2023 Vancouver International Fringe Festival
Reviewer Eve Newstead

Peaches: The Play!

Written & performed by Maarika Freund

September 7, 10,11, 13, 16& 17, 2023 | The NEST, Graville Island

Maarika Freund’s Peaches: The Play! is a one-woman show set in 2028; a not-so-distant future and a not-so-dissimilar dystopia. The entertainment industry is capitalizing on rape, with a new musical singing the power of forgiveness for none other than Harvey Weinstein. Maarika is told that her own experience of rape makes her fit for the starring role – so perfectly avant-garde, right? After a 7 year ostracization from the industry, living on tight purse strings in a dingey basement, she’s no means to turn it down.

Actually, Peaches would lose little from losing Peaches. The puppet serves to symbolise Maarika’s isolation, providing her with a conversational partner, but the audience could easy fill this role. Along with repetitive voice notes from Maarika’s agent, the back-and-forth with Peaches only disrupts pace.Freund’s stage presence alone is more than enough. It is a powerfully fraught performance. Her switches between pain and comedy are jolting. We meet a woman healing. Not a neat story version of healing, but a realistic, wayward, disheartening healing. An experience overwhelmed with loneliness.

The premise itself is provocative but each of the play’s layers provoke thinking too. For example, the method acting exercise – to find three things she has in common with her attacker and the capacity to empathize with him. Plus reflections onthe commodification of sexual trauma and how #metoo the movement and #metoo the money maker are becoming increasingly difficult to disentangle.

The Fringe has long created space for artists to push boundaries and to make people listen through laughter. Freund exemplifies why this is so vital.

muse: an experiment in storytelling and life drawing

Written & performed by Cameryn Moore

September 7, 9,13, 14, 15& 17, 2023 | The NEST, Graville Island

The premise of Muse, Cameryn Moore’s self-entitled experiment running at Vancouver Fringe, undoubtedly rouses many questions in pre-attendees. And the show doesn’t fail to answer them. In fact it is surprisingly straight forward – Moore poses and talks, we draw and listen. Nevertheless,when it ends we are left contemplative,and the questions we have are by no means small. What is the relationship between the body and the self? Can we separate the two? By now we all know art is subjective, but how objective is sight?

Moore takes audience-made-artists through a series of poses building from one minute to ten minutes. As we draw, she monologues about her career and answers questionswithunflinching frankness. The casual atmosphere and easy movement through conversation, both silly and serious, could be mistaken for the natural order of things. But be under no illusion – Moore is in control. Through talking about personal experienceshe extends to the political. We delve into fatphobia, objectification in varying forms, the practicalities of performing for a living, culture shock and even Brexit.

Much can be learned in one hour. Much can be drawn. Though most interesting is to consider how what is learned informs what is drawn. Are audience members transcribing Moore’s stories onto her body? Is Moore, through words, shaping our perception of her appearance? Of our art? And is this experience as unconstrained as it feels?

Again, more questions. Absorbing questions you’ll want to think about for yourself at her next show at the Fringe. Pick up some charcoal, prop open your ears and join the experiment.

Lia & Dor

Written by Cristina Tudor, directed by Keltie Forsyth

September 8, 9,10, 11, 14 & 16, 2023 | Performance Works, Graville Island

Stories are fantastical because life is fantastical. Cristina Tudor's beguiling Romanian fairytale explores the space where they collide. Starting its run at Vancouver Fringe Festival last night, Lia & Dor takes its audience on a journey through Lia’s family history and Romanian folklore. Dream and memories inform Lia of her past, but ultimately lead her to discovering her sense of agency for the future.

The dynamic duo - Cristina Tudor as Lia, and Alexander Forsyth as Dor, her whimsical guider – weave a captivating narrative. At first its waywardness is difficult to keep up with. They switch between various roles, often without full commitment to new physicality or voice, which causes confusion. Loosen up and trust the processthough becausethe play grows in confidence and clarity.

Commanding performances of traditional song and dance pepper the sensory experience.Much of the atmosphere too is rendered by the props, each one spectacular in its detail - a decadent wolf mask and a woven snake puppet to name a few – which entice us into the enchanted forest. The sense of the natural world and its magic is rendered effectively.
Lia’s stories don’t always find resolution. Her questions aren’t always answered. But the journey she takes us on is undeniably one of growth.

Three Acts of a Woman: Birth-Life - Tomorrow

Written & Directed by Majid Tafreshi

September 7,9,13,15,16 & 17, 2023 | Waterfront Theatre, Graville Island

IThe song opening Three Acts of a Woman, which premiered at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival this week, is lamenting, moving. It encompasses all that the women of Iran have lost. Such unimaginable losses might appear to have left nothing but ash, but still from the ashes Iranian women rise.

Divided into three episodes, inspired by iconic historical women Joan of Arc, Antigone and Medea, the play follows three women who fight oppressive forces. The first, a fifteen-year-old forced into marriage with a powerful man, refuses the common narrative of the child bride. Enticing her husband into domination play, she ties him to the bed before suffocating him. The second, a woman whose sister has been murdered in the street, refuses to stay quiet while it is covered up. Risking everything, she fights authority and searches for her sister’s body to ensure a proper burial. And the third, a factory worker, raped, and pregnant, by her employer refuses to have the child. It is refusal that ties these women together - refusal of submission.

From the opening, Majid Tafreshi’s skill at balancing comedy and tragedy is evident. The pre-wedding chat between bride-to-be and best friend is surprising and refreshing. Of course there is fear, but there is also humour and trickiness. The actors master the unease of treading this thin line. Get a boyfriend, the bride is told; live out your sexual fantasies in another space if you are unable to in your marriage. The women reclaim their bodies; their sexualities - to seek pleasure despite everything is the ultimate act of defiance.

The female body is fore grounded throughout. In part two, the murdered woman’s body is seen as disposable, a plaything used by the authorities to taunt the family. Her sister fights to have her buried properly. She risks her own life to restore the dignity and sacredness to her sister’s body, even after death. Incredibly nuanced as well is the reference to her becoming a ‘hero’ in death – her body now weaponised as, or reduced to, a symbol. In part three, Tafreshi interrogates the ways women’s bodies are used without permission for sex and procreation. Despite dreaming of motherhood once, the pregnant woman chooses to abort. She says not now, not this way. Not just because I am told to.

The scene changes are admittedly clunky, as are many uses of props. In particular, the central box being dragged noisily back and forth proffers little gain for much distraction. The script, too, oft lacks precision. Conversations that could have been written in five lines use twenty. There is frequent repetition and overstating of central themes. Utilisation of this wasted space could have allowed for more range in the actors’ performances.

Still, the ultimate message of Tafreshi’s play is one of empowerment. And this prevails.

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