A sneak peek at what to binge on at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival

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      The general public sees the arts a little differently than the Liberals in the legislature do. At 22,248 people, the attendance at this year’s Victoria Fringe Festival, which ran August 27 to September 6, was the highest ever. The previous record, set last year, was 15,200. But on the first day of the Victoria Fringe, Intrepid Theatre, which produces the event, lost $35,000 in gaming funding. And because that wasn’t based on a multiyear commitment, it wasn’t restored when the provincial government made a hasty retreat from some of its cuts on September 9.

      Despite this slap in the face, the festival was an artistic as well as popular success. The Straight saw the following shows in Victoria that will also play the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. The first six are all recommended. The top three are highly recommended.

      Uncalled For Presents: Today Is All Your Birthdays
      A particle accelerator figures prominently in this show, and it’s an apt metaphor for Montreal troupe Uncalled For’s boldly experimental approach to comedy. They smash ideas together and see what happens. Watching Today is a wild and deliciously stimulating ride: themes (birth, aging, space and time travel, evolution, and minimalism, to name just a few) and characters (newlyweds, joggers, astronauts, a hypnotist and his client, doctors and fathers) appear and reappear in surprising and satisfying ways. Clad in plain grey coveralls, performers Anders Yates and Dan Jeannotte share an absurdist sensibility, plus the physical chops and snap-timing to bring it vividly to life. Don’t miss this one. At Performance Works on September 10 (8:45 p.m.), 12 (1 p.m.), 13 (10:50 p.m.), 17 (6:50 p.m.), 19 (6:10 p.m.), and 20 (2 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      The Accident
      Jonno Katz takes nerdiness to the level of virtuosity. In his latest solo, The Accident, Katz introduces us to Australian brothers Roy and Sebastien, as well as Roy’s wife Emily. Katz’s characters and their story are so eccentric that they could seem random. Don’t be fooled; they’re beautifully crafted. Sebastien works as a mime, but he wants to be a conceptual artist and he asks Roy to help him build a machine called the Shitter. As he tells the story of how his characters bully, accuse, seduce, and love one another, Katz dances like a sugar-crazed five-year-old and creates hilarious moments of physical comedy. But the best thing is the way that he uses silence, stuffing ordinary pauses full of complexity. At the Waterfront Theatre on September 10 (5 p.m.), 13 (6:55 p.m.), 15 (7:45 p.m.), 16 (5 p.m.), 19 (9:25 p.m.), and 20 (5:10 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      The Power Of Ignorance
      Breathe deep and say “duh”. With the help of Vaguen, a slickly charming motivational speaker, you’ll learn a series of “tetch-niques” for unlocking the power of your own ignorance. Performer Chris Gibbs (who cowrote the show with TJ Dawe) continually injects doses of childlike silliness into his sophisticated satire. The writing is fantastic, and Gibbs’s physical comedy is so precise, so subtle, and so hilarious that you don’t dare take your eyes off him for a second; he’ll have you howling at the tiniest hand gesture. Late in the show, we veer off into weird and not entirely necessary backstory, but it doesn’t detract from a consistently enthralling and outrageously funny show. At Performance Works on September 10 (5 p.m.), 12 (8:15 p.m.), 15 (5:15 p.m.), 17 (10:45 p.m.), 18 (6:45 p.m.), and 20 (7:25 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops
      English poet Jem Rolls is the real thing: a veteran Fringe performer who consistently delivers the goods. This time around, he shares some of his favourite material from six years of touring. Rolls’s politics aren’t subtle and he’s not big on emotional nuance, but that’s okay, because what he really has for sale is his considerable wit, his dizzy love of language, and the giddy force of his bellowing delivery. Brace yourself for epics such as “We Broke Up Because the Sex Was Too Good.” At the Waterfront Theatre on September 11 (10:45 p.m.), 12 (4:50 p.m.), 13 (1 p.m.), 16 (6:45 p.m.), 18 (5 p.m.), and 19 (7:30 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      The Seven Lives Of Louis Riel
      Ryan Gladstone promises us that by the end of this solo show, we’ll know less about Louis Riel than we did at the beginning. Maybe, because fact and fiction are liberally mixed in Gladstone’s seven mini-plays, each of which adopts a different theatrical style to examine a particular angle on Riel’s life. A western celebrates Riel the Outlaw; a noirish detective film depicts Riel the Traitor; and a puppet show—featuring a white-bearded muppet God—investigates Riel the Martyr. Gladstone nails the style of each piece with minimal props, relying instead on suggestion (he simply says “tumbleweeds” in the western) and a crack sound design. His acting is on the broad side, but he makes up for it with his candour and generosity in answering questions from the audience between episodes. The hour flies by. At Havana Theatre on September 10 (7:15 p.m.), 11 (10 p.m.), 12 (9:30 p.m.), 13 (5:30 p.m.), 15 (9 p.m.), 16 (9 p.m.), 17 (9 p.m.), and 18 (6:30 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      Grandpa Sol And Grandma Rosie
      In this solo show, Australian creator Lana Schwarcz plays a nurse named Jackie who confronts her fear of aging by taking a job in an old folks home. The life-size, legless puppets that Schwarcz uses for her elderly characters are touchingly beautiful objects. There’s joy in the way Schwarcz captures the repetitious yet vigorous rhythms of geriatric speech. And this play develops a pleasingly multilayered texture that includes a surreal bingo game and nostalgic memories that are presented with shadow puppets. Jackie’s goal remains abstract, so her story isn’t as tight as it could be. But Schwarcz is a charming performer and her show’s heart is wide open—which makes it a gift. At the Waterfront Theatre on September 10 (6:45 p.m.), 12 (8:40 p.m.), 15 (5:15 p.m.), 17 (10:45 p.m.), 18 (6:45 p.m.), and 20 (1:30 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      Oh Winnipeg! A Surprising Musical Memoir
      John Pippus didn’t exactly grow up in a musical family, but his grandfather liked to sing hymns and his great-aunt Edie was a music-hall performer in London. Most fateful was his mother’s decision to buy John a guitar when he was 12. Pippus walks us through his youth and its defining moments—watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, learning to play blues harmonica while hitchhiking—in this warm and tuneful production. Pippus’s acting skills don’t quite match his musical chops, but he’s an openhearted and engaging performer, and director Rachel Scott adds a strong visual complement to his storytelling with beautifully integrated projections. At Havana Theatre on September 11 (8:15 p.m.), 12 (6 p.m.), 13 (9 p.m.), 14 (7:15 p.m.), 16 (7:15 p.m.), 17 (7:15 p.m.), 18 (8:15 p.m.), and 19 (8:45 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      Lavignia: A Modern Fairy Tale Of Gigantic Proportions
      Lavignia is eight-foot-three and 380 pounds. She is also eight years old and wants to be a ballerina. When the kids at ballet school snub her, Lavignia retreats into an imaginary world where she learns to dance her own dance. The tale is sometimes charming, but the thematic territory of individuality and exclusion is well trod. On an adult level, this show works best when it subverts the innocence of the genre—when Lavignia accidentally neuters the cat with the lawn mowers she’s wearing on her feet, for instance. Mostly, though, Lavignia does not surprise. Writer and solo performer Tara Travis has a good time with the kids in the crowd—and that’s who this performance is really for. At Arts Umbrella on September 11 (7 p.m.), 12 (9 p.m.), 13 (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.), 18 (9 p.m.), 19 (7 p.m.), 20 (1 p.m. and 7 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      As you’ve probably guessed from the title, this show combines cabaret and burlesque. Elements of the performance work. The three entertainers who do most of the singing—Darla Biccum, Leora Joy Godden, and Jeffrey Pufahl—raise the roof in numbers such as “Port of Amsterdam”. Biccum, who plays a character called SugarPuss, has particularly good comic timing, and Sharon Nowlan does a swell fan dance. But the moodiness of the traditional cabaret songs doesn’t sit well with the sassiness of new burlesque. Pufahl has created stories in an attempt to tie it all together, but none of them is substantial or clever enough to give this show a satisfying shape. Unfortunately, the racier aspects of the evening aren’t audacious or empowering enough to match the best of the new burlesque. It seems that the heart of this piece is in cabaret. If you go, relish this dark material. At Performance Works on September 11 (5 p.m.), 13 (8:40 p.m.), 14 (5:15 p.m.), 16 (10:30 p.m.), 17 (4:50 p.m.), and 18 (10:45 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      TransCanada ’69
      Colin Godbout charts a musical map of Canada that follows the Via Rail passenger train from Montreal to Vancouver circa 1969. The time and place are specific, but it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Godbout’s virtuosic classical/jazz guitar playing, as he offers reinterpretations of songs by Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, Lenny Breau, Neil Young, and others. This is a concert, not a play, but it’s a loving homage to homegrown talent and a way to hear the past with fresh ears. At Performance Works on September 11 (10:45 p.m.), 12 (4:35 p.m.), 13 (1 p.m.), 16 (7 p.m.), 18 (5 p.m.), and 19 (8:05 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      I suspect this collection of sketches about the world of video games will be more meaningful to diehard gamers than it was to me. The vignettes are playful and sometimes informative—various episodes of “Understanding Geeks” unlock the meaning of anagrams like DPS, PVP, and MMORPG, for instance—but the structure of the show feels random and vague. The performances are energetic, if not always intelligible, and the creators rarely transcend the baldly obvious (“When people let me down, I play video games”) in illuminating the gaming world’s allure. At Studio 16 on September 10 (10:15 p.m.), 12 (6 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 16 (8:30 p.m.), 18 (10 p.m.), and 20 (8:15 p.m.)
      > Kathleen Oliver

      The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over
      Is there a script doctor in the house? British writer and actor Gemma Wilcox’s physical performance is crisp, but her script doesn’t have enough structural strength to stand for an hour. In the first half, Wilcox shows us the bickering young couple Sandra and Mike, who get sage—and mostly predictable—relationship advice from Sandra’s Auntie Crystal and Uncle Tony: change what you can, accept the rest, perform oral sex occasionally. Essentially, the story ends. Then we jump forward 10 years. Wilcox impersonates the pets in the now-married couple’s household. Who cares? Whiny Sandra considers an affair with an old flame. Wilcox never meaningfully explores Sandra and Mike’s problems, so none of this matters. At the Waterfront Theatre on September 11 (6:45 p.m.), 12 (2:55 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 14 (9:35 p.m.), 17 (5 p.m.), and 18 (8:30 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      The Gospel Of John
      Verily, verily I say unto you, give this one a pass—unless you’re a devout Christian who just can’t wait to hear the Jesus story again. Solo English actor Garry Boon delivers a skilled performance and the stark simplicity of the staging is bold, but, if you’re not a believer, anthropological interest in the unadorned retelling of these myths will only hold your attention for so long. At the False Creek Gym on September 12 (10:25 p.m.), 13 (2 p.m.), 14 (7:30 p.m.), 17 (9:50 p.m.), 18 (4:15 p.m.), and 19 (8 p.m.)
      > Colin Thomas

      Post your Fringe Festival reviews in the comment space below.



      John Pippus

      Sep 10, 2009 at 1:55pm

      Thanks, Kathleen Oliver, for coming to my play and reviewing it. Looking forward to doing it for the 'home team' starting tomorrow (Friday) night on the Drive.
      My two favs that I saw in Victoria are LAVIGNIA and THE POWER OF IGNORANCE. Looking forward to seeing more during the Vancouver run. See you in the line-ups. (I'll be the one with the sparkler and the harmonica).