Author Archives: Ephemeral Pleasures

The 39 Steps at Walterdale

Bradley Bishop, Lauren Tamke, Lucas Anders, and Samantha Beck in The 39 Steps. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

During the last two seasons of theatre performance in pandemic times, I’ve seen a lot of small-cast productions – which makes sense, fewer people in the rehearsal hall means less potential exposure and easier distancing – and a lot of serious themes. Which also makes sense, as our society’s had time to think about some difficult issues over the last couple of years. I even got to direct a show fitting those descriptions.

When I watched Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Citadel last month, I realized that I’d been missing the experience of watching a large cast do ridiculous and unexpected things on stage, along with my more thought-provoking theatre-going.

With Walterdale Theatre’s current production of The 39 Steps, directed by Kristen Finlay, I got that experience. There are only six actors (Lucas Anders, Lauren Tamke, and an ensemble of four: Samantha Beck, Bradley Bishop, Liam McKinnon, Rico Pisco), but I think there are more than a hundred characters. Some of them in disguise. All of them in different costumes (Nicole English) and many of them with different accents,

As for “ridiculous and unexpected”, I kept giggling with delight at what was happening in front of me. I’d read this script before, but there was so much happening on stage besides the dialogue. Even the movement of set pieces was fun and silly. And since the action took the protagonist Richard Hannay (Lucas Anders) from his new flat in 1930s London to a West End show, taking a train to Scotland, leaping from a moving train over the Forth Rail Bridge, to a Highland croft, a misty moor, and a few other atmospheric locations, what I thought were simple set pieces (set and prop design Taylor Howell) turned out to transform into convincing backgrounds for many locations. A complex atmospheric sound design (Anne Marie Szucs) helped to set the scenes clearly and added to the humour and the suspense.

One of my favourite little details was the way I could see quickly that the curved row of rehearsal boxes was a moving train, because of the way everyone’s movements illustrated the carriage’s bumpy movement. I also loved Margaret, Tamke’s understated portrayal of a young Scottish farm wife yearning for travel and cities and the for exotic visitor Hannay, and Mister Memory (Liam McKinnon), the quirky music-hall performer answering trivia questions from his audience (ensemble members who must have slipped in to the Walterdale audience). Lucas Anders plays only one character, the protagonist Richard Hannay, but maintains the high pace (often running across the stage) and clear motivation that drives the somewhat-farfetched plot to its not-quite-predictable happy conclusion.

Liam McKinnon and Rico Pisco hunting fugitives by air, in The 39 Steps. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

This story originated as a 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan, British writer and parliamentarian who later became Governor-General of Canada. My father was fascinated by Buchan, and shared his musty hardcover copies of The 39 Steps, Greenmantle, and Prester John with me. I also remember Dad showing me the 1935 Hitchcock film adaptation, and delighting in the detail of Hannay being Canadian in the movie. This stage version was written by Patrick Barlow in 2005, and it pulls from both the book and the movie as well as from many tropes and expectations of film-noir, slapstick, and early-20th-century spy thrillers to create a great parody which is very funny whether or not you already know the source material.

The 39 Steps is playing at Walterdale Theatre until Saturday May 21st. You can get advance tickets at Tix on the Square. If a performance is not sold out you can also get them at the door an hour before showtime. Masks are required, house capacity remains limited, and auditorium ventilation has HEPA filters.

Three characters drink mimosas at brunch.

Teatro Returns with Caribbean Muskrat

Cast of Caribbean Muskrat: Rochelle Laplante, Rachel Bowron, Jackson Card @alwaysepicphotos

Teatro de Quindicina, the summer-season professional theatre at the Varscona specializing in the work of Stewart Lemoine, hasn’t had a season since 2019. I remember their last production “before”, the complicated and wacky Vidalia, involving three identical briefcases and a very big onion.

In 2022, they’re starting the season a bit earlier than usual, with Stewart Lemoine and Josh Dean’s Caribbean Muskrat, originally performed here in 2004. I love that Lemoine has such a lengthy back catalogue, because they often produce works that other people remember favourably but I haven’t seen before. Stewart Lemoine directed, Madeline Blondal designed the set conveying multiple locations with a few clever pieces, Alison Yanota designed the lighting, and Leona Brausen did the costume design.

Caribbean Muskrat has many of the common features of a Stewart Lemoine play. So a subscriber or occasional attendee could have a rough idea of what to expect, but could still be completely surprised by the plot and characters on stage.

The unique characters in this play include Dr Hadrien Burch (Jackson Card), an oddly-smug sleep clinician, his girlfriend (previously his patient) Cynthia Lodgepole, an ambitious restaurant owner/manager (yes, restaurateur and restaurateuse are the correct spelling) (Rachel Bowron), and Bess Wesley a Canada Customs official in charge of animal imports (Rochelle Laplante, most recently seen in Citadel’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong).

The unexpected plot starts with a rare rodent, the Caribbean muskrat, which Cynthia acquired when attending a resort time-share pitch in Bimini, and which is now being held at the local Customs office. While we don’t actually see most of the animals in the office (a dolly stacked high with travel crates and ventilated boxes emitting mysterious noises), the one we do see is handled so well that I had to look away and then look again to reassure myself it wasn’t real. The three characters’ lives intersect because of the muskrat. Various complications develop and the story takes several turns I didn’t predict.

Similar to many other Stewart Lemoine plays, Caribbean Muskrat includes specific details about a location which are funny to people who know the place while contributing to worldbuilding for those who don’t know it well. In this case, the play is set in Kelowna BC, so there was wine-tasting, side comments about the nearby community of Peachland, and an Ogopogo joke.

As I started to watch this play, I recalled another characteristic of the Teatro oeuvre that I’d forgotten, and I still don’t quite know what to call it. It’s not quite magical realism, but it’s just a few steps away from probability into a context where unlikely coincidences happen and are accepted. The odd things that happen in this story aren’t unlikely enough to pull me out of the story, but they are delightfully unexpected enough to pull me in. And I’ve missed that.

Caribbean Muskrat runs at the Varscona Theatre until April 17th. Tickets are available through the Varscona Theatre website as well as at the box office on show nights.

Watching Copenhagen in 2022

image: Bob Klakowich as Niels Bohr, photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images

In about 2004 I saw a production of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen performed in the round and directed by Caroline Baillie of Critical Stage Theatre, in the atrium of a Queen’s University building dedicated to creative ways of doing engineering education. My memory of that production is overwhelmingly of circling and cycling, re-examining a memory from various directions with the characters orbiting each other like atomic particles.

Copenhagen is now on stage at Walterdale Theatre, in a production directed by Martin Stout on a set designed by Leland Stelck. With its gently-thrust stage floor and intimate audience seating the Walterdale space provides the opportunity for a more personal encounter with the characters and their questions and uncertainties, despite the Covid precautions of the 2-meter moat and the dispersed audience.

It’s mostly a recollective piece, with re-creations and re-tellings of meetings in the early 1920s, in 1941, and in 1947. The characters say directly early on that they are now all “dead and gone”, and they also help to anchor the individual scenes/memories in time by frequently mentioning the year. The characters are Niels and Margrethe Bohr, the Danish physicist and his wife/collaborator (Bob Klakowich and Donna Call), and Werner Heisenberg, the younger German physicist (Kendrick Sims). Most of the memories are set in the Bohrs’ home in Copenhagen or on the walking paths nearby, a city that in 1941 was occupied by Germany and under constant surveillance.

Donna Call as Margrethe Bohr side-eying her husband. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing out loud periodically through this performance. Klakowich and Call’s dry delivery of ironic and witty lines, Sims’ expressive eye-rolling, and particularly Call’s full-body indignation when her contributions are ignored make the most of the precise and articulate script. The opening-night audience was full of sympathy for the Bohrs’ bitterness and rage at their occupiers in general, and at Heisenberg’s clumsy attempts to re-create their earlier social connections without acknowledging the current abyss between them. “Should I have Margrethe sew a yellow star on my ski jacket?” Bohr spits out in response to his colleague’s suggestion of an excursion to Norway. Later in the play, I came to identify with Heisenberg as well, trying to do the work he cared about under a hostile and then horrific regime, trying to minimize the long-term damage to humanity and hopefully looking forward to the prospect of a future not only after the war but after the Nazi regime.

Kendrick Sims as Werner Heisenberg in one of his meetings with colleague Niels Bohr. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

Stelck’s set, and the props (Debbie Tyson), costumes (Megan Reti), and multimedia design (Darrell Portz) provide effective support for the action reminiscent of 1941 but not clearly rooted in time or space, while lighting (Adam Luijks) and sound (Dylan Mackay) contribute to the shifts in mood, with one particularly chilling air-raid siren.

I kept thinking of present-day Київ (Kyiv), but I also kept thinking of conflict scenarios closer to home. And the characters of Copenhagen reminded me of resilience, of scientists and engineers asking questions about the ethics of their work, and of hope. All of which I appreciated.

Copenhagen is playing through Saturday March 19th at Walterdale Theatre in Edmonton. Mask and vaccine requirements are still in place to protect performers, audience members, and other volunteers. Tickets are available at Tix on the Square, and at the door half an hour before show time.

Fully Committed: a table for one in Red Deer

Before last night, I had never thought much about what was happening on the other end of the phone, when I was calling a restaurant to make a reservation. Mind you, I haven’t even done that in recent years – even before the pandemic, my standard of restaurant-going didn’t usually have that much planning-ahead, or if it did, I would have clicked on OpenTable until I found a time that worked. Anyway, I think I always pictured that someone whose main job was to seat patrons or manage the servers or cook would have gotten interrupted in their path by a phone ringing at the host station, and would be standing up in the hallway squinting at a datebook or iPad to match up my request with a schedule. I didn’t realize that taking and negotiating reservations could be a full time job.

Fully Committed, the solo-performer play by Becky Mode, was set in the booking office of a stylish and pretentious Manhattan restaurant around the turn of the 21st century. In the Central Alberta Theatre production directed by Tanya Ryga, Sam Callahan (Ash Mercia) spends her whole shift in this office, some levels below the dining room, kitchen, and chef’s office in literal terms as well as in restaurant hierarchy. She struggles to get signal for her personal cellphone, so that checking in with her father involves standing on a table or climbing a ladder, hollering up at a flip-phone held optimistically aloft.

The main tools of Sam’s job include a wireless headset and multiline business phone, an intercom to upstairs, a red-phone hotline to the chef, and an outsized Rolodex. From her various conversations with co-workers and others, we learn that Sam is also an actor, checking in with her agent about whether she’s getting a callback at the Lincoln Centre, but committed to the restaurant job to cover expenses. And the delight of this script and this production is that the performer plays both ends of all the calls, shifting her body language, voice, accent, and stage business to portray everyone Sam talks to, making the characters distinctive and amusing. Her co-workers include her reservations-office boss Bob, claiming to be stuck waiting for a tow truck on the Long Island Expressway, host Stephanie rolling napkins and cutlery while she chats, her kitchen allies Oscar and Hector, a hostile French chef on duty (Jean-Pierre? Jean-Claude?), and Chef, addressed only by title. Chef is especially memorable, because he takes calls through the earthy details of his morning’s routine and other crass personal habits particularly horrifying to see in someone who works in food service.

And I haven’t even started on the customers! From the name-dropping entitled to the out-of-towners intimidated by the “molecular gastronomy” menu and the indignant “senior citizen” wanting a discount and bigger portions, Sam isn’t unkind to any of them but she definitely loses patience.

For a script that is mostly about talking on the phone, director Ryga and performer Mercia have built in a lot of movement on the large stage with detailed realistic set dressing of all the clutter accumulated in a restaurant office (set designer Dawn Harkema). When the performer is voicing one of the offstage characters on the other end of the phone, she uses the supplies in the office to be whatever props the other character would be using – a cook using a clipboard as a frying pan and adding seasonings from a bowl, a Mafia-connected customer stroking a hefty black object as he demands a better table – I was sure it was actually a gun, and then realized it was a stapler, but the performer’s way of holding it sold it as a gun.

There is a plot arc, a crisis, a resolution, but I won’t detail them even though the show has closed, because I liked being surprised.

Appropriately, the performance I attended was accompanied by a roast-beef buffet dinner – the first time I’d been at a buffet in two years – no lavender foam or frozen polenta, but good food and drink provided by friendly masked staff and volunteers.

Worth the drive!

Live in Calgary!

Photo shows Chris Enright, Trevor Schmidt, and Jake Tkaczyk, in Flora and Fawna Have Beaver Fever (And So Does Fleurette!). Picture from Lunchbox Theatre Facebook, credit TBD.

J Kelly Nestruck, the theatre reviewer for The Globe and Mail, said in a recent column, “Is any theatre scene in Canada as hopping right now as the one in Calgary?

I can’t judge that, but last week I viewed performances of two of the three productions he mentions. The creators of both shows have Edmonton connections.

Flora and Fawna have Beaver Fever (and so does Fleurette!) by Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt has three more shows as of this writing – two on Saturday afternoon and one Sunday Feb 5th at noon. In this Lunchbox Theatre production, Schmidt as 10-year-old Fawna is joined by Jake Tkaczyk and Chris Enright (Flora and Fleurette, respectively), in the roles played in the past by Hagen and by Brian Dooley.

This was my first time seeing a Lunchbox production. It had a full-enough-for-pandemic-comfort house for a show at noon on a weekday. The performers interact a bit with audience members in character before the show, reminiscent of a Fringe performance, and then the play starts with welcoming the audience as the new “junior probationary members” of the group started by these three awkward misfits and their mothers. There are rituals and activities and informational skits as earnest and clumsy as the girls themselves – the Naturelle Girls theme song is nearly as painful as an unfamiliar church congregation struggling through “He Who Would Valiant Be” – but interactions between the girls while they are running the meeting tell us more about the characters and their lives. I loved the running joke of saying that certain mean girls “shall not be named”, but watching Fawna take delight in actually telling on them. The version of history performed in their skits skewers both white capitalist colonialism and the ways it might be understood by 21st-century children. (“And then the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered Hudson’s Bay! What a coincidence!”)

One of the layers of entertainment in this show is that the actors deliver lots of doubles entendres, mostly about beaver(s), plus it’s just really funny to see adult men playing these 10yo girls in shapeless tunics and practical haircuts, Fawna playing with her dress, Flora slouching to be less of a target, and Fleurette eager to participate but usually cut off by her Anglophone friends.

There’s also a storyline with some suspense – what is Fawna trying to avoid talking about? – and some truly touching resolution and message, completely consistent with the character development.

Tickets for the remaining performances are available here. Lunchbox participates in the REP and takes the usual precautions.


Louise Casemore in Undressed. Photo by Erin Wallace.

Alberta Theatre Projects is also in downtown Calgary, in the Arts Commons building. It’s currently hosting a run of Louise Casemore’s Undressed, an original solo performance exploring the idea of auctioning off used wedding dresses. Casemore plays the auctioneer but also embodies several of the dress donors. The auctioneer talks about various kinds of single-use and extravagant artifacts used in weddings, and says that the event tries to find new homes for as many of them as possible. Finding another couple with the same names to use leftover personalized napkins amused me, and the callback gag about herding a flock of peacocks to its new owner was also droll. I was a little puzzled about how the proceeds of the auction were intended to benefit an organization called “Zero Waste Canada” (it seems to be a real thing), but in one part of the story a woman sells one wedding dress in order to buy another, more aspirational one, and I was distracted by wondering how that worked. I liked the shy lesbian who had never expected she’d get to have a wedding.

I have been to ATP before, for Waiting for the Parade and for Glory. This time, the main level of the Martha Cohen auditorium was arranged cabaret/coffeehouse style, with seating around tables, presumably with parties seated separately. Undressed runs until February 13th, with tickets available here.

Female actor in draped purple costume playing The Witch

Back to the theatre and Into The Woods

[Image above shows Nicole English as The Witch. Photo by Nanc Price Photography]

The other day, something reminded me of the feeling of watching a stage musical. I don’t remember if it was reminiscing about the Walterdale production of Light in the Piazza, looking at a Facebook memory of Chess, or watching tick, tick, BOOM on Netflix … but I was suddenly longing for that sensation of being in the room while live actors sang in harmony as part of a story that I cared about, especially when they were surrounded by a large movement ensemble in beautiful costumes lit strikingly on an interesting set.

So when I was offered the opportunity to attend opening night of Foote in the Door’s production of the Steven Sondheim musical Into the Woods, I signed up immediately.

And I got what I wanted. Into the Woods has music – lots of music, with hummable melodies and satisfying harmonies and lots of reprises of the good bits, and a backstage orchestra led by Daniel Belland. It has a movement ensemble bringing the forest to life (Julia Stanski, Andrew Kwan, James Velasco, Nick Davis). The large cast performs intertwined versions of several familiar fairy tales, with help from narrator Brian Ault and throughline of a Baker and Baker’s Wife (Jason Duiker and Melanie Lafleur) who are sent on a quest to acquire objects from the various archetypal characters in order to fulfill their wish for a child. The quest, and the other wishes in the familiar fairytales, are all complete by intermission, giving the impression of happily-ever-after.

Actor in gold and silver ball gown, with dancer moving tiny birds around her
Ruth Wong-Miller as Cinderella going to the festival, and Julia Stanski animating a flock of birds. Photo by Nanc Price Photography.

I had never seen the stage musical before, and had only vague memories of the movie, so I was very curious about what would happen in Act 2. And it turned out there was a lot to happen in Act 2 – mostly not tidy and definitely not all happy. While the quick pace and smooth dovetailing of plot bits in Act 1 was satisfying, Act 2 was more challenging and far less predictable. I have often thought that fairytale princes aren’t particularly inspiring or interesting – so I loved that the Into the Woods versions (Russ Farmer and Scott McLeod) became over-the-top prats and cads but were also completely bewildered about why they weren’t happy. Cinderella’s endearing down-to-earth sincerity was well portrayed by Ruth Wong-Miller. Due to an illness in the cast, Trish Van Doornum, the production’s director, was playing Jack’s Mother and Melanie Lafleur moved from that role to play the Baker’s Wife, including the powerful solo “Moments in the Woods”. One of my favourite characters was the Witch, played by Nicole English.

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Tickets for the short run in the Westbury Theatre at the ATB Arts Barns were sold through Eventbrite – but they may be completely sold out for the remaining shows in the short run.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921

Northern Light Theatre’s season starts off with a conflagration, at the Varscona Theatre, with Linda Wood Edwards’ play The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, directed by Trevor Schmidt. Sue Huff plays Mrs. Hastings and Twilla Macleod plays Mrs. Smith, both independent businesswomen in the small Central Alberta mining town of Big Valley. The social distance between them is large, as the blunt joyful pragmatic Hastings runs a whorehouse and Smith, a devotee of Queen Victoria and of propriety, runs a boardinghouse for unwed pregnant girls/women and helps to place their children for adoption. The costumes (production designer Alison Yanota) emphasize their differences, with Hastings in flamboyant reds and flapper style, and Smith in cool buttoned-up floorlength blues. Although both of them operate business/social enterprises dependent on men for their existence, the interactions between these two women and descriptions of offstage characters and action pass the Bechdel-Wallace test easily (“do two women have a conversation that is not about a man?”)

Productions of Northern Light Theatre often keep me guessing a bit about their genre or mood, which makes them more interesting to me than a more predictable play. As you might expect, the two characters start out hostile to each other and full of assumptions based on past hurts, but later find some similarities in their grief and in their ambitions. The funniest part is … something I’m not going to spoil, but the advice about avoiding unnecessary clothing repairs. It’s not a tidy ending, but it’s a satisfying one, leaving me thinking about middle-aged women making their own way and starting over, and about the harm done by mistrust and prejudice among groups of women.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921 runs to Sunday November 28, with tickets available for digital viewing as well as in-person performance under the Restrictions Exemption Program. The Varscona Theatre is a large auditorium and audience members are asked to leave space between each party. The concession and washrooms are open. Running time is a bit under 70 minutes.

The next play I’ll be watching is the one I’m directing now, Walterdale Theatre’s 5@50 – another look at women in middle age, how they can support each other and how they can wound each other. Tickets are available at the link.

Metronome: the lyric of memoir

With our own 5@50 rehearsal cancelled due to bad weather and unsafe driving on Tuesday, I realized that I had an evening free for an excursion close to home, so I went to see the Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre production of Darrin Hagen’s new solo piece Metronome at the Backstage Theatre.

Metronome is lovely, a polished and moving example of the kind of solo performance I seek out at the Fringe festival. As part of the WWPT season in a spacious configuration of the Backstage space at the Arts Barns, it also has an exciting set design, floor to ceiling, from Beyata Hackborn.

Hagen is an relaxed performer and an understated writer, telling stories of growing up musical in a family without much money. The details of the Royal Conservatory examinations, (List A, List B, sight reading, ear tests, checking out the other candidates in the waiting room, wanting the extra 2% for being off-book) all came back to me with the memories of my own waits outside examination cubicles. The underscoring and the re-creation of teenage scenes cruising Main Street with the windows down or auditioning for some stoner dudes (sound design Jason Kodie) were all songs I didn’t remember until I heard them and then could hardly stay in my seat for the joy and movement they evoked.

I also appreciated that the story acknowledged the isolation and hazards of growing up LGBTQ+ in a small town in the 1970s, but left those as matter-of-fact background, a poignant reminder for those of us who experienced those settings and a gentle context-setting for those who didn’t, just as Hagen set the context of being less well-off than his classmates.

Metronome sold out on Friday and Saturday, but I believe there are a few tickets available for the closing performance on the evening of Sunday November 21st.

An evening of celebrating the Fringe

Part of building and acknowledging a community is making and sharing art about that community. Fringe has always offered opportunities about that, and in recent years has been more intentional about expanding those opportunities to communities who haven’t always been recognized and celebrated in the same way – this year the venue pehonan is an exciting part of that intention.

But the Edmonton Fringe is itself a community. So of course there is art about the Fringe. The poster wall outside the Orange Hall is a lot shorter this year, but the sense of joyful celebration is extended by a complete set of posters commemorating every festival to date, with the imagery used that year for the program book and other publications. There’s an Instagram-ready set of brightly-coloured letters spelling out Fringe, in such a high-traffic area that it’s hard to take a picture without strangers in the way. (Unless, like me, you happen to be on site at 7:30 am.)

On Saturday, I went to three performances that were all celebrations of the Fringe culture. Gordon’s Big Bald Head: MasterThief Theatre is a long-running improv tradition, in which a small troupe of experienced performers uses the short description in the festival program to create their own version of another show. Their self-imposed rules include skipping over any sketch or improv show, since, according to Mark Meer, that would collapse the space-time continuum. (they might also skip music-based performances too.) The troupe members are currently Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Ron Pederson. It’s easy to see that they know each other well and are having fun together, as they set each other up to do some preposterous stunts while building and resolving a complex plot.

With no printed program book this year, and a relatively small number of suitable shows to choose from, they chose to start from a big stack of program books from past years, using a pseudorandom selection process to choose one show. So the audience (close to or at the 60%capacity limit in the big Varscona theatre space) probably isn’t going to be familiar with the source material. But that didn’t seem to matter. On the night I attended, the inspiration was Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down, from a Toronto company in the 1994 Fringe. This allowed the performers another layer of comment/comedy about period customs and about what was okay to say in 1994 and not today. These are some of the best improvisers I have ever seen, and just fun to watch. Some of the remaining performances aren’t sold out. And no, I don’t know why it’s called Gordon’s Big Bald Head.

Die-Nasty is another long-running Edmonton improv troupe, this one in the soap-opera tradition of long convoluted character-driven stories. In a typical season, they have a 50-hour marathon show in the fall, then a series every Monday night all year, and every night of the Fringe there’s one episode of a story that unfolds at the Fringe. I don’t believe they’ve announced their 2021-2022 season plans yet, but the Die-Nasty at Fringe was just as I remembered. A collection of about 8 memorable characters – they have different guests added in each night – sweeps through a Fringe of beer tents, podcast reviews and mistaken slander, rehearsals and life-changing events, hints of romance and darker hints of murder. The night I saw it, the performers included Tom Edwards (a cowboy playwright trying to produce a musical cross between Oedipus and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Belinda Cornish as a famous actress, Hunter Cardinal trying to break away from his soccer-mad family to explore the arts, Stephanie Wolfe as a very strange psychotherapist, Mark Meer as a sort of Hunter S Thompson-esque podcaster, Wayne Jones, Jacob Banigan, and so on. The funniest moment was when one of Wolfe’s patients asked her a question about whether she can make people believe in a different reality or something like that, and she says “oh yes, I’ve been in charge of a whole province’s public health during a pandemic”.

Die-Nasty is sold out for tonight but seems to have some tickets available for tomorrow (Saturday Aug 21.)

The third tradition of performances celebrating the Fringe is Late Night Cabaret. In the Backstage theatre space as the last performance of the night, in a normal year it runs all through the week, filling the space with enthusiastic audience members who are still wide awake. An amazing house band, Ze Punters, with Audrey Ochoa the trombonist, entertains before and between the talk-show hosts and guests from various Fringe shows.

This year LNC has only four performances – on the Fridays and Saturdays of the Fringe. They all sold out quickly, but I was lucky enough to get a ticket for one of last weekend’s shows. The music and energy filled the space, but the limited admission meant that there was lots of space for safety and comfort (also short bar queues and no bathroom lineups). It was great to see familiar sets of eyes in the audience, and performance guests both familiar and new to me.

Edmonton Fringe continues until Sunday early evening, August 22, in its small careful format. I’m very glad to be here – and it’s time to head to a show.

Liminality

Liminality is a solo performance by Dr. Steven Andrews, at the Grindstone Studio,a small well-appointed space underneath the Mill Creek Cafe (82 Avenue and 96 Street), entrance from 82nd Ave. (Same building as Sewing Machine Factory.) I last saw Steven Andrews in Kristine Nutting’s site-specific performance Devour Content Here in 2015.

I loved it and I don’t know why.

It’s a simple solo storytelling performance. I started to write that I hadn’t seen anything in this genre for ages, but then I realized that I’d seen quite a few solo shows online and in person since covid made close contacts and cohorts complicated – from We Had A Girl Before You, the last live indoor show I saw in 2020, to Woman Caught Unaware, which is playing at the Varscona Theatre this Fringe, and Deafy, Chris Dodd’s solo at the Backstage space. So why was this different?

Maybe what entranced me about Liminality was that it was so close to failing. The creator/performer was vulnerable, not just in telling anecdotes that purport to be about himself and his personal limitations and fears, but in performing them for paying audiences who might be expecting something more polished, funnier, or more conventionally structured with tidy connections that all fit together at the end. I kept doing the work of looking for the throughline and the callbacks. I found some but never was sure why some of the stories were included. There were a few important props and set pieces, and some sound and lighting cues helped reinforce the beats – possibly suggesting some insight or conclusion that might be drawn.

But like I said, I loved it. You might not.

Two more performances, Saturday and Sunday – and Liminality is also available online, pay what you will.