true story”, playwright and solo performer Leif Oleson-Cormack describes a romantic misadventure from 2008. Although he had an MFA in playwriting by that time, he had never been laid, partly, he explains, because he lacked the language to understand himself: “I’m bisexual but that had not been invented yet. We just got it for men a couple of weeks ago.” His dilemma (feeling like a fraud with both men and women) is interesting. And you can’t help but feel for Leif when he admits falling for a hunk named Arthur. (Arthur would make out with Leif about every three months and, shortly after that, show up with a new boyfriend. The guy’s a dick. A user. Who hasn’t fallen for one of those?) Undeterred, Leif plans a Disneyland vacation with Arthur. But, as the two characters flew south, so did my interest in their story. It gets sordid — and its viewpoint gets messy. Before they get to Disneyland, Leif and Arthur hit West Hollywood, where, to make Arthur jealous, Leif makes out with two other guys. Then, Leif tells us, when those guys proceed to touch his body, he feels violated — and he was violated. I think Leif was 22 at the time and the two guys were, by his estimation, over 55. So: power imbalance. The guy Leif calls Eyebrow Man has gotten Leif drunk and Leif is making drunk decisions. But there’s an uncomfortable disjuncture: at the same time he’s asserting his past victimhood, present-day Leif is presenting the situation as fundamentally comic and entertaining. There’s an attitude of “I know, right? Wild! Hilarious!” And, as Leif freely admits and uses for comic effect, young Leif was manipulative in his own right: he choreographed his romantic Disney date with Arthur down to the second — and, not that he owed them sex; that’s a whole other issue — he also used the guys he made out with. In a repeated ageist swipe, Leif also ridicules them for their age. It’s mean. Present-day Leif understands that he was naïve; he doesn’t seem to understand that he was also a big of a user, a bit of a dick. So I lost interest in him. Sure, you can be clueless at 22. But I expect more insight from storytelling that takes place 14 years after the events.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Performance Works: September 11, 3:00 pm; September 12, 7:00 pm; September 13, 4:45 pm; September 15, 7:00 pm; September 17, 1:00 pm. Tickets


promo image for Ha Ha Da VinciMy bet is that artists are more likely to get away with this kind of nonsense on the fringe circuit, where audiences are more predisposed to giving it a pass as “artsy”. But Ha Ha Da Vinci is just very badly made. Phina Pipia, who wrote and performs this piece, plays a grad student named Luca who happens upon the plans for a time machine invented by Leonardo Da Vinci and his collaborator, magician Luca Pacioli. As soon as present-day Luca opens the plan, she is transported to Renaissance Italy, where the voice of Da Vinci himself — heard over a radio — tells her that the time machine works for going back in time (that’s how Pacioli disappeared), but nobody knows how to make it move forward. I’m going to give away the big reveal: Luca figures out that music allows us to move forward through time, so she plays her tuba and off she goes. That’s it. That’s the end. At the performance I attended, the audience was clearly surprised the show was over. That’s because nothing had happened — at least nothing that makes any narrative or intuitive sense. Pipia dances uninteresting choreography at a proficient level, she plays her guitar and sings forgettable songs, she does one okay magic trick, and she plays the squares on her bedspread as if the bedspread were a musical instrument. (Think Big.) But nothing holds together. There’s no narrative to speak of, no sense of stakes or a meaningful struggle to overcome obstacles. There is no internal logic in Ha Ha Da Vinci and zero sense of accumulation. The idea of the lost Pacioli is raised but never addressed. Why is there a radio in Renaissance Italy? Writer/performer Pipia is showing off — and, charmingly, she seems to be having an excellent time — but there’s very little in it for the rest of us.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Studio 16: September 11, 7:00 pm; September 13, 4:45 pm; September 15, 3:10 pm; September 16, 9:40 pm (ASL); September 18 (8:15 pm). Tickets

VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Every Good Story Ends With One

publicity photo for Every Good Story Ends With OneIn Every Good Story Ends With One, well-loved Fringe performer Martin Dockery tells the story of a humiliatingly bad run he had at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, a run that was miraculously saved by an ardent — and anonymous — fan who sent a series of letters and small gifts to his dressing room. As a performer, Dockery knows what he’s doing. His delivery is so infectiously energetic that resisting it would feel ungenerous. Within this extremity, he uses sudden changes of tone and volume for dramatic — and comedic — effect. He knows how to repeat phrases to get laughs from accumulation: “Not that I’m religious!” And his storytelling is always appealingly affectionate, even when he’s mocking his own eagerness to believe that Erin, the faceless, phone-numberless writer, sees something in him that everybody else in his grumpy nightly audiences has overlooked. For me, Every Good Story goes thematically slack, though. Dockery explores the idea that narratives, including religious and romantic narratives, can be runaway generators of meaning and, all too often, repositories of pure fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, but they aren’t fresh either. I kept thinking, “If you’re going to take me here, show me something new.” And then, after spending too long in the wilderness, he does. The final passage of Every Good Story is transcendentally trippy and packs an excellent narrative punch.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at Performance Works: September 10, 4:45 pm; September 13, 7:00 pm.; September 14, 10:30 pm; September 16, 3:00 pm, and September 17, 8:45 pm. Tickets for all performances.

VANCOUVER FRINGE 2022: Blueberries Are Assholes

publicity photo for Blueberries Are AssholesOkay, first off, why is TJ Dawe not aging? Dawe’s lanky self comes striding out onto the Waterfront Stage and it’s like he hasn’t aged in the last 35 years. Second point: It’s a pleasure to watch such a seasoned pro having so much fun. In his surreal stand-up show Blueberries are Assholes, Dawe toys with the absurdities of language, food, and embodiment. Being a human creation, language is a combination of logic and ridiculousness. Picking apart the unlikely relationship between spelling and pronunciation in phlegm, Dawe says, “In English, we have two ways to make the F sound. One is the letter F.” But it’s the weirdness of being meat machines that truly horrifies or amuses homo sapiens, depending on our mood. Dawe imagines human sneezing as aliens might see it: the expulsion of waste through explosions from the face. And we’re food tubes, which inspires Dawe to imagine smackdowns between various fruits and vegetables — and a monologue for the tongue. If you’re looking for the kind of personal revelation and narrative satisfaction that some of Dawe’s other shows, including Tired Cliches and The Slipknot, have delivered, you won’t find them here. But he keeps Blueberries are Assholes poppin’ along. And he embodies the importance of keeping one’s imagination open.

At the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre: September 9, 10:30 pm; September 12, 3:00 pm; September 14, 7:00 pm, September 16, 4:25 pm; September 17, 8:05 pm. PLUS one performance at Leap Creative Studios (also livestreamed): September 11, 7:00 pm. That show will also be available to stream September 11 to September 18. Tickets for live performances. Tickets for all streaming shows.

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