The 15th Vancouver International Fringe Festival

by Ed Farolan

Here comes the Fringe again.   This is our third year reviewing shows from Vancouver's fringe, and I do look forward to the creativity and raw talents of international artists, to what Executive Artistic Director Karen J. Planden would refer to the "Greatest Theatre Festival on Earth".

I think it is, mostly because it gives a chance to everyone who can pay the fee early, get a spot.  You can be amateur or professional, excellent or mediocre or experimental, the Vancouver Fringe, unlike other fringe festivals gives you the chance to perform.

I had the opportunity to be invited by the ever-charismatic and energetic publicist in this year's festival, Owen Gormley, to the "Sneak Peek" Fringe Fundraiser last September 1st, and what I saw was just amazing.  The improvisational skills of the artists were just fantastic.  For some reason, during the performance of  E. MacCoy's Contents, the lights accidentally went out but the actors continued improvising.  "This wasn't planned", quipped the actor, drawing laughs from the audience as the act went on in the dark. Actors from the previous preview, Nucklehead Fever, who is doing a farce on Hockey in Canada, came out with candles to help them out.  Now that's fringe team spirit!

The other show which was previewed and which I think fits into the risqué mode of the Fringe was Dialogue Between a Prostitute and Her Client, a black comedy drama by Dacia Maraini and starring Elaine Avila and Thrasso Petras. Nudity & explicit language is the warning bell for this show.

The feature event in this opening night preview was T. J. Dawe's '98 Fringe Hit Tired cliches.  It was amazing how Dawes could hold the audience in this almost 1-hour performance, as he was accompanied by percussionist/composer Jason Overy.

The fundraising previews continued till September 4th. And now, our reviews:

Decadence by Steven Berkoff

Venue 8, Blinding Light

In last year's fringe, I reviewed Berkoff's Greek produced by the English Suitcase Theatre, and as everyone who reads this British playwright's poetic dramas, we know he is extremely coarse in his language and uses four letter words like they were part of his daily vocabulary.  Although I didn't like the script, I enjoyed the energy of Vancouverites Tracy Olson and Sarah Rodgers who did a great job in executing a play.  Their energy, pace and  projection won the audience's approval, and they came out three times for curtain calls, with bravos and whistles from an audience that sweated it out in this terribly hot and humid venue. I thought at first that the actors were from a British company until I read a write-up about them that they were from good ol' Vancouver.  Excellent performance, and congratulations for a play well-executed!--Ed Farolan

Sancho's Revenge by Michael Neff

Venue 5, Main Dance

This concoction of Man of La Mancha is interesting as a concept, in that Neff focuses on the insanity of Quixote and sets the play in an insane asylum.  A cross, as it were, between Marat-Sade and La Mancha. Another hot and steamy venue, people started walking out and decided instead to enjoy the cool breezes of this hot summer evening outside.  I didn't blame them.  Not only was it hot inside, the play started getting boring.  There were songs in an attempt to make this into a mini-musical, but these actors aren't singers at all, and their voices sounded flat.  One World Theatre's past fringe shows (Mirette and Bellini, Mother Courage, Waiting for Godot) were more successful.--EF

Angel by Erik de Waal

Venue 9, Web Cafe

South African Erik de Waal gives a one-man show and narrates an original African legend about an angel who crashes to earth after snacking on Sky God Unkulunkulu's lollipops.  I thought this was going to be a funny one-man show, but it ended up being dragging, and I had to look at my watch hoping this 60-minute show would end soon.  I was able to go to sleep for a while as he sang what seemed to be lullabies.  I think something like this should be performed by a black African, and not a white one, to be more effective.  And in recounting myths, it would help to have some multi-media effects to enhance the show. I also don't understand why this show is classified as a "cabaret"--EF

Randy Charach-Beyond Magic by Randy Charach

Venue 9, Web Cafe

The question that popped up in my mind (as well as the audience's) is:  How does he do it? This entertainer from BC, with his comedic style, has the amazing ability to read minds.  The 50-minute show was not only entertaining but puzzled me and made me wonder how some people like him can just read minds.  He picks people from the audience he doesn't know and guesses correctly what they think, what things they have in their possession, the words they pick from a book.  He knows what cards they pick from a stack, and blindfolded, he can feel what objects they hold.  He only missed one, but one out of five or ten is pretty good statistics. Truth, magic, ESP.?  --EF

I might be Edgar Ellan Poe by Dawson Nichols

Venue 3, VECC

This one-man show I found educational.  For those studying  American Literature, this show gives an insight on who Edgar Allan Poe is -- his life and works.  Performed extremely well by Nichols, who portrays himself as an inmate in a mental institution who thinks he's Poe, he tries to convince his doctors and fello inmates that he's sane.  Nichols portrays different roles in this 2-hour performance, and does excellent dramatic performances of this writer's works, including Alone, Silence: A Fable, The Raven, The Tell Tale Heart, and Dream Within a Dream.

You can buy a copy of his script from him for $10 after the show.  This Seattle playwright/ performer received rave reviews from Winnipeg Free Press and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.  This play was originally performed at Seattle's New Mercury Theatre in October 1993, and has since been shown in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States.--EF

Things on Toast: A Culinary Cabaret by Karen Ydenberg & Phoebe Macrae with Erika Switzer on the piano.

Venue 4, WISE Hall

This Ontario troupe comes up with something unique in entertainment genres: a 50-minute comedic operatic cabaret. The Fringe is full of surprises, and this one is another innovative genre that has come up.  What Ydenberg and Macrae have done is combined an absurd tale of two sisters who are preparing a dinner feast, and as they do so, sing songs in operatic fashion (funny but well done!) from the great classic and contemporary composers: Bernstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Offenbach, Delibes, Norton, Bach and Mozart, adding their own culinary lyrics. The performance was funny, and the audience loved it!

The absurdity I enjoyed most was their arias in French, as they sung solemnly tongue-in-cheek the directions and ingredients on a box of  Post's Raisin Bran Cereals.  The audience also enjoyed their piggy performance as they sung in their soprano voices on their backs.--EF

Bib Works by Graham Vogt and David Backus

Venue 2, Cavern

I like this venue, a kind of a mini-thrust stage.  It's small and intimate, and the audience is on three sides.

These two Toronto actors did a fantastic job playing 2 twenty-year olds talking about sex, morality, love, death.  A phase in our lives where we continue our search and journey through life.  It's a drama mixed with comedy, but what caught my attention with these actors is the precision, the timing, the exchanges and delivery of lines convincing us of their professionalism as actors. Techniques from Beckett's Waiting for Godot are transparent in this play.

The show is short, approximately 50 minutes, but worth the $8 you pay for.--EF

Nucklehead Fever! New Wit by Carole Higgins

Venue 3, VECC

This 75-minute comedy is truly a hit! Just observing a full-house of hockey enthusiasts from the audience, one almost felt he was at GM Place watching a hockey game.  The actors got the audience involved, clapping away, singing songs, and laughing all through the show.  Critics have raved about this show, and I won't be surprised when you read this review and run for tickets, the "sold out" sign would be up.

These nucklehead actors composed of Peter Grier, Carole Higgins, Jacques Lalonde, Chris Robson, Graham Shiels, Todd Talbot, and Dan Tinaburri just get you laughing every minute of the show with this "hocumentary" spoof on the NHL, the Canucks, and hockey fanatics.  I liked best the spoof on Lemieux's one-minute tips on how to play hockey.  I won't be surprised if this show will top the list for best 1999 Fringe shows.  

The actors were also kind enough to donate the proceeds of their first night performance to Canucks Place.--EF

LovePlay by Kath Burlinson and Alison Goldie

Venue 3, VECC

Winner of the Vancouver and Victoria 1998 Fringes, the weird sisters are back with this exposé of love in all its bold physicality, eroticism and biting humour.  Burlinson and Goldie play multiple roles, from a nymphomaniac to a dyke, as they explore different aspects of love.

Witty, biting, at times, sad, moving some audience members to tears towards the end of the show with Goldie's dramatic performance.

I enjoyed the scene with the marriage counselor, particularly the quick character transformation of Burlinson from the stressed-out  wife, Julie, to the smiling, ever-calm counselor.

This is another show that's certainly going to be sold out, and that's why I made certain I went to the opening night performance. A super-pass doesn't guarantee you a seat.  That's how democratic the Vancouver Fringe is.  It's a theatre for the people, rich or poor, sane or insane.

Feel free to email your comments to the weird sisters by clicking on their names above. They want your feedback of their performance.--EF

9 Ladies Dancing by Tracey Bell

Venue 17, Richard´s on Richards

This one-woman show delighted everyone as Tracey whirled through a repertoire of Liza, Tina, Cher, Madonna, Marilyn, Janice, as well as a few of her own characters. Bell is a talented Vancouver-based entertainer, considered a local diva by many. Each of her "personae" provided us with glimpses of Tracey's growth within the industry. On Friday night, she stepped into the spotlight with a Tina impression that brought down the house! Since her first public performance in l985, she has been perfecting her technique as well as creating hilarious new characters for audiences.Her own creative characters include Dame Cuke for the "grown ups" . Dame Cuke is a cross between Dame Edna (and who shall we say?)... Dr. Ruth. "Have you had your cucumber today?" promotes the ironic importance of a daily serving of cucumbers! To entertain children, she presented Lucy Potato, a peace-loving childish character who has painted over 40,000 sparkling pink noses, a few of which were painted in the crowd.

Successfully involving the audience, she creates Sonny for a duet with Cher, a band to back Janice, as well as for Elvis and Kiss. The show was lighthearted, comical, slightly risqué and definitely entertaining! Tracey can be located at her own webpage: http://www.traceybell.com/. --Michelle Shatula and Danae Tilley

Bald Faced Lie by Broken Nose

Venue 7, VPAC

An original sketch show, created, directed, designed and performed by Ian Bell, Peggy Gannon, David Gehrman, Basil Harris and Tina Kunz -- all extremely talented performers. This troupe maintained a high level of energy which made for a fast and funny show. There were several "spontaneous" sketches lasting from one to five minutes long. Several sketches contained only one line to get the point across. Our favourite skits included Spaceman Dave, a recurring character; the 'Hitscene', which ended with a killer windup pig; a confession from a playwright addict, and a home-repair skit which included a surprising ritual. This Seattle company has elevated sketch comedy to an art. It was our favourite event and would be worth a special trip to Seattle! A must see! --MS & DT

"Drop" by Dano Madden

Venue 4, WISE Hall

A combination of physical and music theater, produced by Widows Web Theater (USA). Two performers acted out a tale of two alien male friends, Zip & Orflong, who play together until theirs lives are changed by 'Drop'. It is the typical story of the girl variable and how she changes the friendship between the two males. The action takes place with rock music in the background. The production, pretending to be an audio- visual feast to challenge our imagination, turned out to be a disappointment. Although the story was easily apparent, in spite of "alien" dialogue, it was grueling and unexciting. This is a definite pass-by.--MS & DT

Crave by Sarah Kane

Venue 3, VECC

I've enjoyed the classical performances of the English Suitcase Theatre Company for the past years--Macbeth, Dr. Faust, and even Greek last year.  But their entry this year is just the pits. Extremely boring and annoying, I sat there for 45 minutes looking at 4 actors in black sitting down throughout the entire performance spewing four-letter words and talking about topics that aren't interesting at all.  What a pity, and such talented actors at that wasted on a bad script. I think the ESTC should stick to the classics--Shakespeare and all that. And I think that's what they're doing next year with their millenium production of Hamlet.  For feedback and contact with this company, email the artistic director, Kevin Williamson--EF

Judith-a parting from the body by Howard Barker

Venue 6, Firehall

Taken from the biblical account in the Old Testament about the beautiful Judith who was sent by the Israelites to seduce and kill the Assyrian general Holofernes, this script written by Barker was well-written.  My only concern was the consistency of language.  Was Barker purposely writing in biblical antiquated English and then combining this with contemporary language (four-letter words which could have perhas originally been "copulate" for f...., for example)?  Or were the actors taking the liberty of contemporizing the script?  If they did the latter, then that was wrong because it lost the biblical language element which I felt should have been consistent all throughout the play. The company Felix Culpa was originally Vancouver's Grinning Dragon Theatre Society with artistic directors David Bloom who directed this show, and Linda Quibell, playing Judith.  I must say, though, that the quality of performance and production was excellent, particularly by the comedic Lesley Ewen who played Judith's servant.--EF

My Left Breast by Susan Miller

Venue 3, VECC

Jessie nominated actress Deb Pickman put in a moving one-woman performance in this script written by an award-winning American playwright who gives an autobiographical account of her breast cancer adventure. Directed by Renee Iaci who also won an award for excellence directing, this duo actress/directress powerhouse engaged the audience with movements, sounds and lights which won Pickman the outstanding actress pick of the fringe.--EF

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Venue 3, VECC

Shakespeare would probably have loved this raucous fun-filled production if he were still alive today.  This group from England called "the Illyrians" kept the audience entertained in this more than 2-hour comedic tromp of one of the bard's famous comedies.  What the group did was combined slapstack a-la-Chaplin, Keaton, Three Stooges, etc. and incorporated this in a show which won the approval of Vancouver audiences. A show for young and old, everyone was laughing with the antics of five actors who played multiple roles: Paul Gunn, Bobbie Robertson, Adrian Clargo, Abbi du Pre, and William Finkenrath.   Directed by Oliver Gray, the show has toured all over the world and won rave reviews.  For more info, check their website: http://www.illyria.uk.com.--EF

Goddess by Alex Dallas

Venue 1, Havana

This comic British actress, a regular to the Fringe, did a 60 minute one-woman show which again sold out in the last performance. Dallas wrote this script herself, and whether it was autobiographical or perhaps part fiction, her one-hour tirade, as she ironed clothes, did entertain us in this hot, steamy venue.  Her stories of growing up, wondering who her father was, why she was born a year before her parents married, and why, compared to her younger sibling,  she was short , curly-haired and squat while he was tall and freckled.  She talks about the matinee idols of  Hollywood, and how she too longs to be a Goddess, but a Greek Goddess, an aphrodite, as she traces her roots back to her Greek ancestry.  I must say she held the audience spellbound and laughing throughout her entire performance.--EF

Well, that's all folks.  The weather has again been beautiful and sunny this entire week,  just like last year's, and as usual, there were sold out tickets to shows we couldn't get in to, like Rick Miller's MacHomer. and Theatre Skam's Billy Nothin'. Who would have thought these shows would sell out? The Weird sisters at least anticipated this and extended their show for three more performances.

And the winners of the Vancouver Sun People's Choice Awards are (fanfare..tatarata): Best Actor to Dawson Nichols in I might be Edgar Ellan Poe ; Best Actress to Deb Pickman in My Left Breast; Outstanding Production to LovePlay by the Weird Sisters; Outstanding Outdoor Production to Spice Mamas; Best Original Script- Billy Nothin' by Theatre Skam; and People's Choice Award-Nucklehead Fever! New Wit by Piglet Productions.