The Vancouver Fringe Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary and over the years the un-juried festival has traveled from Mount Pleasant to Commercial Drive to it’s current home on Granville Island. Although with so many satellite venues like the Firehall Arts Centre and Vancouver East Cultural Centre it might be time to just call it a city wide festival.
Over the years the one person show has become the standard, storytellers who weave tales with simple staging and grand imaginations. An offshoot of that is the autobiography play, what I call the ‘something interesting happened to me once’ or SIHTMO – a true experience(s) told by charismatic artists.
I find such joy and hope in creativity that I tend to go and see a lot of shows and I like to take people who have never been before. Sometimes they get inspired and sometime they are bored. As I said the festival is un-juried – anyone can do a show. The trick is finding the one that interests you. The prices are cheap so it’d not high financial risk.
This year there has been an embarrassment of riches. I have not seen any real clunkers. I have placed the shows in order of ones I think will stay with me for a long time after the festival is over.
The Greatest Monkey Show on Earth (Waterfront Theatre)
Ross Travis has created an odd show – part acrobatics, part audience participation, part clown and part social commentary. We are welcomed into a big top by an unseen voice that reassures us that everything will be okay. Then Charles the monkey comes out. The transformation that Mr. Travis is remarkable and he captures the stillness and alert quality of the primate expertly. The show features some amazing physical feats climbing up and down and pole and the audience participation bits were silly fun. As the monkey becomes less enthralled with his captivity the play takes a darker and macabre tone that is a bit of a shock yet still feels like it could go further. But the delightful nature of the clown makes this a highly memorable and giddy show.
Poor (Firehall Arts Centre)
New writer Suzanne Ristic has crafted a fantastic story of a upper class woman who decides it would be interesting to dress up like a homeless person and explore the V6A 1Y3 area of East Side Vancouver – the poorest postal code in Canada. There is an emptiness in her ‘provided for’ life and she hopes inspiration will strike. Her delight at being in a clinic between a man who throws up feces and a man with two broken hands is both very funny and naively cruel. When potential romance rears its head the adventure takes many twists that make it a thrilling ride that plunges into dark territory. The yearning for social justice in world out of balance is a strong backdrop from the wildly funny story. Lisa Bunting is a joy as our privileged homemaker and the direction by Jay Brazeau has many original delights. Poor is a wild tale with brilliant acting, directing, sound and setting.
Puss: Reboot (Studio 1398)
Puss: Reboot is an expertly executed production of a Twilight Zone episode! You got fantastic production values; setting, lights and soundscape with a cast of dynamic actors all recent grads from UBC. Xander Williams plays a futuristic revolutionary whose memory has been partially wiped. A cyborg cat woman (Sarah Harrison) has been delivered to help or hinder him. The versatile Andrew Lynch plays three different characters including a weasely and dangerous brother who may be saving or dooming the world. It’s a fun short adventure with dynamic and fluid acting. A perfect little Fringe show.
Magic Unicorn Island (Arts Club Revue Stage)*
Jayson MacDonald is an amazing actor and storyteller who creates myths and parable wrapped in whimsy and imagination. His viewpoint is dark (or some would say realistic) but the presentation is so playful that it sneaks up on you. Like his past Fringe his Giant Invisible Robot he a so adept at playing kids that you lose track that it is an actor. The play starts off with a sunglass wearing God creating the world and then we jump to a not to distant future. The world is in distress, bees are dying and resources are being plundered. The children of earth have had enough so they have banded together and moved to a small island. The world governments are in a tizzy and tense negotiations are started to get the children to return. It’s absurd and thrilling and powerful. Bravo.
INDUSTRY: The Food Must Go Out (Edible Canada)*
Site-specific shows are a fun part of the Vancouver Fringe and when the site matches the story and is told with the right caliber of talent the result can be quite thrilling. This show is a perfect little Fringe show that deals with that harsh truth; brilliant actors often have to work in the food service industry. Pippa Mackie, Lauren Jackson and Nik Bunting with special guest appearance by Emmelia Gordon as “the Hangover” are some of the funniest actors in the city! Some of them work at Edible Canada and they do their show – a series of fast paced and very funny sketches late night after closing. Toss in few heartfelt moments and you get a delightful romp that makes you giggle like a fool.
Stroke of Luck (Havana)
Jacques LaLonde is a Fringe Life Time Achievement award winner and a dynamic and funny man! He is a teacher and actor and more recently a victim of a stroke. He takes us through his entire often hilarious as well as scary experience with openhearted honesty. The show has a makeshift and haphazard quality but is undeniable sweet with many huge laugh-out-loud moments. Mr. Lalonde takes us through the often embarrassing and frustrating moments of his rehabilitation with a smile but you get how scary and hard it was and continues to be. The fragility of life in someone so full of it makes this a compelling show.
…didn’t see that coming (Performance Works)
Beverly Elliott is one of the warmest and sunny performers. An accomplished actress and singer she explores her adventures in dating, getting older and celebrates her middle age body. In-between comedic stories staged by Kerry Sandomirsky she belts out songs accompanied by Bill Costin. Although funny and sometimes moving the stories are also a little random as they jump around the time line, and don’t culminate into any major theme. But the almost sold out crowd and I roared our approval and leapt to our feet in thanks for such and entertaining show.
A Mind Full of Dopamine (Performance Works)*
Rory Ledbetter is an award-winning storyteller who plays a mean harmonica. He also is a man who became addicted to the high of gambling. He tells the tale of his experiences with passion and dynamic energy which he intercuts with tunes from the harmonica. It is presented in an otherwise straight forward way and as he descends into his addiction we can start to assume that he comes out reasonably okay because he is here telling us the tale.
Ludwig and Lohengrin (Arts Club Revue Stage)
Want to know some things about the “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria? Then the uber charming Kyle Rakoz has a show for you. Playing a variety of characters from modern day and historical – he was king from 1864 to 1886 – the show touches on things like his alleged affair with composer Richard Wagner and his sham marriage. The staging is wonderful done with a sheet and flashlights and Mr. Rakoz has grand fun playing all the characters but the modern language makes it confusing at times and the show dazzles more than it involves. We greatly admire but don’t really get moved by the story of a man unjustly dethroned and then brutally murdered. But it is personable and fascinating.
Cannibal The Musical
I love Awkward Stage Productions; they are great producing company and important springboard for young talent. They are also the only company that gets taller every year. However the best thing about this early script by a young Trey Parker is the title. The jokes mostly rely on coarse language punch lines, the plot meanders and songs are unmemorable. The subterfuge and pointed crassness of South Park is a long way off. Thank goodness the production values are great and the cast is brilliant. Highlights for me are the always-wonderful Chris Lam, Hana Decolongon as a unintelligible southerner and the golden throated Chelsea Rose Tucker. Fans of the company will love the talent on display and indeed the audience the night I attended gave it a standing ovation.
*originally published in Vancouver Presents.com