SELF-ISH

> Colin Thomas

When you unwrap Self-ish, there’s a gift waiting for you, but you’ve got to paw your way through a lot of packing material to get to it.

In this monologue, playwright Kuan Foo introduces us to a 35-year-old Korean-Canadian woman named Esther. She’s buttoned-down—“We are not a huggy family”—but bursting with feeling.

The script takes too long to find its subject, which is Esther’s grief over the death of her father. And, even when the play taps into that material, it keeps going off on tangents—about Esther’s too-cartoonish, praying mantis-like boss, for instance. Dawn Millman’s direction adds to the distraction: some of the things she has performer Diana Bang do with packing boxes are clever, but there’s far too much manipulation of these props.

Still, the heart of the show is a killer—thanks largely to Bang’s witty and transparent performance. Emotions pass over her like weather. She’s a star.

Remaining performances at the Revue Stage on September 12 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 15 (2:15 p.m.) 

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NO BELLES

> Colin Thomas

No Belles may not be formally ambitious, but it is very well crafted—like a nicely cobbled shoe or a beautifully bound book.

With a feminist spin, three actors tell the story of eight female scientists. All of these researchers had to deal with institutional sexism, which limited their incomes and fuelled condescension. Rosalind Franklin made a significant contribution to the understanding of DNA, for instance, but her colleague James D. Watson dismissed her as a bluestocking and said she’d be prettier without her glasses. She never wore any.

Basically, the performers stand and deliver—or sit and deliver—their information. But there are effective twists. The material about Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who identified HIV, is repeatedly punctuated by a quiet refrain from a dying man: “Thank you. Not for me. For the others.”

Ultimately, in the text and the openhearted performances, it’s the stoicism and altruism of the scientists that comes through. And that’s what brought tears to my eyes. 

Remaining performances at the False Creek Gym on September 13 (6:40 p.m.), 15 (5:15 p.m.), and 16 (2:45 p.m.) 

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MEL MALARKEY GETS THE BUM’S RUSH

> David Johnston *

Meet Mel Malarkey, Depression-era vaudevillian. They’re hosting one final show before the theatre is sold. Mel is delightful, but a little exhausting. Mel plays the musical saw! Mel feuds with donkeys! Mel recites love odes to an elephant woman! Mel screams! A lot!

Also, Mel has an invisible coatrack in their dressing room. Between sets, Mel repeatedly attempts to hang elaborate costumes, only to have every element fall into a heap.

Some metaphors are just too obvious.

And yet… I laughed at the invisible coatrack. And the screaming. And the odes are unexpectedly affecting. The productionis a glorified disaster, but it revels in its excess.

Perhaps even more variety in this variety show would help. Maybe fewer spoken word routines? There are many. Still, star Charlie Petch is so winning and aggressively joyful that, ultimately, Mel Malarkey feels like a triumph, even as everything falls to pieces.

Remaining performances at Performance Works on September 13 (5 p.m.), and 15 (4:35 p.m.) > David Johnston

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* This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

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THE BRIDGE

> David Johnston *

A man and woman trek eastwards across America. The apocalypse has happened. Or the rapture. Or a plague. Doesn’t matter. Point is, they’re alone, and they’re in search of a surviving colony somewhere near San Francisco’s famous bridge—assuming they make it that far.

Don’t come expecting logical consistency. Apparently, the apocalypse—or whatever—wiped out all books and music players (they have one digital recorder loaded with a single narratively convenient song) but left the countryside balmy enough to be traversed by two shorts-clad non-hikers.

Still, this two-hander is intermittently charming, if occasionally overacted. The central relationship is prickly and well-considered. Little fragments grab the spotlight: his frustration at half-remembered song lyrics, their wordless grief after consuming what might be the last peaches on Earth, a tender moment in which they attempt to learn to dance.

There’s promise here, but The Bridge is crossing over well-worn territory. And, ultimately, the story isn’t quite interesting enough to make the trip worthwhile.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 11 (7:45 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 15 (1:10 p.m.), 16 (8:15 p.m.) 

Tickets

This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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GOSSAMER OBSESSIONS

> Sarvin Esmaeili *

Watching Gossamer Obsessions, I spent half my time laughing and half my time trying to figure out why I was laughing.

This sketch comedy opens with two British-accented narrators (Amy Shostak and Paul Bilnov) who introduce us to the world of the Ouija board, roommates who live in different realities, an unusual spat between a daughter and father, and more.

The success of their absurd sketches depends on how surprising the journey is. A piece about Alaskan King Crabs starts with Shostak crying, “I need a divorce. You put a crab in my butt!” but it ends happily with the couple dancing as crabs. The man and woman discover something about their relationship. On the other hand, during a supposedly terrifying staff meeting, the characters stand around for five minutes as they introduce us to the ancient pastime of frog gambling. The end has the same mood as the beginning.  Nothing changes.

Gossamer Obsessions is an experimental sketch comedy. For me, the experiment proves that sketches work best when they involve discovery.

Remaining performances at Revue Stage on September 11 (9:30 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), and 15 (4 p.m.) 

Tickets

 

* This is a guest review.

Sarvin Esmaeili currently studies at Studio 58. She is a passionate 19-year-old theatre artist who cares a lot about diversity, inclusion and creating her own theatre and music. Sarvin is fluent in three languages: Farsi, English, and French. She loves reading, travelling, writing and going to the theatre. She is a co-playwright/performer of One of a Kind at the 2018 Vancouver International Children’s Festival and Doors of Choice and Identity at Vancouver Youth Theatre. She has done community theatre at Evergreen Cultural Center, Place des Arts and Pinetree Secondary’s Treehouse Theatre.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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TEN TIPS FOR A COLLAPSED UTERUS

We’ve all been there. You have a lovely, taut Fringe show, and then overnight—bam!—theatrical bloat strikes like a Mack truck.

Say you’re an actress named Colleen Brow. By your own admission, your storytelling comedy about motherhood has been gestating so long it’s now discussing middle age. En route, your once-supple production has sagged, gaining 20 minutes beyond the listed program time. Your show has literally prolapsed.

What’s a performer to do?

Consider chucking some of the staler material. Phone-obsessed hipsters? Complicated Starbucks orders? Is that run about Gwyneth Paltrow promoting steamed vaginas really necessary?

An overhead projector is an excellent performance-enhancing aid, but it demands precision. Perhaps streamline the slides to avoid so many technical hiccups.

After all, the innermost layers of your show are strong and hilarious, and the excellent features—such as a dry observational wit, a candid delivery, and a rockin’ tan pantsuit—will be better showcased if you tighten up the slack around the edges.

Remaining performances at Studio 16 on September 11 (5:25 p.m.), 15 (6:25 p.m.), and 16 (3:10 p.m.) > David Johnston

Tickets

 

This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

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ONE STEP AT A TIME

Three things to know about One Step At A Time:

1) If your show includes the exasperated voiceover “Oh boy. A whole hour of this,” then it’s vital to ensure what follows isn’t pedantic.

2) No aspect of this production is ready for the stage. Ostensibly a storytelling solo monologue, One Step At A Time is a humorless plod through one man’s childhood in Cleveland, his relationship with his mother, his perfunctory coming-out story, his time at a Thailand monastery—all delivered with minimal conflict and structure. James Melcher’s script is awkward, and his performance is detached and not fully memorized.

3) If your show includes a dramatic reading of the email you almost sent to your director trying to pull out of the Fringe over your fears that the show is “meaningless”, then it’s vital to…find meaning. Like, any meaning. Even a little.

Remaining performances at Studio 1398 on September 9 (2:30 p.m.), 12 (9:30 p.m.), 14 (5 p.m.), 15 (4:45 p.m.) > David Johnston

Tickets

This is a guest review.

David Johnston is a Vancouver-based actor, aerialist, and writer, not in that order. He recently hailed from the Edmonton Fringe, where he saw many excellent shows and also ate a green onion cake. The green onion cake got three-and-a-half stars. David is a recent graduate of Studio 58, and is currently writing a script about reviews, so this should be a rather meta experience. He’s delighted to join FRESH SHEET for the Vancouver Fringe.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

RUBY ROCKET RETURNS!

Taking in Ruby Rocket Returns! is a pleasantly giddy experience—like binge-watching goofy reruns on a rainy afternoon.

Portland theatre artist Stacey Hallal plays Ruby Rocket, the private dick at the centre of this improvised film noir parody. For every show, Hallal invites a different trio of local improvisers to join her. That’s unbelievably risky. At the performance I attended, it mostly paid off.

Hallal scores some wittily Chandler-esque lines: “The streets looked like they’d been cryin’ all day”; “We haven’t even begun to make the memories we’ll eventually drink to forget.”

The noir pacing can feel sluggish at times, but the production elements—including moody piano accompaniment and black-and-white “movie” projections of the stage action—are cool. And Hallal’s presence—her sharp skills and loose playfulness—set an amiable tone.

Bonus: Ruby Rocketis very queer-friendly.

Remaining performances at the Waterfront Theatre on September 10 (8:10 p.m.), 11 (9 p.m.), 14 (8:55 p.m.), and 15 (2:40 p.m.) > Colin Thomas

 Tickets

 

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And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

VAMPIRES IN BARCELONA

(Photo by Christine Quintana)

When he was 22, Brian Cochrane went to Barcelona. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give us much of a reason to care that he went to Barcelona when he was 22.

In this solo show, Cochrane tells us about meeting a magician who encouraged him to go to a vampire bar. He went. But his tale is never spooky or particularly interesting.

Cochrane threads his script with ideas about the unreliability of our perceptions, especially those concerning memory, love, and fear. But I’m not so suggestible that I ever believed he was in danger. And, even though they’re rhythmically presented, the many details about what he ate, where he walked, and when he smoked are not riveting.

Vampires in Barcelona is partly a portrait of naiveté, of course, and we get to see some charming slides of Cochrane sporting an unlikely set of feathered bangs.

You could not ask for a more amiable, confident presence in a performer. Really. He’s great onstage. But you could ask for a better story.

Remaining performances at the Arts Umbrella on September 10 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (10 p.m.), 13 (6:15 p.m.), 14 (8:15 p.m.), and 15 (10 p.m.) > Colin Thomas

Tickets

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

FIX

Performed in Railspur Alley, FIX takes us on a site-specific and interactive journey through addiction—to drugs, smoking, food, even power. It’s also a personal journey: members of the Elegant Ladies Collective share their own stories.

The cast includes a variety of strong writers who use physical metaphors to give us a better understanding of addiction. The image of Ainslie Glass standing on a seesaw, fighting to balance her life as a drug addict, sticks with me.

However, as actors, I found most of the writers/performers more sentimental than truly vulnerable. Dealing with a drug addict mom, I felt like Mercedes Deutscher was forcing herself to be upset, for instance.

On the positive side, Linda Lawson speaks from her heart when talking about her addiction to sleeping pills.

If FIX is going to be performed again, director Leslie Stark could strengthen the show by supporting more in-depth acting.

Remaining performances at Railspur Alley on September 8 (7 p.m.), 10 (7 p.m.), 13 (7 p.m.), 14 (7 p.m.), and 15 (7 p.m.) > Sarvin Esmaeili

Tickets

This is a guest review.

theatre artist who cares a lot about diversity, inclusion and creating her own theatre and music. Sarvin is fluent in three languages: Farsi, English, and French. She loves reading, travelling, writing and going to the theatre. She is a co-playwright/performer of One of a Kind at the 2018 Vancouver International Children’s Festival and Doors of Choice and Identity at Vancouver Youth Theatre. She has done community theatre at Evergreen Cultural Center, Place des Arts and Pinetree Secondary’s Treehouse Theatre.

 

Sign up—free!—for Colin Thomas’s FRESH SHEET and get daily reviews for the first week of the Vancouver Fringe.  

And, if you want to support informed, independent criticism—you know you do—check out Colin’s Patreon campaign.

……….

 

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