Monthly Archives: August 2015

More good plays

Assassins (the Sondheim musical) was the first musical I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.  With a cast of ten and a musical ensemble, it’s well placed in the Westbury.  It’s a series of vignettes about everyone who assassinated or tried to assassinate a US president.  As I wasn’t familiar with many of the stories and I didn’t get a program until afterwards, I probably missed the ones in the middle – I remembered about John Wilkes Booth (Jacob Holloway), John Hinckley (Maxwell Lebeuf), and Squeaky Fromme (Emma Houghton, with Nancy Macalear as her collaborator Sara Jane Moore), and partway through I started wondering whether I’d missed the part about Lee Harvey Oswald killing President Kennedy – but that was the climax which came near the end, since I guess it’s the most memorable one for a lot of living Americans too.  Scott Shpeley, who had been playing with the musical ensemble, also turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald.  Chris W Cook, Jeff Page, Rory Turner, and Billy Brown played other assassins I wasn’t familiar with, and Dan Rowley, and Larissa Pohoreski other characters in the ensemble.

Typhoon Judy was also a performance focused on music, with Christopher Peterson playing an aging Judy Garland, in song, in reminiscence, in flirtation with accompanist (Nick Samoil), and in four fabulous costumes.  The portrayal was credible and touching.

MAN UP! was a wonderful dance show with social commentary.  It’s being held over at the Westbury next weekend, so you have a couple more chances to see it.  Four male performers dance in high heels, powerfully, poetically, and conveying a range of emotions.  Some pieces include all four (Gregory P Caswell, Joshua Wolchansky, Jordan Sabo, CJ Rowein) and some have smaller groups or solos.  Rowein and Wolchansky’s love duet was particularly moving, as well as Wolchansky’s barefoot solo on the side stage.  Monologues and video clips provide context and discussion-starters about the limitations of conventional gender expectations (as well as allowing time for costume changes).  I was fascinated to realize afterwards that the performance had been lacking the personal flirtation aspect of burlesque dancing.

Every Fringe I see Rocket Sugar Factory, the improv duo of Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby, because they are so much fun to watch.  Along with their local accompanist Jan Randall, they are masters of crafting long-form stories and playing them out with delightful characterizations.  This year their show involves creating the pilot episode for a new television show, and the one they created in front of me, Mister Jules Verne, was something I would watch if it existed.  I love the way these two switch characters seamlessly, borrowing mannerisms and language habits, and I’m also a fan of Jim Libby’s near-corpsing, letting his delight in the game show through the characters he’s embodying.  (One of the 2 For Tea performers, James, does this as well.)

I also made time to see a new comedy, Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests, written by University of Alberta acting student Jessy Ardern.  Take the premise of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – the older couple full of malice entertaining a couple of starry-eyed naive newlyweds, and wield them as weapons in their battles with each other – and make it funny instead of horrible – and that’s the start of Harold and Vivian.  David Feehan and Kristen Padayas play the eponymous hosts, and Rebecca Ann Merkley and Eric Smith play Janet and Mike, the young couple who arrive with over-the-top optimism and PDA and gradually crack into full-on hostility as well.  Corben Kushneryk (also seen this Fringe in Who am I?…) is credited as director and designer, so he must be responsible for the delightful set conveying the reality of a starkly divided household before the show even starts.  I was especially taken with Padayas’s portrayal, the perfect pink bouffant homemaker with twitches of panic and surges of rage.   Eric Smith’s brand of pomposity and pratfall may also be seen in Death Comes to Auntie Norma (one more show, Sunday 8 pm).



Two solos and two physical duos

Mike Delamont’s Mama’s Boy was a great example of autobiographical storytelling.  He has a good natural delivery and the comic timing which enhances Scottish Drag Queen helps this kind of narrative as well.  It was a loving, respectful, realistic, painful story about growing up with an alcoholic.

James and Jamesy’s 2 for Tea was a delight.  I’d missed this playful British duo last year and now I can see why everyone was talking about them.

Beau and Aero was another physical-theatre escape, very well paced so that one turn or game led directly to the next one.  They had particularly creative explorations of balloons, and some impressive acrobatic stunts.

Both 2 For Tea and Beau and Aero incorporated some audience interaction, and they chose people who participated with initiative and humour, especially the young girl who played a cardiologist and gave her thoughts on life in 2 For Tea, and the man who bopped them with balloons in Beau and Aero.

The other solo performance I saw yesterday was Naked Ladies, by Thea Fitz-James.  After the show, the performer acknowledged that a lot of intense material had been touched on, and invited audience members who had responses to connect with her later.  I appreciated the invitation to process – it reminded me of the similar invitation at the end of a performance in a funeral home a couple of years ago, acknowledging discomfort and giving people a chance not to be alone with their thoughts.   I didn’t have anything to say at the time, and I’m not sure I do yet.  The performance jumped around to different moods and concepts, and the performer kept reminding us that all stories are edited, all memories curated.  The parts that made me most uncomfortable – and I mean that in a good way – were the parts where she was reading from her childhood diary about trying not to masturbate.  That bothered me in ways that seeing the performer naked didn’t.

An 18+ Monday night

Last night I saw two burlesque shows and went to the Late Night Cabaret.  I guess there are some themes there.

O Manada had five dancers (all male) performing as various Canadian archetypes, in solos and larger ensemble pieces, and the hosts were a 1975-era Pierre and Maggie Trudeau.  I have misplaced my program, so I can’t tell you who the rest of this Toronto-based troupe are, but Maggie Trudeau was Morgan Norwich.  The show was fast-paced and full of topical humour leading up to a hilarious speculation that followed naturally from the premise of the show.  The performers engaged some audience members (thank you!) and were a lot of fun to watch.

Burlesque-Prov is hosted by local improviser Lee Boyes.  He introduced the two regulars of the show, Kiki Quinn (who is also in Second Breakfast Club) and LeTabby Lexington (who is also in Die-Nasty this Fringe), along with tonight’s guest performers, one called Fiona who was from out of town, and one from Man Up (his name in that show is Tres Debonair but I think he was introduced last night as Givenchy or something like that).  Kristen Welker was stage kitten in a catsuit complete with claws.  Each performer did a solo act to music selected by the audience, with some kind of theme or limitation also provided randomly.  They also had a box of props to use as they chose. I don’t have the background to know how hard this is, but it was also fun to watch.  The show ended with all performers on stage alternating short bits with high energy.

Late Night Cabaret, hosted by Amy Shostak and Julian Faid, included some sketch comedy from Hip Bang, a story from Martin Dockery, a glimpse of Release the McCrackin, another burlesque performer (C.R. Avery, who is in Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It), and some risque country songs from Shirley Gnome.

What with visiting friends in the beer tent in between shows, I almost didn’t put my ID away all evening.  And that’s not a complaint.

Fringe Sunday

Mild weather made it comfortable everywhere on site yesterday, from C103 to the beer tents.  I saw four shows for the first time, as well as working backstage at Death Comes to Auntie Norma and seeing Pinniped and Other Poems a second time.  Death Comes to Auntie Norma plays this afternoon (Monday) at 4 pm, Wednesday at 12:15, Thursday at 2:15, and closing Sunday at 8:00 pm.  The Edmonton Journal gave us 4 stars and the compliment of comparisons with classic 1980s sitcoms like Roseanne and Golden Girls.

I appreciated more of the subtle description and lyricism in Pinniped more the second time through.  Skye Hindman’s writing is epigrammatic, the erstwhile love interest (Alex Dawkins) is wry and controlled, and the three actors playing the ineffectual protagonist (Emily Howard, Connor Suart, Jake Tkaczyk) have intriguingly similar mannerisms.  Suart seems to be portraying JR Morse in the past, Tkaczyk in the present, and Howard … I’m not sure if her persona is a future one, a dream one, or simply another aspect of Morse’s self.

My favourite show so far this Fringe is Kiss Around Pass Around, a delightful solo physical theatre piece by Yanomi.  Unlike in some of the wonderful physical theatre pieces I’ve seen in the past, like Loon and 7 Ways to Die, the character in this show does speak, engaging with the audience in simple accented English to enhance the impression of being juvenile and alien “Are you human?  Are you kind?”  Music and props add to the magic of the character’s journey to find her father.

Deadmonton was written by Andy Garland and directed by David Johnston, and it is very different from the last work I’d seen from this team, the tongue-in-cheek film-noir pastiche And Then, The Lights Went Out. Deadmonton is a serious portrait of what might happen when two serial killers encounter each other, as well as a look at credible backgrounds for people who are compelled to kill.  Carmen Nieuwenhuis and Alex Forsyth are both disturbingly convincing, and the props and effects are simple enough not to pull me out of the story.  There was one supremely disturbing moment when I was excruciatingly aware of a weapon being close to hand for Gil, Forsyth’s character, willing desperately for him not to use it in that particular situation, despite the spoken text not even mentioning that possibility – which is when I realized that the story had sucked me in completely to their horrifyingly twisted reality.

Who Am I:  Unauthorized stories from the Varscona Parkade was a typical Toy Guns Dance Theatre show, unpredictable, playful, funny, and full of unlikely props.  The unusual venue – the top floor of the parking garage beside the Varscona Hotel – meant that they did less floor work than usual and there were fewer classical-dance elements, but they made very creative use of several couches.

No Belles is a storytelling show from Portland Oregon in which performers use a variety of speaking styles to tell the stories of eight women scientists, women who won Nobel prizes and women who didn’t.  The narrative style and content were something between a very good lecture (like a TED talk) and a typical Fringe storytelling, but I was riveted the whole time, and brought to tears twice.

Second post from the Fringe

Since I last wrote, I’ve had a Fat Franks dog, a New Asian Village butter chicken plate, a Rustixx California pizza, and a Rock Creek pear cider, so my eating-and-drinking festival experience is well under way.

I’ve also seen five more shows and done some volunteer shifts, been rained on, been too hot, and been too cold.

Seven – a dance show by a group from Victoria BC, with seven dances loosely representing the seven stages of grief. I particularly enjoyed the rhythmical unison parts of the dance, and the effect of having several helium balloons taped to the floor and lit.

God is a Scottish Drag Queen III – Mike Delamont’s latest show was exactly what I expected, and funnier than last year’s show.

Come and Go – This puppet story was set late in the age of vaudeville, and the main characters were a couple of vaudeville performers, Jim and Mabel, who disagreed about what to do next with their lives – settle down conventionally or head to Hollywood via work in burlesque.  The story had historical resonance but also touched on some familiar themes in male-female relationships.  “But what would I do there?”  “You’d be my wife”  “… and then I’d kill myself”  “With what?” Ianna Ings and Sophia Burak wrote the script and were joined in performing by Matt Newman.  Scenes with Jim and Mabel were interspersed with vaudeville-performance numbers – a singer, a dancer, a cat playing drinking-glass chimes (my favourite!) and dogs doing tricks.   Jim and Mabel also do a vaudeville-team comic routine which the writers credited to George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Subway Stations of the Cross – Ins Choi, the Toronto playwright of Kim’s Convenience, performs a solo show which starts out as a conversational narrative, explaining the different forms of his name that he’s used over the years and discussing how his family is full of preachers and his mother had hoped that would be his destiny as well.  It gradually shifted into a less realistic and more poetic mode, interpreting encounters he had on subway platforms with mythical import and Christian symbolism.  I appreciated both styles.

Tangled Up in Blue – This short (45-minute) two-hander was delightful and subtle, a contemporary glimpse of long-time friends (Spencer Jewer and Katie Fournell) and the repercussions of a brush with romantic connection.  I appreciated the playwright’s choice not to conclude predictably, and I found both characters very believable.  It reminded me a bit of last year’s Letters to Laura.

Fringe takes off

I guess I’ve been estivating along with the blog, so I haven’t had any Fringe previews.  Fortunately, other bloggers and reviewers have given me lots of suggestions, which I’ve used along with the program book (better than the Christmas catalogues from Sears and Eatons when we were kids!) to buy my first tickets.  If you’re just starting to look at what’s out there, I recommend the following pre-festival resources.

I’ve been busy working on Death Comes to Auntie Norma, which opens in the Westbury tomorrow (Saturday) evening and isn’t sold out yet.  It’s a satirical look at the dark side of the American dream, written by Zach Siezmagraff.

Last night as the grounds filled up with festivalgoers and handbilling artists and food and music and happy buzz, I caught two shows.

Second Breakfast Club, from the River City Revue burlesque troupe, was a thoroughly enjoyable burlesque show threaded along the premises of Lord of the Rings characters/archetypes in the scenario of the Breakfast Club 1980s movie about mismatched kids stuck in Saturday detention – a rebellious hobbit, an archery jock, a teacher-pleasing elf, a princess, a bearded dwarf headmaster, and a … what is Gollum anyway?  It also slipped in tongue-in-cheek nods to Harry Potter, Star Wars, and other fictional universes along the way.  Kiki Quinn is credited as playwright and performer, with Lilly Whyte, Lady de Winter, Lucie Lemay, Forbsie Flare, and Beau Creep also performing.

Pinniped and Other Poems, an evocative lyrical musing by Skye Hindeman, is playing at C103.  I saw a version of this show at Nextfest, but here at the Fringe it’s tighter, more coherent, and more visually interesting, with some fascinating stage business.  U of Alberta drama students Alexandra Dawkins, Emily Howard, Connor Suart, and Jake Tkaczyk perform, Vik Chu contributes an original score playing a piano and a violin not always in conventional ways, and Phillip Geller directs.

Today I’ll be serving customers in the South beer tent, and then seeing at least three shows.  It’s going to be cloudy and not too hot today, and it is Fringe and it will be wonderful.  Hope to see you there!

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