2009 Vancouver International Fringe Festival

Red Bastard

Performance Dates 10, 12, 13, 17, 19 & 20 September at Waterfront Theatre

Performer Eric Davis

Red Bastard is the worst show I have seen at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival – it is also the best show I have seen this year. Why the contradiction? Well, Eric Davis, the tall skinny guy in the roly-poly red padded suit with a curious ostrich-like gait is himself a contradiction. He is simultaneously obnoxious and appealing. He is menacing, yet engaging.

The show’s success relies on the audience buying in to Davis’s bizarre character being a performance arts teacher and they are students in his acting master class and whose every command must be obeyed. At the very beginning, when he solicits and receives a return "Bonjour" from the audience, he sarcastically retorts "yes, it's that kind of show."

There has been more buzz around this show than any other at the festival. Red Bastard features a load of physical comedy as well as some pretty standard buffoonery, mostly targeted at the audience – and the audience were only too happy to lap it up. Personally, I enjoyed the show – I even gave it a zero out of ten on one of those evaluation cards – Red Bastard wouldn’t want it any other way.

© 2009 John Jane

Crown Hill Cemetery

Performance Dates 12, 13, 15, 17, 19 & 20 September at Origins Organic Coffee Co.

Performer Lisa Haas

Is death an appropriate discussion topic at your home? Apparently it is at Lisa Haas’s quirky family homestead.

On a tiny stage enveloped with the pungent aroma of coffee Haas performs in her autobiographical one-woman show about growing up near Crown Hill Cemetery in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. The experience has since resulted in a backlash fixation over death, dying and funerals. Part stand-up comedy and part improv, Haas recounts curious anecdotes about an uncle who takes pictures of dead relatives in their caskets, a mother who shops ahead for the dress that she plans to be buried in and a sister who pines (sorry about the bad pun) to be buried next to royalty.

When the monologue starts to get too morbid, the audience can get momentary diversion from shouting out “Break!” and drawing a piece of paper that reveals a different topic out of Haas’s "break bag." The New York based artist also likes to pass bowls of savoury snacks to patrons during the show. Haas is a natural, but the material could stand tweaking.

© 2009 John Jane

Grandpa Sol and Grandma Rosie

Performance Dates 10, 12, 15, 17, 18 & 20 September at Waterfront Theatre

Performer Lana Schwarcz

Cheerful Aussie Lana Schwarcz arrived at Vancouver’s Fringe via the Victoria Fringe Festival with a show that combines actual verbatim testimony and a fictitious central character. It’s hardly correct to describe this as a solo effort, since Schwarcz gets help from a half dozen crudely constructed, head-and-torso puppets that represent residents of a Jewish aged care facility that she visited in Melbourne.

Nurse Jackie is a self-diagnosed gerontophobe. In her interview for a job working in a residential nursing home for the aged she struggles to find an answer to what she likes about old folks. When she is offered the job on a trial basis she keeps passing out. Ultimately, she learns that aging doesn’t necessarily mean dying.

Schwarcz works hard in the self-developed role of Nurse Jackie as well as providing voices for Sol, Rosie, Herschell et al and almost pulls off the impossible. After all, commingling comedy with the irksome effects of dementia and incontinence in the elderly is like laughing when best friend’s dog dies.

© 2009 John Jane

The Cock Whisperer: A Love Story

Performance Dates 10, 12, 14, 16 & 20(2 shows) September at Performance Works

Performer Colette Kendall

Perennial Vancouver Fringe favourite Colette Kendall is back for a third time with a new, edgy, flat-out funny monologue. Gone are Tippi Seagram’s blonde wig and half-filled martini glass, but don’t worry Fringers, if you lusted after that alluring cougar you will love Ms Kendall’s new show, The Cock Whiperer: A Love Story.

More Comedy Club than Fringe theatre, Kendall runs the gambit on a subject that is evidentially near and dear to her – penises! It’s hardly likely you will take it to the office water cooler and it’s a little too broad for prime time “Comedy Hour.” But this comedian is HOT – in more ways than one; seeing her showing off her best side to Van McCoy’s seventies cool trash disco anthem “Do the Hustle” was worth standing in line for.

This Hamilton housewife and mother to three has a unique comic-theatrical delivery that pushes the limits of taste without being offensive – although, she won’t spare your blushes.

© 2009 John Jane

The Cork Screw

Performance Dates 11, 13, 14, 16, 19 & 20 September at Waterfront Theatre

Performers Marcia Yu, Gayle Yamamoto, Joshua Garcia, Bernie Yao, Paige Ferbacher and Suzanne Newman

Two friends, Mary and Blanche reminisce over a bottle of wine and a bowl of used wine corks that Mary has kept and indentified for posterity. Blanche is selfish and self-absorbed; Mary is naive and sympathetic. As the wine freely flows, so too do the memories seen by the audience in flashbacks on the opposite side of the stage. These recollections follow a pattern of Blanche stealing Mary’s would-be boyfriends without any regret or regard for her friend’s pathos.

Director Ann Ashley, who also wrote the play, uses the device of role sharing with Gayle Yamamoto and Paige Ferbacher playing Mary and Blanche in flashback scenes and Marcia Yu and Suzanne Newman playing the same roles in ‘real time’ sequences. In the main, the device works well. Though, despite the best efforts of the actors, the pace is uneven and hampered by the dragging of a partition across half the stage to reveal the flashback scenes. The Cork Screw offers much promise as a full length presentation, providing production wrinkles can be ironed out.

© 2009 John Jane

The First Time

Performance Dates 10, 11, 13, 15, 19 & 20 September at Performance Works

Performers Sarah Szloboda, Brianna Wiens, Phil Prajoux, Brian Calvert & Justine Fischer (musician)

There’s a first time for everything. A first kiss, first time hearing those three words “I love you,” first time actually ‘doing it’ – even a first lesbian encounter. Terminal Theatre’s irreverent Fringe production The First Time covers all the bases of inaugural sexual activities. The four performers (two men and two women) take turns in presenting their first-person, stand-up schtick with varying degrees of comic success.

Graduate of the Capilano College theatre arts programme, Brianna Wiens fared best with a pair of poignant anecdotes. Her lead-in revelation imparts her earliest performance in musical theatre playing Maria in West Side Story and having to kiss her co-star. The second was a supposed first-hand account of a date rape and “snow angels.”

Comedy writers like us to believe that there are no bad jokes – just weak delivery. To accept that Sarah Szloboda writing of this show is good (in certain parts, I found it to be excellent), then we must accept the delivery was lacking. Perhaps the most subliminal gag in the show was the playing of “Good Vibrations” at the end.

© 2009 John Jane

The Lesson

Performance Dates 10, 13, 15, 17, 19 & 20 September at False Creek Gymnasium

Performers Michele Dodick, Sive O’Neill and Josh Hallem

For me the Fringe is all about experimental theatre and affording an opportunity for emerging talent. Airbag Productions’ The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco fits into neither of these mandates. Ionesco’s théâtre de l'absurd is now half a century old and Sive O’Neill’s talent has very much emerged. Director Rebecca Low flips the genders of the professor and pupil, adding an intriguing and darker sexual context.

An eager young pupil (Josh Hallem) is greeted at the home of his new tutor by the maid and shown into the dining room. The pupil is excited about his first lesson and his enthusiasm appears to unnerve the deferential professor who prefers to maintain a distant physical proximity. However, as the lesson continues, the balance of power shifts. The professor discovers her pupil knows little about anything and lacks the basic intellect to grasp even the simplest of mathematical concepts. As the teacher’s patience is stretched, she becomes dominant and angrier, invoking even more difficult material to absorb. Simultaneously, the student’s early optimism disintegrates and begins to suffer a toothache that escalates in direct proportion to his distress over the lesson.

The Lesson is not easy to watch. The extensive non sequiturs are as excruciating for the audience as they are for the play’s characters – but perhaps that’s the point!

Throughout the play’s run at the Fringe, Sive O’Neill and Josh Hallem will alternate their roles of professor and pupil.

© 2009 John Jane

Under the Mango Tree

Performance Dates 11, 12, 13, 15, 17 & 19 September at La Maison de La Francophonie

Performer Veenesh Dubois

Performance artist Veenesh Dubois wrote, produced and duly performs this bittersweet semi-autobiographical story inspired by a four year period when her own family went through the heart-wrenching process of leaving their native Fiji and immigrating to Canada.

Under the Mango Tree may be one of the few Fringe presentations to boast a constructed stage set. On entering the attractive Francophone Cultural Centre, audiences are greeted by the sight of a typical tin and wood chalet surrounded by fallen, dry mango leaves.

As well as the story’s central character Timal, Dubois also portrays the other four characters: Timal’s father (referred to as Bappu), her Grandmother, her aunt and her first child.

Only a pre-teen when her wayfaring father leaves the village for Vancouver, Timal plays out a potpourri of emotions beginning with anticipation of joining her father in a new life, anxiety – as months become years, despair – when eventually resigning herself to never seeing her father return to the village.

Dubois recounts a very personal, melancholic tale about family disconnects that guarantees to leave a lump in her audiences throats.

© 2009 John Jane


Matters Domestic

Performance Dates 11, 12, 13, 16, 18 & 19 September at La Maison de La Francophonie

Performers (Download): William MacDonald and Nancy Sivak; (D.N.A.): Lisa Dahling and Leslie Brownlee

Much of the interest in this theatrical brace is derived from the involvement of William B. Davis as director. Davis, who last October played Donald Rumsfeld in Stuff Happens at the Firehall Arts Centre is perhaps best known for his role in the popular X Files series.

Matters Domestic is two short plays; actually, one short play and one very short play – Download and D.N.A. The plays are linked by the vaguely common theme of parenting, or perhaps more accurately the stress of parenting. In the main production Download, Doug and Wendy share parenting chores, but only one of them is the REAL parent and it’s not the one that is the most involved with the kids. Wendy is an over-worked lawyer and single mother who is unable to spend as much time with her teenage daughters as she should. She outsources all household and nurturing duties to Doug who becomes the ideal surrogate father. But when Doug takes over running the family affairs, Wendy yearns for more....

D.N.A. is a ten minute terse exchange between Amanda and her eighteen year old daughter Victoria. Victoria comes home and awakens her mother to tell her that she intentionally got pregnant. She sees only the joy that a baby will bring; her mother however, has a more pragmatic viewpoint.

© 2009 John Jane

Oh Winnipeg! A Surprising Musical Memoir

Dates and Venue 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18 & 19 September | Havana

Performer John Pippus

I like this show. It's full of vigor. Pippus gives his all as he sings and narrates his life as a musician, as he travels from his roots in Winnipeg to settle in Vancouver, but then takes his career to Montreal, and back again to Vancouver and raises a family. I can identify with the songs--the era of the Beatles, the Blues, and the hippies. His songs have heart and he connects easily with the audience. Great performance from this solo performance. 10 out of 10!

Biographies of the Dead and Dying

Dates and Venue 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18 & 19 September | Havana

Performers Heather Lindsay & Simon Driver

I found this play a bit problematic. It goes back to that style reminiscent of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe" where you have a couple continually fighting and bickering. The use of cinema techniques where we look at the actors from a shot from above so that the actors are pasted to the wall is a challenging one for the actors who have to walk in a crawling manner making it physical theatre. Templeton's play opens with an interesting ghost mystery storyline, but loses its focus as the play progresses. I also think the nude scene should have been blocked at centerstage and not stage left to make it more effective. The actors are excellent, but I wasn't too happy about Jeremy Waller's directorial approach. 7 out of 10.

© 2009 Ed Farolan


Dates and Venue 11, 13, 14, 16, 17 & 18 September | Performance Works

Performers Darla Biccum, Leora Joy Godden, Sharon Nowlan & Jeffrey Pufahl

Reviewer Ed Farolan

These Saskatchewan performers are simply fabulous. They not only grow wheat there these days....they also grow cabaret and burlesque performers! I was just amazed at the calibre of talent of these singers/dancers as they did their grinds and bumps. My favourite was Sharon Nowlan who did most of the dancing, and truly professional. I liked the erotic dance with the puppet and the Gypsy-style striptease as she teased us with her red feather fans.. She was also amazing with her fire dance, faithful to her stage name "Prairie Fire". Jeffrey Pufahl is an excellent singer, reminiscent of Charles Aznavour's style of singing. He plays a Frenchman and he sings Jacque Brel's Amsterdami and Kurt Weill's Je Ne T'aime Pas with panache. Leora Joy Godden has a beautiful voice and she plays an Amsterdam prostitute to the T. Last but not least is Darla Biccum as SugarPuss. She narrates, and has an excellent rapport with the audience before the start of the show, sitting down on our laps and playing with her feather prop, tickling the ol' geezers in the audience with it. She is a tremendous performer. 10 out of 10 for this must see show...so buy your tickets before they're sold

© 2009 Ed Farolan


Dates and Venue 11, 12, 13, 14, 18 & 19 September | Performance Works

Performer Anne Wyman

Wyman has received accolades for her performance as Esther when she did this solo performance in Winnipeg last year. I missed her in Victoria, but I had to see her and find out why this performer is getting full houses. Well, to my delight, I was happy with her performance. She delivered off-Broadway playwright Chris Craddock's play with finesse, playing different characters, chaning the tone of her voice to suit one character then another. The only thing that bothered me was the double plot of the play. It's not Wyman's fault, as she plays her sister Kate who commits suicide and comes back as...a ghost? I think Craddock should have stuck just to what his play is all about--a porn star-- and digress into another subplot. 10 out of 10 for this must see show that, I predict, will be sold out soon.

© 2009 Ed Farolan


Dates and Venue 11, 13, 16, 17, 19 & 20 September | False Creek Gym

Performers Yayoi and members of Airplank Company

Something new, something different, and in this show, your thoughts ramble through Marcel Marceau, Samuel Beckett's Act Without Words, and Waiting for Godot, as well as the traditional Kabuki Theatre as we experience storytelling through pure movement, a play without words, only grunts occasionally (which in traditional mime should also be mimicked). It's the story of a coin dropped at a bus stop and how it changes the character of a person from being selfish to being charitable. This fusion of mime and physical theatre is explored eloquently through the movements of the Airplank cast headed by internationally acclaimed mime and movement artist Yayoi. Another show worth seeing. 9 out of 10.

© 2009 Ed Farolan



Dates and Venue 11, 12, 13, 16, 18 & 19 September | Waterfront

Performer Jem Rolls

This show is funny, biting and full of charisma. The poetry rhymes sometimes, but more often than that, it is understandable, unlike most contemporary poems. The reason is because this performer is articulate and connects magnificently with the audience. He has a kind of a rapport that makes you listen, laugh and say "Right you are!" In his prologue, he puts in his brownie points wth the audience by calling them "deity" since we are God's creations, he says. Then he eruditely takes us to the new syllabus of English History which he sums up with "We won, we won, we won." He gives us an all-knowing description of how the British have won all their battles throughout history, and American Independence is actually a British victory because, according to history, he says, the rebels all came from British stock. This is his sixth year here at the Fringe and he continues getting rave reviews.

© 2009 Ed Farolan

The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over

Dates and Venue 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 & 18 September | Waterfront

Performers Gemma Wilcox

I found this solo perfomance extraordinary. Wilcox plays different characters without changing outfits. She changes her voice from man to woman, from hampster to tomcat, and she can even perform as she waves her body like fire from a hearth. Yes indeed--she plays both animate and inanimate, and the audience nods knowing who or what she is. She narrates, in this 60- minute performance, the breakup of a marriage, and her story is quite interesting, well-dramatized, and theatrically convincing.

© 2009 Ed Farolan

The Hefner Monologues

Dates and Venue 12, 13, 14, 16, 19 & 20 September | Origins Organic Coffee

Performer John Hefner

Patterned after "The Vagina Monologues", this hilarious story is about this performer who is the estranged cousin of Hugh Hefner and now, he too is trying to make a name for himself. He finds himself in a series of misadventures as he tries to do accomplish this task. He recounts how his father, the first cousin of Hugh, took him to the Playboy Mansion when he was seven. That was the first and last time he met his uncle who greeted him with a handshake and the only words he remembers him saying was: "Call me Hef." This stuck to his memory, and ever since that day, he was inspired to call himself Hef. Very entertaining show. Well, John Hefner, or Hef, for short, whatever, I think you'll carry on the tradition, not as a playboy entertainer, but as a comic.

© 2009 Ed Farolan

The Secret Love Life of Ophelia

Dates and Venue 13, 15, 16, 19 & 20 September | Studio 16

Performers Alicia Novak & Jeremy Waller

I like the idea of playwright Berkoff keeping the Shakesperean language alive in this play, although there are a few flaws like "Thank you" instead of the old English "thou" for "you" or "darling" (shouldn't this be "dear one" if Shakespeare had written it?) The concept is interesting: Ophelia and Hamlet exchange love letters; that's how we understand was taking place in Hamlet, but the playwright goes one steb further, just as Tom Stoppard did with Rosencrantz and Guidenstern, and expounds on the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship, adding more letters and interchanges, erotic metaphors typical of many of the Bard's bawdy comedies and also some tragedies like Romeo and Juliet. The acting wasn't very exceptional, and we don't really see any actual eroticism, but that's how Shakespeare meant it to be--some kind of platonic weird love between these two characters. I'd give this show 8 out of 10 stars.

© 2009 Ed Farolan

Das Kabarett

Dates and Venue 12, 15, 17, 18 & 20 September | Playwrights Theatre Centre

Performer Heidemarie Muller

The come-on ad of this one-woman show appears like this is going to be a fun cabaret show, but in fact, it ends up being a tragic personal story of World War II. Muller plays the role of her grandmother who was a cabaret performer in Belgrade in 1944 when Tito and the partisans took over Yugoslavia. The Germans who lived here were targets even if they were apolitical. They were caught in-between. Those of German descent were forced to join the German army even if they didn't want to. Many Germans were anti-Nazi and didn't believe in Hitler's war, but because they were Germans, they were sent to Russian concentration camps and eventually exterminated. Muller does a touching performance of her grandmother who had to do cabaret to support her children. She was imprisoned together with her daughter and eventually executed. Her oldest, a boy, was enlisted by the German SS and was killed in battle. The two youngest (Muller's mother and uncle) escaped and made it to England, and in the early 1950s, immigrated to Canada. Muller taped her mother's and uncle's stories and converted it into this solo performance. It was a convincing and moving performance by this seasoned actress. The only peeve I had was that the tech people didn't close their window and I was annoyed by the noise they were making while the performance was going on.

© 2009 Ed Farolan