A mixed catch of plays at the Walking Fish Festival

Walking Fish Festival

Programs B and C. Written and directed by various artists. At the Waterfront Theatre on Friday, May 30. No remaining performances

I saw seven of the 11 short works at the Walking Fish Festival. One was beautiful. Others had moments. A couple sucked.

Part of the point of Walking Fish is to showcase emerging artists, but New York playwright Deb Victoroff’s Letter From a Soldier: My Name Is Aslam is an accomplished work. The conceit of this monologue is that a grunt in Iraq is writing home to his girlfriend. The guy is complex. He tries not to see Iraqis as human, and his language is casually racist: “rag head”, “camel jockey”. Then he meets a boy named Ishrat, whom he nicknames Izzy. He explains that at first he didn’t want to write Ishrat down because “I thought if I put his name on paper, I’d be making him real.” But he can’t help but notice that, unlike their foreign-looking parents, “The kids just all look like kids.” His reserve melts.

The outline of Victoroff’s story is predictable—we know this can’t end well—but there’s surprise and enormous humanity in the details. In an eccentric first meeting with Izzy’s mother, the soldier realizes that it would be socially unacceptable for him to shake her hand, so he salutes, then bows. Soon, everybody in the market is doing the same.

UBC grad Evan Frayne, who plays the grunt, is an actor to watch. He is able to convey masculinity and vulnerability without apologizing for either, which is an excellent trick.

In Studio 58 student Ella Simon’s Spunk’d, a young woman plots revenge on her boyfriend after he dumps her. There’s audacious humour here—the girl ends up having sex and falling in love with her ex’s prize bull—but the play’s opening movement is unfocused.

The Lost Sole, by Vancouver’s Lost and Found Puppet Company, has the opposite problem: it opens well, then trails off. In the best scene, sock characters are getting tossed around in a dryer. When one member of a pair is killed by a hot toonie, the mourning survivor covers her body with a dryer sheet. That’s great. What I didn’t need was the drawn-out lesson regarding existential acceptance.

Ladies Night, by brothers Jeff and Ryan Gladstone, is pretty much just a bunch of dink jokes. I’m not offended by penises or sex. It’s the mindlessness that got to me.