Tag Archives: jacob banigan

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).

 

 

Gordon’s Big Bald Head, Under the Mango Tree, Sonder closing

On the day of our show Sonder‘s closing, I woke up early and rushed around with a to-do list in my head.  I ended up photocopying more programs for the show at the Strathcona Library because I didn’t have time to do them at home, for example.   We ended up giving out almost all the programs and having a nearly-full house for the last show in our successful run.  It’s been a great experience producing a show in a lottery venue at the Edmonton Fringe, and I’ve loved working with all the other artists of The ? Collective.

I also managed to fit in to my day some quiet times and conversations, some naan and some knitting and some Diet Coke.  And I saw two shows.  (I had been hoping to see Holly Cinnamon’s This is the kind of animal that I am as well, but it didn’t fit with our post-closing schedule.)

I’d never before seen Gordon’s Big Bald Head, an improv show with Jacob Banigan, Mark Meer, and Chris Craddock, but in future years I will definitely put them on my priority list.  In this show, the improvisers use a semi-random process to select one other Fringe show from the program, read out the synopsis, and then spend an hour creating and playing their version of a show that could fit that synopsis.  The show chosen this time was You Can Use That, and the synopsis mentioned a stand-up comic selling his soul to the devil.  Their version had each of them playing several characters each in different parts to the same narrative, and not very much switching out who was playing each.  I was impressed at how tightly plotted their story turned out to be.  And I laughed a lot, because these three improvisers are all very funny and clever people.

My next show was Under the Mango Tree, a solo performance inspired by the creator Veenesh Dubois’ own family history, growing up in Fiji and waiting several years with her grandparents while her father worked in Canada.   The fictional story told on stage didn’t have such a happy resolution, but it was artistically satisfying.  The performer played several characters, a grandmother, father, aunt, and baby as well as the narrator at the ages of 10, 15, 16, and I think about 21.  Her base costume was a salwar kameez, with a red scarf that she wore in various ways to portray the grandmother, a teenager, a bride, and so on, and she also changed her hairstyle effectively.  I liked her child character’s stubborn free un-self-conscious body language.