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.


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Fool Muun Komming!

In the last minutes of Fool Muun Komming!, Sam Kruger allows himself to be vulnerable. Earlier would have been better. 

I’m a fan of eccentricity but a show in which virtually all the performer offers is his own zaniness is kind of like a meal in which the sole ingredient is … I don’t know … marshmallows.

In Sam Kruger’s monologue, he plays a space alien who comes to Earth because he’s picked up a random text that says something like, “Where are you? I’m in the food court. I need you.”

That’s a great premise, but Fool Muun Komming! is short on both structure and content. For ninety-nine point nine percent of it, Kruger’s alien just riffs on psychedelic absurdities. He relates a dream about a three-way with Mahatma Gandhi and David Bowie, for instance. And, in another sequence, when Bowie cums. his orgasm projects a cartoon onto the alien’s face in which a pair of lovers try to scale his nose.

This might sound more interesting than it actually is. The material in Fool Muun Komming! is almost entirely solipsistic: it’s about the alien’s fantasies and the alien’s relationship to himself. There is an underlying romantic yearning in some of the material, but Kruger reveals that longing so tentatively and with so little external focus that nothing adds up and nothing really matters.

Kruger is talented. He moves well — he embodies a saucy gazelle at one point — and his imagination is undeniably rich. It’s frustrating though, that, with all of these gifts, he’s spinning his wheels in material that’s so self-referential.

At the Waterfront Theatre on September 7 (6:35 p.m.), 9 (10:35 p.m.), 10 (7:15p.m.), 12 (5:00 p.m.), 14 (12:45 p.m.), and 15 (8:00 p.m.) Tickets

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


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Crazy for Dick Tricks

With Dick Tricks, playfulness saves the day. Now there’s a sentence.

Tim Motley isn’t reinventing magic with Crazy for Dick Tricks, but he is practising it with a lot of charm.

Some of the formats are familiar: a series of “failed” attempts at mindreading come together in a big finish, for instance. There are too many magic scarves and a stunt involving scissors and cards only kind of worked at the show I attended.

But other tricks are more impressive and, in character as film noir hero Dirk Darrow, Motley is winningly playful with the audience. He has fun with the genre, too, describing a set of eyes “as piercing as headlights on a foggy night on a road to nowhere.”


At the Waterfront Theatre on September 5 (8:30 p.m.), 7 (1:15 p.m.), 8 (9:10 p.m.), 12 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (6:00 p.m.), and 15 (3:00 p.m.) Tickets

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


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Scaredy Cat

In Scaredy Cat, Carlyn Rhamey gently mocks her fears.

Solo performer Carlyn Rhamey has charm to burn: she engages easily and confidently with her audience, inviting everybody in and capitalising on the liveness of the event.

But, in Scaredy Cat, most of the stories that she tells about her own fearfulness aren’t as engaging as she is. I mean, they’re okay and sometimes they even acquire a little weight — like when she introduces us to a client named Bob who has a mental handicap of some kind (she’s in a caregiving position with him) and he helps her to overcome her dread of haunted houses.

But the arc in which she faces a fear and overcomes it gets repetitive. And only once in the show did I get a genuine sense of trepidation. For the most part, Rhamey is so busy making fun of herself — “I can be such a baby!” — that she makes her material feel unimportant.

In The Nest on September 6 (5:00 p.m.), 8 (7:45 p.m.), 9 (10:30 p.m.), 12 (6:45 p.m.), 13 (8:30 p.m.) and 14 (3:00 p.m.) Tickets

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


Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman

Nyla Carpentier figures her cheekbones came from Tahltan Territory and wonders if her hands come from France.

Writer and solo performer Nyla Carpentier is charming: playful, friendly, and relaxed.

And she can dance. In Dissection of a Indian Aboriginal First Nation Full-Blood Status Non-Status Halfbreed Métis Rez Urban Mixed Heritage Woman, Carpentier explores her French, Scottish, and Indigenous roots and, along the way, she club dances, step dances, and — in the highlight of the show for me — shawl dances. Carpentier spinning, with the long ribbons on her shawl flying, is an almost hallucinatory image.

But her script is rambling. There’s no central story and, as Carpentier pieces the bits of her heritage together, it takes her an hour to ask why she’d have to choose between identifying as white or Indigenous. If you’ve heard this question before — or variations on the theme — you already know the answer.



At the Revue Stage on September 6 (8:45 p.m.), 7 (10:00 p.m.), 8 (1:45 p.m.), and 10 (7:30 p.m.) Tickets

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


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Diagnose This!

Donna Kay Yarborough turns from comedian to crusader in Diagnose This!

Diagnose This! feels like two shows. I prefer the second.

In the first, writer and performer Donna Kay Yarborough regales us with stories based on her experience as a standardized medical patient (an actor who pretends to be a patient to help train healthcare students).

Yarborough is an engaging performer, which is a good thing because her material is only so-so. When a neurology student is testing her skin sensation and explains that she “going to feel a little prick”, I don’t find the double entendre hilarious.

But, late in the show, Yarborough gets into her own harrowing experience of the US medical system. This turns into a passionate and compelling rallying cry in defence of socialized medicine. Yes to that.



At the False Creek Gym on September 7 (1:00 p.m.), 8 (9:15 p.m.), 9 (8:45 p.m.), 12 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (5:35 p.m.), and 15 (2:45 p.m.) Tickets

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


Vancouver Fringe 2019: Ingénue

Ingénue promises to tell a story but doesn’t deliver — on that front at least. (Photo of Melanie Gall from Melanie Gall Presents)

Melanie Gall can sing, but she doesn’t know how to tell a story, so what starts out as a recital with some great insider dish devolves into a recital with narrative interruptions.

The program promises an exploration of the relationship between Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin, who was the bigger star in the 1930s. Gall clearly establishes Durbin’s importance as a cultural icon: fan letters from soldiers in WWII movingly situate her as an ideal of innocence and kindness. But the script’s central conceit — that a reporter from The New York Times is interviewing Durbin about her relationship with Garland shortly after Garland’s death — doesn’t hold: this show is about Durbin; Garland is barely mentioned and the supposed friendship between the two women is only superficially developed.

No other relationships are credibly established either. When one of Durbin’s marriages breaks up, Gall sings Frank Loesser’s lonely “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year”, but Gall has given us zero reason to invest in that marriage so its failure means nothing.

Still, there’s the voice. Gall has a rich, crystalline soprano and, when she sang Luigi Arditi’s “Il Bacio”, I got goosebumps.

At the Firehall Arts Centre on September 6 (6:30 p.m.), 8 (6:30 p.m.), 9 (5:00 p.m.), 13 (11:00 p.m.), 14 (2:15 p.m.), and 15 (5:30 p.m.) Tickets

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

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