Après le Déluge: It’s raining (mostly) excellent jokes

Pi Theatre is presenting Après le Déluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues at The Cultch

Caught smoking? Buddy Cole has a solution for you.
(Photo of Scott Thompson by Bruce Smith)

Scott Thompson’s Après le Déluge is transgressive in that good, old-fashioned sense — by which I mean it’s mostly good and but also sometimes old-fashioned, in ways that are not so good. [Read more…]

A Thousand Splendid Suns could easily lose 250 of them

 

The Arts Club is presenting A Thousand Splendid Suns at the Stanley Theatre.

This is one of the best moments in One Thousand Splendid Suns. It comes early. (Photo: David Cooper)

Act 1 is so boring that friends who left at intermission expressed their condolences when I told them I was staying. [Read more…]

Mother of the Maid: a theatrical strategy that doesn’t work

Pacific Theatre is producing Jane Anderson's Mother of the Maid.

Anita Wittenberg is a better actor that we get to see in Mother of the Maid. (Photo by Jalen Laine)

With Mother of the Maid, Pacific Theatre offers a pedestrian interpretation of a superficial script. It’s not terrible, but it’s not rewarding.   [Read more…]

THE TROPHY HUNT

 

Vancouver Fringe 2019: The Trophy Hunt

The casting of a woman, Sandra Ferens as Jan, the hunting guide, might help to make the character more sympathetic in this production.

Canadian playwright Trina Davies’s The Trophy Hunt feels like an overly deliberate writing exercise in which she plays three variations on the theme of African big-game hunting. (Why Africa? Why not the Canadian North, which would bring things closer to home?)

In the first variation, a hunter, who slaughtered a protected lion then paid a social-media and legal price for it, moans about how persecuted he feels. Poor baby. Who cares?

In the second, a hunting guide tries to distance herself morally from her clients, whom she regards as assholes. But she’s enabling them so that she can make 75K per hunt, so … Poor baby.

The identity of the third speaker is a mystery at first, which makes the final section the most satisfying in terms of the writing.

The acting in this production is mixed. Playing Parker, the media-shamed lion killer, Michael Karl Richards brings a load of sincerity but no edge. In a grounded performance, Sandra Ferens makes Jan, the guide, about as sympathetic as she can get. And Lissa Neptuno is sly as the third character, a self-consciously exotic local named Soraya, although, for some self-defeating reason, director Shelby Bushell has Soraya strike yoga poses throughout the violent climax of her speech.

Overall, the pace that Bushell sets is slack, and that’s not just because this is an ambulatory performance (the audience walks from site to site along the shoreline of False Creek); the pace within monologues also drags.

A fourth character, a tour guide (played gamely by Ariel Slack) doesn’t fit: whereas all of the other characters are serious in one way or another, the guide is broadly comic.

This production is okay, but the script is wonky and gives little indication that the playwright is passionately engaged with her material.

In Ron Basford Park. Remaining performances on September 10 (6:30 p.m.), 11 (6:30 p.m.), 12 (6:30 p.m.), 13 (6:30 p.m.), 14 (6:30 p.m.), and 15 (6:30 p.m.)

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BIKEFACE

Vancouver Fringe 2019: Bike Face

Natalie Frijia makes an amiable tour guide.

BikeFace is clean, simple, and it does its job, kind of like a glass of water — or a good bike.

In her solo show, writer/performer Natalie Frijia tells us about her cross-Canada cycling trip. The travelogue includes elements you’d probably anticipate: mishaps (like choosing a really bad camping site), encounters with colourful locals (like the guy who runs a tacky Wild West town), and mosquitoes.

There’s also an undertow of sexual threat: “If you’re a woman and you want to do something,” Frijia says, “this is what you’re told is out there.” But Frijia is resilient: she’s going to have her adventure, goddamn it. And she underlines her feminist point with humour, quoting repeatedly from Dr. A. Shadwell’s 1897 work The Hidden Dangers of Cycling, which includes the gem: “For women, cycling destroys the organs of matrimonial necessity.”

Frijia’s analysis isn’t complicated, but its simple defiance is appealing and she is a personable and — as you might expect — robust narrator.

In The Nest. Remaining performances on September 11 (5:15 p.m.), 12 (10:30 p.m.), 13 (6:45 p.m.), and 15 (1:30 p.m.)

Tickets

AMÉLIE

Vancouver Fringe 2019: Amélie

Tessa Trach and Georgia Acken in Amélie. The gnome doesn’t get a credit.
What kind of world is this? (Photo by DL Acken)

About an hour into this 90-minute show, I checked my watch and my companion leaned over to whisper, “Time has slowed.”

As in Amélie the movie, sweet nothing happens in Amélie the musical — well, nothing interesting. Amélie is a shy young Parisienne and, for a lot of the story, that’s her action: being shy — and whimsically kind. Then she finds herself attracted to an almost equally eccentric and shy young man named Nino, but Amélie avoids and teases Nino for so long that you want to slap her. There’s no narrative tension in this; the resolution is inevitable. SPOILER ALERT: they get together. Of course they get together!

To make things worse, this material seems very pleased with its own inertia, presenting itself as quirky and delicate when, to me, it’s just coy.

That said, Western Moon Theatre does a reasonably good job with it. Georgia Acken is simply and effectively present as the young Amélie. Tessa Trach is credibly innocent as the adult version, which is no mean feat. And Nevada Yates Roberts, delivers clearly delineated characterizations as a hypochondriac named Georgette and Sylvie, a sex-shop owner.

Vocally, I particularly enjoyed Enoch Choi’s Nino, Paul Just’s Elton John (yes, Elton John), and Sean Anthony’s turn as Amélie’s father, Raphaël.

Director Chris Lam and choreographer Linzi Voth make simple but effective use of the large playing area. And, under Peter Abando’s direction, the four-piece onstage orchestra is solid.

But Craig Lucas’s book? Ai yi yi. Never date an Amélie.

At the Firehall Arts Centre. Remaining performances on September 10 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (7:15 p.m.), 13 (8:45 p.m.), 14 (4:00 p.m.), and 15 (3:15 p.m.)

Tickets

THE LEGEND OF WHITE WOMAN CREEK

Vancouver Fringe 2019: The Legend of White Woman Creek

Playing a ghost, Katie Hartman pours it out in The Legend of White Woman Creek.

Oddly, I found The Legend of White Woman Creek both hypnotic and boring.

Katie Hartman, who wrote the piece with partner Nick Ryan, who’s running the lights, performs solo. Starting out as an academic who specializes in the paranormal, she summons the ghost of nineteenth-century American settler Anna Morgan Faber. Then Anna proceeds to deliver a folk music concert. Fortunately, the academic has thought to bring a guitar and a microphone.

Through a 13-song cycle, Anna tells us how she married a taciturn German immigrant named Heinrich Faber and lived with him for two miserable years in a sod hut in Kansas. When Heinrich and his pals raid a Cheyenne camp for no reason, the Cheyenne retaliate by kidnapping Anna — much to her eventual delight.

She falls in love with a noble Cheyenne chief. (Does he have to be so singularly noble and a chief? Is this a form of settler porn?)

I’ve been flippant about the framing, but there’s an undeniable integrity in Hartman’s performance. She sings as if she herself is a medium — in a voice that feels like wood to me because of its naturalness and strength — and she often channels wrenching emotions.

The melodies evoke prairie spaciousness and there’s harsh beauty in some of the lyrics. I’m thinking about a song, for instance, in which a pair of crows fly over a battlefield and see the human remains as an unexpected boon.

Anna’s narrative and its characters don’t acquire much nuance, however. And the songs all feel similarly melancholy and, for the most part, slow.

There’s a lot of talent here but, in this song cycle, it has not found its perfect vessel.

At the Revue Stage. Remaining performances on September 12 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (5:45 p.m.), and 15 (1:45 p.m.)

Tickets

MX

Vancouver Fringe 2019: Mx

Look at this photo. Do you think this show might be a bit illustrative?

Playwright Lili Robinson has some great instincts.

Mx, Robinson’s exploration of her combined African and white heritage, starts with a monologue from Mz. Nancy (Alisha Davidson looking gorgeously imposing in a red sequined dress, scarlet-and-gold headscarf, and sparkling red shoes.) “Some faces I recognize from other evenings,” she says, “Stops on the tour. Dreams.” Mz. Nancy seems to be some kind of traveling talk-show host with a twist: the trickster version of Oprah.

Mz. Nancy invites a character named Max — or Mx — up from the audience: it’s Robinson; she’s a plant. Then Mz. Nancy and Samantha, a perky, 50s-style white woman proceed to vie for possession of Mx’s soul.

Robinson peppers Mx with puppetry (a talking map), dancing, lip sync, and ritual, which is all refreshing. And there’s some sly humour: when Samantha tries to lure Mx to her side, she offers a croissant.

But the folks who were supposed to help Robinson structure her script have let her down. Robinson won the Fringe New Play Prize last year, which means that Mx was developed with the assistance of the Playwrights Theatre Centre — specifically dramaturge Joanna Garfinkel.

But Garfinkel has left Mx with a passive protagonist: Mx just gets booted around by the other two, so there’s a blank where the script’s centre should be. And Samantha is a two-dimensional villain, a condescending faux liberal who calls Mx the N word when her mask slips.

So the only interesting character onstage is Mz. Nancy, who’s beneficent but unreliable. Mz. Nancy promises to introduce Mx to her Black father’s side of the family but, as Samantha says, “Nancy isn’t so much about information as she is about possibilities.”

Both Davidson as Mz. Nancy and Emily Jane King as Samantha deliver stylish, committed performances; King comes across as a vampire version of Grace Kelly. Robinson is a little less sure as Mx, but she hasn’t given herself much to work with.

In its current version, Mx is an illustrated essay. I’d love to see a version in which we get to see Mx’s story as a story.

And, yes, I am a white guy reviewing the work of a woman of colour. I was invited to do so. I also want to diversify the voices on my site so, if you’re interested in working together, please get in touch.

At the Revue Stage. Remaining performances on September 9 (5:00 p.m.), 13 (10:15 p.m.), and 15 (5:15 p.m.)

Tickets

LARRY

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.)

Tickets

DIDN’T HURT

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.)

Tickets

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