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

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.

Romeo and Juliet: holey palmers

promo photo Romeo and Juliet

Ghazal Azarbad and Andrew McNee in Romeo and Juliet (Photo: Tim Matheson)

As an ex of mine said just before he stopped talking to me forever, “This is not how I hoped things would work out.” I have huge respect for the body of director Anita Rochon’s work and for the skills of many of the other creatives on this team but, in my experience, this production of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t hold together.

That said, there are significant successes in the unwieldy mix, so let’s start with those. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a synopsis.)

Playing Juliet’s mom, Lady Capulet, Jennifer Lines brings her trademark warmth and emotional depth. As soon as this Lady Capulet steps onstage, you recognize her humanity, and soon you understand her complexity. The character starts off wary of forcing Juliet to marry too young, as she herself was married. But, when Juliet becomes defiant in her love for Romeo, whose family is feuding with the Capulets, Lady Capulet feels compelled to enforce the system that damaged her: in the most emotionally wrenching — and successful — scene in this production, Lady Capulet rages at Juliet, telling her that, if she doesn’t consent to marrying Paris, the suitor her family prefers, Juliet is no longer welcome in her home and can die in the street. In Lines’s characterization, there’s a horrible inevitability to all of this.

In the original script, this rage belongs to Juliet’s father, a character director Rochon has cut to good effect. [Read more…]

Dooja Ghar: the pleasures of a summer night

poster for Dooja Ghar, Monsoon Festival




















It was like a holiday.

A friend and I drove out to Langley to see Dooja Ghar, Paneet Singh and Andy Kalirai’s modern retelling of a seventeenth-century Punjabi love story. Driving through the farmland in the early summer evening was such a gentle, expansive experience it was like floating. The show, which is part of this year’s Monsoon Festival, is being staged in the cathedral-like loft of a barn. And it’s very good.

Set in Surrey, BC in the 90s, the Singh/Kalirai telling is about a young guy named Mirza who comes from India when he’s eleven to live with the family of a girl named Sahiban, who’s the same age. (Sahiban’s family owes Mirza’s a favour.) When they’re fourteen, they start falling for one another big time. Sahiban’s family regards them as siblings, however, and Mirza, it seems, is lower caste, so things don’t go smoothly.

Although the narrative trajectory is predictable, Singh and Kalirai always keep it engaging. Partly, they do that by respecting Sahiban’s conflict: she loves Mirza, but she also loves and needs her family.

And the playwrights offer all sorts of humour and other stylistic surprises. When Sahiban’s parents insist that she interview other potential husbands, the narrator drags male audience members onstage to be (gently) grilled. The evening is enlivened by pure movement: Nasiv Sall’s dance choreography and Sam Jeffery and PIP’s intimacy direction add joy and eroticism; Arash Khakpour’s fight choreography brings excitement [Read more…]

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