2019 Fringe Reviews

We will update this throughout the Fringe as reviews are posted. We have pasted the full text of reviews so it’s easier to browse and more accessible for screen readers. Follow Check the Program on Facebook for up to the minute reviews throughout the Fringe, and check Monday Magazine and the Times Colonist for reviews posted during the Fringe.

Monday Magazine reviews Summer Bucket List, The Trophy Hunt, Travel Theatrics, A Little Crazy

Summer Bucket List | Collectivus Theatre

PG 13+ adult themes, playing through Sept. 1 at the Roxy Theatre

Two high school juniors discover the titular summer bucket list while serving detention, and in deciding to complete the list’s goals the girls uncover truths about the older women they look up to as role models.

Summer Bucket List will entertain you, regardless of plot inconsistencies, writes Tim Ford.

The action of the play is a bit muddled, and unfortunately the various threads and characters don’t quite gel together into a cohesive message. That said, as pure entertainment Summer Bucket List excels, with several lines of genuine laugh-out-loud dialogue, and terrific physical comedy from leads Maggie Martin and Lili Martin. Indeed, the performances from the entire cast of six are satisfying to watch, even if the resolution leaves some dangling questions. 3 stars (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

The Trophy Hunt | Open Pit Theatre

PG 12+ dark comedy, on through Sept. 1 in Fan Tan Alley

The Victoria version of this “rolling world premiere,” by Whitehorse-based Open Pit Theatre, offers a menagerie of three monologues, performed in a nifty courtyard accessed in Fan Tan Alley (note: Fringe tent is beside the Fisgard entrance).

The monologues run the gamut of the hunting experience: the hunters, the guides … the hunted.

The direction makes excellent use of the quirky outdoor space. The review performance was after dark, and while the audience experience won’t be adversely affected by daylight, the atmosphere was definitely enhanced by night time. The monologues are varied and interesting, the performers engaging and fun. Trophy Hunt, with its endless possibilities for exploration, will leave you wanting more. 4 stars (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

Travel Theatrics – Standing Room Only Theatre

PG14+ adult themes, at Wood Hall through Sept. 1

This play probably epitomizes Fringe shows – all done by one person, based on personal experience, exactly one hour long. And Keara Barnes is good!

Her script is sort of like a rap song without music – many interesting rhymes. But this is not a protest, rather it is a glimpse of her travels, backpacking around the world. Actually they are probably the kind of adventures no parent wants to know about – how she escaped some close calls in foreign places! But here she is, alive and lively and loving life, a consummate performer who engages her audiences, entertains them and makes them care.

– Sheila Martindale

A Little Crazy (a bissel meshugah) – Bema Productions

Adults-only comedy, at Congregation Emanu-El through Sept. 1

Jewish humour is unique and special. Jewish families are always larger than life, driving you crazy but staying in your heart. Jewish writing can make you laugh and make you cry, but most of all it can make you think. This play by Joseph Reed Hayes and performed by Toshik Bukowiecki and Michael Rodgers, is all of these things; a wonderful 75 minutes of pure theatre, sending you out chuckling and pondering. No crude language, just pure unadulterated entertainment which you won’t want to miss.

– Sheila Martindale

Check the Program reviews Travel Theatrics

Fringe review: “Travel Theatrics”
**** (4 stars) Venue 4: Wood Hall

Ideal for anyone who’s ever spent any time strapped to a backpack (or is thinking of it), “Travel Theatrics” goes a step beyond the typical travel narrative. More than just a series of loosely connected travel stories, the charmingly talented Keara Linda Barnes takes us on a journey through six countries, 18 characters and about 20 years of her life as she not only discovers the terrors and pleasures of traveling but also comes to realize how those experiences ultimately shape us.

Blending a dynamic physical performance with strong characterizations, Barnes cleverly infuses the show with the power of storytelling and her own theatrical background, resulting in a never-too-clever meta spin. And by interspersing an optimistic learning curve with the challenges and uncertainty only women travelers face (including a sadly inevitable #metoo moment), Barnes offers an energetic series of coming-of-age stories that are as enjoyable to listen to as they are fun to watch.
—JT

Check the Program reviews Dissection of a…Mixed Heritage Woman

FRINGE review: “Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman Victoria Fringe 2019” (Venue 2: Downtown Activity Centre)
💫 (three and a half stars out of five)

In ‘Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman’ creator/perfomer Nyla Carpentier searches for her point(s) of origin by sifting through her body part by part, assigning a different thread from her background to everything from her fingers to her toes on a journey to find her fit.

Carpentier brings energy and charm to the stage in spades, leading her audience through this 60-minute exploration of identity and belonging with a luminous blend of storytelling, poetry and dance.

Still a bit of a work in progress, some of Carpentier’s threads could do with a trim and she wasn’t entirely off book on opening night, reading instead of performing some of her most poignant thoughts about her body’s value and its connection to her ancestors’ stories.

That, and it felt like the climax of the show—a joyful and gorgeous bit of movement that I won’t spoil for you—came ten minutes too early.

But those are relatively minor nit-pickings in a really lovely, personal piece that ultimately celebrates the similarities between heritages instead of dissecting the differences. —MTH

Check the Program reviews The Trophy Hunt

Fringe Review: The Trophy Hunt – Open Pit Theatre
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Four Stars)
Venue: Fan Tan Alley (Site D)

An urban safari through Fan Tan Alley really sets the stage for The Trophy Hunt, a dark comedy about big game hunting. The audience is led to a hidden oasis with bucket-and-pillow seats among the concrete, trees and birds. We are encouraged to take photos of the ‘wildlife’ and post to social media. The show explores the grotesque world of trophy hunting from the hunters, the hunted and a despairing guide. The script, written by Trina Davis, is buoyed by excellent performances from Geneviève Doyon, David Radford and Christina Patterson. Jessica Hickman (who co-directed the show with Celine Stubel) provides levity and humour as the quirky safari guide and DJ. Definitely a Fringe adventure.
– Sarah

Check the Program reviews Antigones

Fringe Review: “Antigones- Victoria Fringe” – Maenad’s Theatre
⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (Three and a Half Stars)
Venue 3: Metro Studio Theatre

‘Antigones’ is a modern interpretation of the Ancient Greek Play, Antigone by Sophocles, done through movement. It focuses purely on Antigone’s experience in her defiance of the King, and the role of Antigone is played by all four performers.

Through carefully chosen monologues and creative use of space, each performer conveys Antigone’s fear, isolation, anger, strength, and defiance through it all. Antigones relies heavily on metaphor to convey the play, though relatively straightforward ones.

Overall, it’s a short experience at only half an hour. It says what it has to say and sticks to it. I won’t spoil it though.  It’s definitely an ‘oh!’ moment at the end that I say brings everything together.

I wouldn’t say you need any prior knowledge of Antigone, as the monologues do explain the plot, and the main focus is on the movement to express each Antigones’ emotions and struggle.
-BB

Check the Program reviews Summer Bucket List

Fringe Review: “Summer Bucket List” – Collectivus Theatre
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Four Stars)
Venue 6: The Roxy Theatre

‘Summer Bucket List’ is the journey of two best friends, Zoe and Grace, trying to make the best out of their summer detention when they find summer bucket list and decide to complete it.

All the actors are great at physical acting, making great use of space to make each joke hit with great comedic timing, and the painfully serious moments hit even harder. There are moments were Zoe and Grace really feel like 15-year-old girls.

Sometimes the scenes feel a little too short, but that’s honestly a nitpick. You can tell that the director paid close attention to it.

It’s a story focused around the female experience of trying to fit in with imposed expectations while figuring out who you really are, losing the old in the face of the new, and how scary it is.

There’s laughter, anger, tears, but ultimately, hope. Definitely don’t miss this.
-BB

Check the Program reviews Personal Demon Hunter

Fringe review: “Personal Demon Hunter” *** ½ (3 ½ stars)
Venue 2: Downtown Community Centre

Truth in advertising for this one: the improbably named but smoothly neurotic Velvet Duke serves up exactly what the program says—a mix of “storytelling, original music, stand-up and improvised comedy”—all squeezed into the framework of a mindfulness workshop.

A self-described “second-generation narcissist,” Duke offers a great voice, charming persona and easy rapport with the audience, even if some of the scripted material didn’t exactly soar with opening night’s small house. But this is precisely the kind of show that would benefit from a large (and lively) crowd—his advice-based improv songs based on audience questions were hilarious—so if inspirational comedy is your cup of kombucha, Velvet Duke may have the cure for what ails us all.
—JT

Check the Program reviews Falstaff

Fringe review: “Falstaff” *** (3 stars)
Venue 7: St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

Made famous by Shakespeare’s “Henry” plays as the buffoonish Falstaff, this solo outing offers the “true” story of Sir John Fastolf via a series of raucous and rollicking (mis)adventures by the man himself. Theatre Inconnu’s Clayton Jevne breathes fresh life into Fastolf, offering us a charming rogue and a recap of the Hundred Years War delivered at a fairly breakneck pace.

While the material well-suits Jevne’s age and performance style (and has a fantastic costume by the late Margaret McKea), the 75-minute show could use more breathing space and a bit of a trim—and those who don’t brush up on the program’s historical notes may well find themselves lost somewhere between the plague years and the battle of Agincourt. Fastolf’s Casanovian nature and ribald characterization of women may also be problematic for some, but there’s no denying Jevne’s skill in bringing this kind of classical character to life.
—JT

CVTV reviews The Robber Bridegroom & Dear Samantha

Disclaimer: I’m both a theatre reviewer and active member of the community. I’m the production manager of hapax theatre, and we have a show in the Fringe: Nevermore. This is my only plug for that show (really, check us out!). – Chad Laidlaw

 

Day 1 – Bonnie Brides and Agony Aunts

 

The Robber Bridegroom – Venue 3 – Metro Studio

 

A tale from the Brothers Grimm come to life on stage, The Robber Bridegroom is a suitably creepy and clever way to reengage with a classic folk tale.

 

It is the day of a wedding circa 1809 in Germany, and the bride is walked down the aisle to her bridegroom. In front of the magistrate she faints, and experiences a startling vision of wolves, getting lost in the woods, murder, and talking birds. Confronted with a monster in front of her, in the guise of her husband-to-be, what should she do? And, importantly, what do we do when we see the wolf in the fold, threatening those we love?

 

The Robber Bridegroom is a tight, well crafted show, and clearly a lot of love and attention is given to reinterpreting the source material. The visuals are often creepy (particularly when shadow play is used), and amplified by a very well executed sound design. The puppet work lends an element of the uncanny to the production, and the performers do a great job of imbuing life into their creations. The message of the tale, rather than cautionary, is a call to action, stirring people to defend the people in their lives (particularly women) who are threatened by malign forces. 

 

I’ve a couple of quibbles with the production, though neither are show stoppers. Sometimes in the puppetry-filled dream it was a little difficult to follow all that was happening. The characters as puppets vocalize, but do not speak, meaning you’ve got to pay double the attention to keep up with what’s happening. Do yourself a favour and skim a version of the story beforehand; you’re bound to get more out of it that way.

 

The piece also relies on some (light) audience interaction, which you’ve got to be primed for. On opening night, the house seemed quite reluctant to get involved when the time came. This lead to a bit of an unevenness in tone, where the performance became a bit more like a comedy than a chilling tale, as the cast tried to move forward without the feedback from the crowd. The show isn’t a panto, but when called upon it’s necessary to make your voice heard. You’ll know it when you get there. 

 

The Robber Bridegroom is a great way to get something creepy out of your Fringe Experience. Technically well-executed, a classic tale tweaked for a modern time without being “modernized,” it’s a show that could leave you spooked, delighted, and motivated to take a stand.

 

Dear Samantha – Venue 4 – VCM Wood Hall

 

Bringing her delightful mix of honesty, humble bragging, and melancholy, Miss Samantha Mann returns in Dear Samantha, an advice show that is equal parts funny and touching.

 

If you’re not familiar with Miss Samantha Mann, do yourself a favour and become familiar. This multi-award-winning spinster librarian was most recently seen in Victoria in 2017 with Stories about Love, Death, and a Rabbit, a charming and heartbreaking work. Dear Samantha shows the newest phase of her career, that of being a (partially) trained agony aunt, think a live action “Dear Abby” columnist, or, as Miss Mann puts it “a therapist, but without the training or any oversight whatsoever.” Sam Mann dispenses advice on love, life, politics, and really anything that is a dilemma and weighing on your heart. Witty and delightful, her answers are at one moment poignant, the next side-splitting.

 

The core of the show is the disarmingly charming nature of Sam Mann, and how she walks on a razor thin line between wry self-deprecation and bragging about her accomplishments. This incisiveness gives her a freedom to say some of the things which we are uncomfortable with hearing about our own problems, or to reframe the questions to show that we probably know the answer to them already. Repeatedly she reminds us that many of our interpersonal issues can be simplified by simply talking to the people with whom we are experiencing problems, and being forthright. Moreover, she reminds us that, regardless of the anxieties that fill a particular moment, there are other moments. 

 

Samantha Mann reminds her audience that it’s okay to breathe, and encourages them to get their feelings out and stand up for their needs. If you’re looking for something lighthearted and funny, but still with heart and hope, Dear Samantha is just the right show for you. 

Times Colonist reviews Dear Samantha, Battery Operated Boyfriend & Mel Malarky Gets the Bum’s Rush

Dear Samantha

Where: Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music

When: Continues Aug. 24, 30, 31, Sept. 1

Rating: Four stars

Nimble-witted Charles Adrian Gillott is an award-winning spoken-word artist from Britain. For his one-man Dear Samantha, Gillott dons sensible-shoes drag (skirt, white gloves, etc.) to play a skittish spinster who reinvents herself as an advice guru.

The self-made agony aunt is sort of a low-boil Dame Edna. Samantha chatters a mile-a-minute, seemingly all in a fluster. Her patter is peppered with back-handed bon mots. “That’s alright,” Samantha says solicitously, “I’m not here to judge anyone’s ignorance.” And elsewhere: “Should one be supportive… or honest?”

Her satirical sense is dryer than a vermouth-free martini. Poking at political correctness, Samantha primly rings a mini-bell and says: “It’s very important to create a safe space. And that’s what that was.”

The best part comes at the end, when Samantha responds to written questions from the audience (cards and pens are dispersed before the show commences). A veteran improviser, Gillott shot off lightning-fast responses like a gun-slinging Buster Scruggs. My favourite: Question: “Can you love someone without liking them?” Answer: “Yes, of course — I think of my parents.”

A good director could improve the sometimes monochromatic pacing of the show. And one must listen hard to catch Gillott’s swift delivery. That said, this is one nifty little comedy worth seeking out.

Battery Operated Boyfriend

Where: Victoria Event Centre

When: Continues Aug. 24, 28, 31, Sept. 1

Rating: Two stars

Hard-core sci-fi aficionados may find something to enjoy in this unconventional love story about a woman who designs artificial-intelligence systems. Others will leave scratching their heads.

Nicol Gabe plays Sam Hudson, a shy and lonely young woman who invented an AI helpmate she names Bob (portrayed by Steve Brady, who wrote the show). Bob is oddly similar to Sam’s flesh-and-blood boyfriend who died in a tragic hang-glider accident.

The problem is that techno-boyfriend Bob can’t go for walks, share meals or make love (other than in a battery-operated manner, wink-wink). This sci-fi romp makes a not particularly original point about society’s increasingly intimate relationship with technology.

The show has its moments — for instance, Sam ultimately assumes a new form that’s rather intriguing. Yet overall, Battery Operated Boyfriend is stymied by fundamental problems. Gabe is a so-so actor, Brady seems a stage novice. And the script is clunky.

Mel Malarky Gets the Bum’s Rush

Where: Roxy Theatre

When: Continues Aug. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31

Rating: Two stars

Dressed in a platinum blond wig and tails, Toronto performer Charlie Petch opens by singing Ain’t We Got Fun while playing a musical saw. The saw playing wasn’t particularly tuneful — still, it seemed the show could go either way.

Mel Malarky Gets the Bum’s Rush soon devolved into a well-meaning mish-mash. It stars Mel Malarky, a lisping MC overseeing the final performance of her variety show in 1931. The Depression is in full swing, cinema is gaining popularity and vaudeville is dying.

Poor Mel must bind her breasts to impersonate a man in an oppressively patriarchal society. She hosts a cornucopia of kooky acts we never see (which is a shame, they sound entertaining). Instead, we get her onstage introductions and dressing-room scenes in which Mel chugs a snake-oil elixir.

Occasionally accompanying herself on accordion, harmonica, ukulele and saw, Petch strives to create a mysterious, yesteryear world populated by eccentrics, outcasts and others who fall between the cracks. She has a warm-hearted stage presence. Unfortunately, the show is a dog’s breakfast. The narrative is loose and uneven — sometimes it’s hard to even tell what’s going on.

Check the Program reviews GRL PWR

Fringe Review: GRL PWR at Victoria Fringe 2019
 (five stars out of five)
Salty Broad Productions
Venue: Metro Theatre

On one level, GRL PWR is a radiant manifestation of every 90s teen’s pop star dreams – including mine. But the show is also a loving tribute and nuanced critique of the feminist movements that shaped generations. It is packed with popular girl group hits from the Andrews Sisters to Destiny’s Child and the epic dance moves to match.

An interesting arc is the story of how lyrics shifted from girl groups of the 50s, 60s and 70s who sang about boyfriends and marriage to the anthems of independent women in the 90s singing about how girls rule, friendships, making their own money, leaving bad men and sexual liberation.

GRL PWR stars five super-talented local triple threats, co-creators Emilee Nimetz and Sadie Evans, with Ingrid Moore, Jana Morrison and Sarah Murphy. Opening night was packed and the show finished with a dancing ovation and cheers. Word will spread. Get your tickets now.

— Sarah

Check the program reviews Fool Muun Komming!

FRINGE review: “Fool Muun Komming!” (Venue 7: Kirk Hall)
 (five stars out of five)

Tumbling out like the zaniest lucid dream sequence you’ve ever had, ‘Fool Muun Komming!’ pulls you into the elaborate hallucination of a wee alien tasked with delivering an important message to humankind.

Essentially a cartoon character come to life, creator/performer Sam Kruger is a shapeshifting ball of energy reminiscent of vintage Jim Carrey (but ‘fun-sized’ and more endearing).

Kruger’s wordplay is just as lithe and fast-paced as his clowning and I can’t say enough about the pitch-perfect lighting and sound design that both grounded and added layers upon layers of rich texture to every spiraling tangent.

This little space show is an oddball bit of brilliance that is so quintessentially Fringe yet somehow a Fringe rarity all in the same fell swoop. You’ll laugh, you’ll scratch your head and you’ll be completely awestruck in equal measure—all the hallmarks of a five-star Fringe experience. —MTH

Check the Program reviews Nevermore

Fringe Review: hapax theatre presents Nevermore at the Victoria Fringe – hapax theatre
⭐️⭐️⭐️💫(Three and a Half Stars)
Venue 3: Metro Studio Theatre

“Nevermore” is a musical focused on Edgar Allen Poe at his lowest moment as he is forced to face the women who he both loved and lost.

What struck me the most about “Nevermore” is how little it romanticizes Poe. Yes, he was a great poet but also a self-destructive person who pushed everyone away from him, and actor Elliot James really captures that side of the man.

The musical takes Poe’s most famous poems and repurposes them as songs, mixed in with some original pieces. Some of the singing is a little rough, but each actor conveys the intended emotion very well, and the excellent blocking of each scene adds so much to the subtext of the ongoing drama of all the characters.

So if you have the time, come see Edgar Allen Poe at his worst and his eventual acceptance of himself.
-BB

Check the Program reviews Broadway Bash

Fringe review: Broadway Bash *** (3 stars)
Venue 5: Langham Court Theatre

It’s no secret I’m a musical kinda guy: I look forward to the Tonys like movie buffs do the Oscars. Which would theoretically make me ideal for a Broadway spoof; alas, this felt more like a stripped-down 60-minute 1970s TV variety show with about 10 minutes of truly funny moments.

Fusing songs from Hamilton, Phantom, Mama Mia, My Fair Lady and many (many) others with silly & satirical lyrics about tourists, drinking, game shows, social media, bike lanes, food allergies, Vic West and (occasionally) Broadway, the talented cast of six keep things moving, but most of the songs go on too long. Sight gags, hand props and light choreography add to the hijinx, as do impersonations by creator Steve Ivings; ironically, his droll between-segment narration offered some of the funniest moments (more, please).

But, much of the audience were enjoying Friday night’s production, which was great—and that’s what the Fringe is all about: different shows for different people.
—JT

Check the Program reviews how to pull your heart out through your throat

Fringe review: How To Pull Your Heart Out Through Your Throat at the Fringe! – **½ (2 ½ stars)
Venue 5: Langham Court Theatre

Searching for a classic WTF Fringe show that will equally amuse & mystify & annoy you? Look no further than the latest from Impulse Theatre, which aptly lives up to its description as a “collision of theatre, dance, poetry & more” by offering an interpretive dance/physical theatre/sketch comedy show for the Evan Hansen generation.

A self-aware mish-mash of ideas & styles loosely connected to matters of the heart (friendship, connection, conversation, self-acceptance), if the Joker had gone into theatre rather than crime, he might well have come up with this. Sometimes funny, sometimes baffling, the program photo pretty much captures the spirit of the show. It does have good lighting, though.
—JT

Check the Program reviews The Psychic Dynasty

Fringe review: “The Psychic Dynasty” – **** (4 stars)
Venue 5: Langham Court Theatre

Full disclosure: as someone who can’t remember his own cell phone number, I’m a sucker for a good mentalist routine. And while Phina & Joey Pipia may not offer Vegas-style slickness, their homespun father-daughter act is firmly anchored in strong tricks guaranteed to impress. True, their patter could build on the familial connection a bit more and it’s hardly as “fast-paced” as the program notes, but their talented routines are ideal for audiences of all ages.

As with any magic show, expect some good-natured audience participation as you assist their technology-free series of enjoyable card tricks, thought transmission and song-based routines (be prepared to invoke the spirit of Johnny Cash!). Ultimately, the measure of any magic show is what you hear on the way out . . . and most people (myself included) left the theatre intoning the truly magical words: “How did they do that?!”
—JT

Monday Magazine reviews Into the Tango, GRL PWR, Money on the Table & Let’s Prank Call Each Other

Into the Tango – Pointetango

All ages, at the Metro Studio through Sept. 1

Dramatic! Passionate! Awe-inspiring! Erin Scott-Kafadar and Alexander Richardson present a wonderful program of dance, which was voted the favourite dance show at the 2018 Victoria Fringe. With amazing versatility, Richardson begins with bare feet, proceeds to elegant stiletto heels, and on to a pointe ballet shoe on one foot with the stiletto on the other. Her male partner is lithe, and they dance as one body, with grace and precision. There is also an element of fun in their facial expressions as they move through the lighter pieces in the repertoire. And their various costumes reflect the tempo of the dance. Definitely a must-see!

***** (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

GRL PWR | Salty Broad Productions

PG 12+ coarse language, on through Aug. 31 at Metro Studio

GRL PWR is exactly what it says on the tin: “A Musical History of 90s Girl Group Feminism.” It’s also an immediate crowd pleaser, exploding onto the stage with a boundless energy that makes its 55-minutes of dance, music, and rumination on “five rules that 90s groups taught us” whiz by.

The Fringe program description calls to audience members who are fans of TLC or Spice Girls, but there’s plenty here for fans of “girl group” music of any era to enjoy. Insightful, supercharged, and just plain fun, GRL PWR is sure to stick out in many a Fringe fan’s memory as a Spice-y, entertaining show.

****1/2 (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

Money on the Table | Bucket Head Productions

PG 12+ coarse language, violence, dark comedy, on through Sept. 1 at St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

An unconscious man sits strapped to a chair, his three kidnappers wake him and demand he give them access to… well, it wasn’t precisely made clear. Money on the Table never fully delivers on a potentially interesting set up, with its characters rotating in a power dynamic that never entirely makes sense, their motivations a cipher and their stakes oddly muted for a play that involves kidnapping and torture.

Tonally, Money on the Table tries to thread the needle between comedy and drama, but is only part way successful. There are genuine moments of levity, and there’s talent here, but it needed more fleshing out of character and theme.

** (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

Let’s Prank Call Each Other | Zach Dorn

PG 12+ coarse language, adult themes, on through Sept. 1 at St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

LA-based puppeteer Zach Dorn presents a series of rapid-fire puppet vignettes, utilizing a mixture of projection, a handheld camcorder and a bevy of paper cutouts, dolls, and nifty hand-crafted sets. Dorn’s tiny tales of dogs, prank calls and strip clubs add up to a surprising meditation on loneliness, personal growth, and quirky hangups that mask a kind of existential dread.

Let’s Prank Call Each Other has a very DIY, intimate style to it, and blurs the lines between reality, fiction and folly. It’s a trippy, surreal experience, and has a solid emotional core to it.

**** (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

CVTV reviews Fool Munn Komming & Personal Demon Hunter

Fringe Day 2 – Lonely Aliens and Velvet Dukes

 

Fool Munn Komming – Venue 7 – St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

 

There some works of theatre which, for good or for ill, have defined the term Fringe or Fringey in the context of the festival, and Fool Muun Komming! is a good example of the kind of weird and wonderful theatre you can only see in the Fringe.

 

The show is a hard one to summarize in a meaningful way, but here goes. An alien is coming to earth, and to prepare for his arrival, the audience is pulled in to a shared dream or mass hallucination. In it we see a day in the life of an alien critter, a series of bonkers dream sequences, an argument with a disembodied voice of an asteroid named Love Rock, and, peppered throughout, moments of real heartfelt beauty. It’s a show that culminates in a near perfect moment of devastating cacophony paired with simple elegance, that, despite not being sure what’s going on, you feel as though you got there organically.

 

Holding Fool Muun Komming! Together is no mean task, and Sam Kruger, creator and performer, has the requisite skills in spades. His control over his body and physicality is a sight to behold, and adds a level of precision to all the chaotic choices made throughout. It illustrates the care and precision put into a work which is regularly baffling, and, if you didn’t know better, might make you think that it’s just a bunch of random elements. Clearly it’s not, though parsing why you’re there and what you’re seeing may take most of the performance.

 

Fool Muun Komming! Is exactly as weird as you would expect it to be, and deserves plaudits for delivering the kind of experience you can only get at the Fringe. If you want something weird (this cannot be underscored enough) and wonderful, it’s probably a show for you.

 

Personal Demon Hunter – Venue 2 – Downtown Community Centre

 

Mixing storytelling, song, and some of the most earnest and well-meaning audience participation I’ve seen in any theatre, Personal Demon Hunter, created and performed by Velvet Duke, is an experience that is uplifting, and underscores the inherent value of every person who comes in the room.

 

Personal Demon Hunter is, perhaps predictably, somewhat difficult to pigeonhole. It’s somewhere around a cabaret show fused with a self help TEDx talk, minus the self importance of the usual TEDx speakers and instead infused with sincere appreciation for who is in the audience and the experiences they bring to the event. Velvet Duke doesn’t spin platitudes, or insist that people have to come to revelations about themselves in order to have value; rather he repeatedly reassures all participants, both passive and active, in his “seminar” that their value as a human is inherent, and entirely untied to whatever “growth” they have, you are not required to grow to be a person of value. The message is strong, and well worth receiving and repeating in this age.

 

It’s worth noting that this show hinges upon an engaged audience, and don’t let that be an intimidating factor. Established early, and well established at that, are ground rules for audience interaction, which Velvet Duke follows to the letter. At no point will you get pulled up, out of your comfort zone, and that is a sincere relief. Personal Demon Hunter is a show that cares about consent and appreciation, and those are qualities too often lacking in this sort of interactive piece.

 

Personal Demon Hunter is the sort of performance piece that you should feel good about participating in. A chance to experience catharsis, to laugh a little, and to breathe in a place of warmth and openness. Combine that with Velvet Duke’s velvety singing voice and quick wit, it’s the sort of show that you should seek out when you’re looking for a little self healing.

Check the Program reviews Scaredy Cat

FRINGE review: “SCAREDY CAT at the Victoria Fringe Festival 2019” (Venue 4: VCM Wood Hall)
 (four stars out of five)

Everybody’s afraid of something—it just so happens that Scaredy Cat’s Carlyn Rhamey is afraid of *everything*…including her mum.

Rhamey’s long list of fears gives shape to a thoroughly enjoyable monologue that tangles with the risks and rewards of conquering phobias (plus an a-ha moment or two about what is truly worth fearing out there).

As a coming-of-age confessional this show isn’t exactly charting new territory—anxiety and familial relations frame up many a Fringe monologue—but Scaredy Cat’s particular blend of fear-based fodder is buoyed by Rhamey’s extraordinary gifts as a storyteller.

Back in Victoria after a great run with The ADHD Project last year, Rhamey is generous with her audience, self-deprecating in all the right moments and you leave the show wanting to grab a beer with her afterwards to trade notes on just how terrifying the ocean really is.

What Scaredy Cat perhaps lacks in individuality it makes up for in polish and relatability, so don’t be afraid to add this one to your list if you’re game for a straightforward and heartening monologue brought to life by a truly exceptional performer.
—MTH

Otakunoculture reviews Nevermore, Timeline for Homo Sapiens & Battery Operated Boyfriend

Nevermore – hapax theatre

It’s very rare for me to get to see Nevermore put on by different theatre companies. It was first performed back in 2009 by Catalyst Theatre in Alberta and since then, other versions have popped up. Both gained accolades. Back in 2011, Urban Arts (defunct now) offered a Halloween thrilled spectacle recounting the life of Edgar Allan Poe. This company got permission to perform in the old courtroom in Bastion Square–the oldest part of Victoria–to give this show a special ambience different from a stage production. Because of the set, the life and times of this seminal poet, madman and architect of the macabre was center stage; audiences had the freedom to be either courtroom visitors watching or jurors waiting to cast a verdict on this person’s life.

At Intrepid Theatre‘s Metro Theatre, the 2019 Victoria Fringe Festival version has the benefit of proper stage lighting and a misty setting to give the performance a different vibe. It was more gothic. This version by Hapax Theatrestars Elliott James as Poe, Sasha Moriarty-Schieven as the Mother, Keeley Teuber as Muddy, Lara Hamburg as Elmira, Abby Corpus as Virginia and Ingrid Moore the Whore. Watching the ghosts this author faced as they descended upon him was thrilling. This setting gave a different point of view; we are looking through the looking glass at what Poe faced. Torment came at him in many directions, including us as one spirit appeared mid-audience and descended onto the stage. The people he saw were indeed etheric.

Moriarty-Schieven’s presence was perfect as that watchful matriarch. Corpus’ very youthful appearance conveyed the sense of why Poe’s ‘interest’ in his first cousin should be frowned upon. Her death was a huge catalyst to the poet’s eventual meltdown.

poe2

Photo credit: James Holkko

I wondered if this company would change the play up any. Instead, it’s everything as I’d remembered from the show way back then. One major difference is with the lighting design and the quality of the song performances. James has a better tenor than countertenor range, and Teuber was the most consistent throughout. Instead of having a large band perform the melodies, the piano is all that’s needed to evoke the many moods to underscore the pressure Poe was facing. Maia Copley is the accompanist providing the live music.

Three of the best numbers will always remain “The Raven,” “To My Mother” and “Annabel Lee.” These simplified versions for one instrument stand out as far better than the bigger productions. However, it should be noted Matt Conner & Grace Barnes wrote this version Hapex is using. They make deeper use of the Poe’s various works (my favourite is always going to be The Pit and the Pendulum) to advance the story. “It’s one of those weird coincidences,”  company director Heather Jarvie explained.

poe

Photo credit: James Holkko

I’ve often wondered if the play can end on a different note with Poe screaming, “Nevermore!” as the climax. Yes, this musical is a biography and I feel we don’t need every aspect of this author’s life recounted.

I should mention the 2015 Nevermore–The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe show is bigger and bolder, offering more musical content. Plus, production photos show a lot of time was invested into costume design. Twenty-two tracks outline the life and times up to his death. To this day, we never got a definitive answer of what caused his passing. I’d be thrilled to see an interpretation seeing the devil arriving in Boston. To have something more sinister in play that cost him his life can add to the myth. If his ghost is to see this musical, I’m sure he’d be weeping. Those pearly gates never opened to accept him; the private hell he created, I feel, is still smothering him.

4 Stars out of 5


Timeline for Homo Sapiens – Camax Productions

It’s rare to find an act in any Fringe Festival that is more educational than it is entertaining. Timeline for Homo Sapiens is billed at a T-Edge talk, an irreverent non-academic intellectual redneck look at prehistory. Freeman the Handyman is a street polymath that looks at the growth of civilization through the lens of an amateur anthropologist, biologist and geologist who loves to talk. All the ideas are worthy of a Travel Channel or DTOUR network special. It’s all about alternative theories exploring how we evolved and arrived to what we are today (and what we are doing to this planet). To be offered material much like how Erich von Däniken posits the development of ancient civilizations is a show I had to check out.

As for how hominids evolved, we all assume Charles Darwin is right about the origin of the species. There has to be more. While I’d rather study this in a public lecture than at a Fringe festival, Freeman at least captures the heart of what alternative and in the edge performance theatre is about.

This show looks mostly at the Paleolithic development of the world. He glosses upon the importance of shamanism (mysticism) in early culture and he should have looked at this more. He avoids any “ancient alien” theory to keep ideas plausible. While he lacks the fire of a von Däniken lecture, he shows more passion by simply asking questions and hoping attendees will look even more to what ancient civilizations (or unusual starfall) left behind.

I feel this redneck is wants to be taken as seriously as Joseph Campbell but he’s nowhere near television presenter level as Josh Bernstein or Giorgio A. Tsoukalos. Perhaps all that’s needed to give his lecture that spark is an amusing diversion of him on video. I would love to see more than a picture of Göbekli Tepe, the Pyramid City of Caral or even The Cahokia Mounds. Seeing him in the field offers more credibility. Or maybe, he should have a shtick much like Wilson W. Wilson had in the sitcom Home Improvement we can relate to. I didn’t find much humour, and Freeman does not have to be Larry the Cable Guy either. To take the word of a handyman over anyone else requires a solid foundation of content to understand before adding unusual touches to it. With a thesis that’s just all over, what’s ultimately needed is tightening before the content can be considered passable.

3 Stars out of 5


Battery Operated Boyfriend – Giant Nerd Australia

A lot of themes are explored in Giant Nerd Australia‘s Battery Operated Boyfriend, which is making its North American premiere at the 2019 Victoria Fringe Festival. Please check this performance group’s Facebook page for future dates. In what you’ll see is a very in-depth look at loneliness in the eyes of Samantha (Nicol Cabe), a scientist/computer programmer. She lost her beau many years ago and programmed a facsimile of him–an artificial intelligence (Steve Brady) aptly named B.O.B.–to cope. While android technology is unknown in this minimalist sci-fi world, I get the sense that technology is advanced enough to allow for space exploration. Also, smart homes are a lot more common. When part of Sam’s life involves monitoring activities from the safety of her apartment than to live life to the fullest that her boyfriend once did, she’s in a rut. When her “programs” in the cyberworld discover a threat to Earth and say she’s the only one who can save humanity, she’s not ready to play superhero just yet.

Much of this show is about her self doubt. Although she tries to put on a good public face, her home life is depressing. This story offers a lot to think about. It’s more about showing audiences how not to be held back by grief when she pours her soul out to B.O.B. She wants to forget, but the program sees something better for her. A lot of influence from the Wachowski’s The Matrix makes up the philosophy on how to better your life, and shape destiny for yourself. Influential moments from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episode, “The Schizoid Man” is also very clear. Should we hide behind masks or can we allow the future to be shaped differently? I also think a bit of Red Dwarf’s more serious content is included. B.O.B. is like Rimmer with the sarcasm and narcissism removed. He’s created to give peace to the only surviving human stuck in the mining ship lost in space.

In wanting to be closer to Sam, this AI puts up with this woman. Sadly, he cannot go any further to console since he lacks a body. I suspect he knows more than he lets on and is in love too.

The need for companionship is strong and Cabe sells the desire in her performance. She argues with B.O.B. regularly and you’d think they were a couple. In this case, I get the feeling this work is a smart revision on what defines morality from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. That is, how do we recognize the difference of what defines a human consciousness (a soul, as Sam put it) versus that of a machine which is traditionally seen as soulless. A.I’s are built upon what if constructs and using logic to determine an outcome. To see where these two eventually meet face to face, and where Sam boldly goes, well, that’d be a spoiler.

I don’t think River Song from Doctor Who would approve if I wrote anything further.

4 Stars out of 5

Check the Program reviews Dear Samantha

Fringe Review: Dear Samantha at the Victoria Fringe 2019!
 (four stars out of five)
Venue: Victoria Conservatory of Music (Wood Hall)

Dear Samantha is a disarmingly funny and surprisingly therapeutic solo show from British performer Charles Adrian Gillott.

Ms. Samantha Mann is a purse-clutching, proper-attired librarian with a non-stop rambling commentary that is both comedic and cutting. Now a self-styled agony aunt, an English term for advice columnists, Samantha travels about offering to answer audience’s questions.

At the beginning of the show she passed around paper and pens for people to write questions and collected the stack. The cringing anticipation grew as Samantha meandered from quip to quibble before revealing our darkest, or dumbest, queries.

She deftly predicted the spectrum of themes of the questions, from politics and love to etiquette and existence.

But what was surprising and truly touching was how earnest people were and how much the questions revealed about a bunch of strangers in a room. Samantha’s advice was unpredictable and mostly lighthearted, “Oh I don’t know darling” she said many times, to wry (How do I know if it’s true love? “It’s not.”), to oddly insightful (regarding email etiquette she said niceties were important so we all know we’re not trying to kill each other – this is a paraphrase).

Samantha made sure to note that anyone with more serious issues or triggered by the show should seek the help of a professional. But for anyone needing a heart or brain break from a busy world, to laugh and not feel alone, this is a decent show.
– Sarah

Check the Program reviews Tragedy – Time Served + Comedy

Fringe review: Tragedy – Time Served = Comedy, Victoria Fringe 2019
⭐️⭐️ (two stars out of five)
Venue 1: Victoria Event Centre

After spending a decade in prison, how does a young man rejoin society? Mark Hughes shares the story of both his literal and figurative journey which has much to say, but needs a lot of work.

Past Fringe audiences may have caught Mark’s previous show, Tragedy + Time Served = Comedy, at the 2017 Fringe. Billed as a sequel to that show, Tragedy – Time talks about what it was like to first get out, Hughes’ struggles in landing a job, the people (and animals) who helped him, and how he eventually discovered stand-up comedy. He loosely structures this story along a road trip from Vancouver, where he has spent most of his life, to Toronto, where he now calls home.

There’s no doubt that Hughes has had a fascinating life and his story of rehabilitation and finding his passion is a compelling one, but this show in its current form just isn’t very effective. It rambles and jumps around too much to be overly engaging. By Hughes’ own admission, this is a very new show; Saturday night’s performance was only the second time he had performed it. With some solid outside help in the form of a good director and script editor, I think this could be a much stronger piece. I hope to see it again after it’s been worked on some more; stories like these are important to hear, and it’s impossible to deny Hughes’ enthusiasm for and dedication to his work.

-AFL

Check the Program reviews Leash Your Potential

Fringe review: Leash Your Potential at the Victoria Fringe
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (four stars out of five)
Venue 1, Victoria Event Centre

After spending 15 years working at Fortune 500 companies, Vancouver’s Ryan Gunther figures he’s got what it takes to teach us the ultimate corporate training seminar—his key qualifications? He’s white and bored. Gunther promise he won’t teach us how to rise to the top, but rather how to enjoy as much job security as possible in the mediocre middle. This is a strong blend of deadpan performance, good-bad photoshopping, and perfect material for Victoria’s mix of government and tech industry employees that will make it a hot ticket for this year’s Fringe.

Gunther’s wealth of experience in the corporate world is a rich vein to mine for material and this 55-minute show, structured as a PowerPoint training seminar, is so full of jokes you’ll be hard-pressed to get a breather in between his straight-faced delivery and the strong sight gags on the slides. It’s well paced and well structured and the packed house, myself included, loved it. My only quibble was there was a bit of a twist introduced about 2/3 through the show that I was kind of hoping would be taken somewhere interesting by the end, but didn’t really go anywhere–but if anything, that seemed pretty true to the slacker ethos of the show.

If you’re looking for a straight-up, well-performed, it’s-funny-cuz-it’s-true look at office life, this show is a solid hit. Plus, you’ll actually get some decent advice on how to effectively slack off at work. Maybe don’t invite your boss. Bonus points for plenty of pictures of ferrets.

-AFL

Check the Program reviews How to Be a Super-Frinjer™

Fringe Review: How to Be a Super-Frinjer™ at Victoria Fringe 2019
⭐️⭐️⭐️(Three stars out of five)
Venue 2: Downtown Activity Centre

It seems fitting that this was my first show of the 2019 Fringe; billed as lecture on how to get the most of your fringe festival experience delivered by Wilhelm, a former research scientist turned Super Frinjer™, this 45-minute show has a few rough spots, but more than makes up for them in heart.

Local performer and Fringe enthusiast Chris Gabel has put together a low-tech, endearing little tribute to the Fringe, complete with corny jokes, fun little musical transitions, and, of course, a flip chart. There’s some great tips in here on how to make the most of your Fringe experience (transportation! eating right! take care of your butt!) and while Gabel’s attempts at padding out the show with other content such as offering us a backstory for Wilhelm and performing a parody song that was clever but not really related to the Fringe felt a bit disjointed, they still got laughs (and the song was one of the funnier bits in the show).

True, this wont be the most polished performance you’ll see at the Fringe, but it’s hard not to love it, especially if you’ve been Fringing in Victoria for awhile…and if you haven’t, it’s got some good advice on how to become a pro. Plus, it has a Dan Pollock joke.

-AFL

Check the Program reviews Scaredy Cat

FRINGE review: “SCAREDY CAT at the Victoria Fringe Festival 2019” (Venue 4: VCM Wood Hall)
 (four stars out of five)

Everybody’s afraid of something—it just so happens that Scaredy Cat’s Carlyn Rhamey is afraid of *everything*…including her mum.

Rhamey’s long list of fears gives shape to a thoroughly enjoyable monologue that tangles with the risks and rewards of conquering phobias (plus an a-ha moment or two about what is truly worth fearing out there).

As a coming-of-age confessional this show isn’t exactly charting new territory—anxiety and familial relations frame up many a Fringe monologue—but Scaredy Cat’s particular blend of fear-based fodder is buoyed by Rhamey’s extraordinary gifts as a storyteller.

Back in Victoria after a great run with The ADHD Project last year, Rhamey is generous with her audience, self-deprecating in all the right moments and you leave the show wanting to grab a beer with her afterwards to trade notes on just how terrifying the ocean really is.

What Scaredy Cat perhaps lacks in individuality it makes up for in polish and relatability, so don’t be afraid to add this one to your list if you’re game for a straightforward and heartening monologue brought to life by a truly exceptional performer.
—MTH

Monday Magazine reviews Dressing for Cancer, Dear Samantha & how to pull your heart out through your throat

Dressing for Cancer – HB Productions

Adult themes, comedy-drama, at Langham Court Theatre through Aug. 31

This is an incredibly moving show! The true story of a woman’s journey from finding the first lump, through diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, to being cancer-free. Her secret was the team of family and friends she had gathered around her, who supported her during treatments with humour and fun. Four of the five actors assume various roles, while the person playing the principal character changes wigs and scarves, and keeps up a cheerful chatter while working on her ongoing blog. The portable props are well-used, if a tad cumbersome, while the projected backdrops are delightfully clear and cute.

****1/2 (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale


Dear Samantha – Charles Adrian as Ms Samantha Mann

Adult themes, comedy advice show at Wood Hall through Sept. 1

We have all known someone who chatters on and on in a never-ending stream of consciousness, moving from one topic to another without pausing for breath. Samantha keeps this up for 70 minutes, and it is hilarious! Maybe a little too fast, as I did not hear every word as clearly as I might have done, even in the front row. Not that this stopped me laughing! What did become clear is that this ‘agony aunt’ really has no sensible advice, her most-used phrase being “I don’t know!” What she does know is how to be entertaining – big time.

****1/2 (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale


How to Pull Your Heart Out Through Your Throat – Impulse Theatre

PG 12+ coarse language, adult themes, on through Sept. 1 at Langham Court Theatre

This show is difficult to pin down. It’s contemporary dance, spoken word, experimental theatre. If that description causes you to tense up, then it probably isn’t for you. But for those intrigued, here are things you’ll experience, in no particular order: A trio of fairies talking relationships. Panic! at the Disco song lyrics with Scottish accents. Jerky, unsettling body movements.

There is undeniably artistic merit to be found here, even if it may come off as unapproachable. And maybe that’s the point being made: that in art, as in relationships, we should embrace the ugly and odd just as we embrace the pretty and popular.

***1/2 (out of five)

– Tim Ford

Check the Program reviews The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Fringe Review: “The Robber’s Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale.” – Chimera Theatre
⭐️⭐️⭐️💫(Three and a Half Stars)
Venue 3: Metro Studio Theatre

I’m sure everyone at this point knows that old fairy tales were much darker in comparison to how they’re told today, and ‘The Robber’s Bridegroom’ is no exception.

The story is told with a mix of body puppets, actors and shadow puppets. When the puppets are in use, the actors don’t speak and instead use body language and grunts. While an interesting style choice, it does take a while to get used to especially when the play opens with the actors speaking.

I would say that the message of the play makes it. No spoilers, but it’s all up to the audience at the very end.

It’s a simple, straightforward fable with some great moments of tension. Everyone takes great advantage of the puppets, and the shadow puppets are used for some excellent atmosphere. So, if a dark morality tale interests you, check it out.
-BB

Check the Program reviews Into the Tango

Fringe Review: “Into the Tango” – PointeTango
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(5 Stars)
Venue 3: Metro Studio Theatre

‘Into the Tango’ shows every minute of the three years that dancers Alexander Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar have done working on the choreography. The dancing featured is a mix of traditional tango from Argentina, contemporary, and a little ballet dancing thrown in. And it all flows together beautifully.

To say that the performance is amazing is selling it short. Words fall short. Everything down to the taps of shoes to the trills of piano keys has been considered, with each step landing exactly where it needs.

I could gush about the physicality of dancing, the strength of it from both dancers, how long it must have taken to be this good, the pointe ballet shoes somehow blending perfectly into tango, the acting required during all of it, I could keep talking for hours.

Go see it!

Check the Program reviews The Rage Trials

Fringe review: “The Rage Trials” ***½ (3 ½ stars)
Fringe Site E: SKAM Satellite Studios

If you could eliminate anger from the world, would you? Should you? Such is the crux of this new show by emerging local playwright Emma Leck, who explores what might happen if seven teenagers were given that power. Engaging from the moment you enter—from the lobby to the seating—the pros & cons of teenage rage is a good concept for Theatre SKAM’s Young Company, who offer dramatic, realistic performances.

Despite an extended series of mid-show monologues that explore each character but slow the action down, director Mikaela Haeusser offers an active production and pulls good work from her cast. The overall concept brings to mind the likes of The Lottery, Hunger Games and 12 Angry Men, and, while it all wraps up too quickly, this show is worth a future mounting after it sees some development. The Rage Trials is a strong new production that’s timely & relevant: are we too angry, or not angry enough?
—JT

Check the Program reviews Mel Malarky Gets the Bum’s Rush

Fringe review: “Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush” *** ½ stars (3 ½ stars)
Venue 6: The Roxy

To say someone is full of malarkey implies they’re spouting nonsense and, at first glance, this quirky assemblage of music & monologues appears to be a framework for a running onstage/backstage story about the passing of the vaudeville era in 1931. But it quickly becomes clear that this adult-oriented comedy actually has a lot to say about how live performance provides a home for dreamers, outcasts and others shunned by mainstream society. (Insert “Fringe” for “vaudeville” and you’ll get the idea.)

This show is full of charm, if you just go with it; writer/performer Charlie C Petch has crafted a delightfully strange and proudly transgressive story that stands as a celebration of anyone who has found a safe haven and new identity on the stage. As Mel says, “not every body you’re born into reflects the person inside.”
—JT

Check the Program reviews Diagnose This!

Fringe review: “Diagnose This!” **** (4 stars)
Venue 4: Wood Hall

When it comes to weird acting jobs, being a “standardized patient” must be near the top of the list. But as veteran improvisor Donna Kay Yarborough recounts in this mix of monologue, improv & impassioned manifesto, it’s also the most rewarding job—and the finest acting—she’s ever done.

Filled with true-life (and often cringe-worthy) stories about her intimate “face to place” experiences with medical students, this is fast-paced, funny and fascinating stuff; being an American, however, not all of Yarborough’s jokes work for Canadians, and the show does end on a very serious note—but it’s worth seeing simply for the visceral reaction she gets.

If you’re squeamish about body talk, medical details or gynecological insights, this may not be the show for you; but it is ideal for anyone who has ever had to grapple with insensitive doctors, the medical system or personal illness. It’s said that laughter is the best medicine; this show proves it right.
—JT

Check the Program reviews Let’s Prank Call Each Other

Fringe review: “Let’s Prank Call Each Other” ***** (5 stars)
Venue 7: St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

Of the literally hundreds of shows I’ve seen over the past 20 years of reviewing the #yyjfringe, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this Zach Dorn production. An ADHD-fuelled mix of low-fi/high-tech traditional/digital storytelling, I was never sure what to believe, when the show had started or if it would ever really end. Sometimes compelling, often uncomfortable, occasionally bewildering, Dorn takes puppetry into a whole other dimension: yes, a dimension of sight and sound, but also a dimension where the fourth wall never existed.

Using a blend of dioramas, drawings, shadow puppets, digital projection, handheld video and 8-bit gaming, this series of short visual vignettes are vividly (and strangely) brought to life through a combination of deadpan comedy, frantic performance and the audience’s own imagination.

At one point Zorn says, “Now this is where the show gets weird.” Too late—and too great. This is one I’d like to see back for #unofest.
—JT

CVTV reviews Mel Malarky Gets the Bum’s Rush, Dissection of a…Mixed Heritage Woman and GRL PWR

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush – Venue 6 – Roxy Theatre

 

Billed as a “bodacious vaudeville show” about Mel Malarkey’s last night in her theatre, Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush might be about that evening, but the bodacious and hilarious show promised is sadly missing.

 

Mel Malarkey, portrayed by award-winning spoken word artist Charlie Petch, is the MC of a cabaret show at a theatre which is about to be bought out and turned into, gasp, a cinema. Mourning the loss of this bastion of live art, Malarkey performs short bits, introduces an absurd sounding act, and then retreats to her dressing room to get into her next costume. While there, she recites letters and poems about love and loss, moving on and staying true to who you are, even if you’re not sure who exactly that is. This formula repeats throughout the show, and while there are moments that really should be beautiful, I found myself disengaged almost from the get go.

 

What’s off-kilter is really the tone of the show, never settling on if it wants to be an uproarious vaudeville comedy or a contemplative work about moving on. It could be that it’s there to emphasize the dissonance between a “show face” and who you are underneath, but the distance between the two versions of the character wasn’t far enough. Despite physically taking a long time to go from one bit to another (Mel travels behind the stage between each bit, dragging the transition out) the two iterations of the character are very similar, MC Mel has a thin veneer of showmanship over a person suffused with sadness, and dressing room Mel just has that veneer stripped away, not much else. Furthermore, while in MC mode, it can be really hard to follow some of what’s being said, and while Petch delivers solidly enunciated words in the dressing room and post-show, they don’t make Mel’s on-stage MC persona particularly easy to follow.

 

Maybe colouring my take on all of this is a tiredness with love letters to old Vaudeville acts. All the ukulele songs and gimmicky bits (of course there’s a dildo joke) feel rather same-y when you step back from them. While the production brings up the opportunities for otherwise discriminated against folks to perform and be themselves on stage using uncommon talents, it glosses over the predatory role of Vaudeville producers and promoters, and the role that sensationalism played in driving the acts into the ground. While these kind of things get touched on, the work never really skewers what was wrong with the scene, never quite nails down what it’s trying to say. Further to this, it’s a bit much to put on a show which laments the death of theatre in favour of cinema inside a venue which is a cinema converted into a stage theatre during the city’s largest theatre festival.

 

Trying to say something about acceptance and love, Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush doesn’t quite manage to land any emotional punches. If you’re into old vaudeville and don’t care that the piece is tonally inconsistent, give it a go but don’t expect much more than some malarkey.


Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman – Venue 2 – Downtown Community Centre

 

Tracing from the point of her origin back many generations, Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman follows creator/performer Nyla Carpentier’s route as she attempts to figure out how to synthesize the seeming disparate parts of her heritage into the person she is now.

 

What part of your body belongs to what part of your heritage? Coming from a family with Scottish, French, and Tahltan ancestry, Carpentier has been searching for her answer to that question her whole life. Are her fingers from Scotland or France? Is the rhythm in her feet from the Tahltan dancing tradition, or from a fur trapper’s jig? Carpentier navigates her bloodline like a person charting a river by boat, following her traits like streams to their sources. Overall it’s a picture of a person trying to form a picture of themselves, and answering for herself whether or not she even has to choose “what” she is.

 

Carpentier is a natural and magnetic speaker, and you can’t help but be drawn into her performance. Poetic but direct, she jumps between anecdotes and stories, from a sorrow-tinged story of how one set of grandparents were married to the amusing facts of how the other set hit it off. Further to her storytelling, she showcases just how dance has helped her find and connect to her heritage. Without spoiling, there’s a dance moment full of joy and honour that is so touching, moreso for how simple and straightforward it is. Her exploration of heritage is particularly powerful if you’ve ever had the feeling of being removed from your own history and culture. For myself, as a half-Swede far from my ancestral home and whose grandparents were encouraged to stop speaking their language, I found that Carpentier’s sadness over not speaking Tahltan really spoke to me (recognizing that there are profound differences over why those languages weren’t transmitted and the differing realities of being able to learn them as adults.)

 

There is still some work to be done on the piece, but Carpentier addresses that head on. While some of it she knows like the back of her hand, some, like her own history, she is still learning. A couple of times the stories, particularly about herself as an adult, weren’t quite as well woven into the fabric of the show, seeming a little disjointed from it. That said, unlike the contributions of seven generations ago, this is new history, and takes time to integrate into the whole picture of one’s self. No doubt as she practices and refines, these threads will blend into the tapestry better.

 

Dissection of a Mixed Heritage Woman offers the kind of introspection that anyone who has wondered about their heritage will find something in. Personal and universal, this kind of storytelling deserves to be seen and reflected on. 


GRL PWR – Venue 3 – Metro Studio

 

Do you love pop music from the 90s and feminism? Do you maybe want to learn about those in a visually and musically engaging way? Do you want to have a good time with a great group of performers? If the answer to any of those is ‘yes,’ get your butt down to GRL PWR.

 

This show is exactly what it says it will be: a musical feminist lecture. The Saltines (a quintet of powerhouse local performers) take the audience through first wave through modern feminism, talking about the music that helped define each era, the pros and cons of each era, and the indelible contributions that each successive generation of feminists have made. Through flip charts and talking points, the Saltines catch us up on just how feminism got to the 90s before really diving into the heart of the lecture: the defining feminist ideas of 90s girl groups. That might sound dry, but they deliver the points with such energy and gusto that you can’t help but want to learn more.

 

Kicking this show to the next level is the undeniable energy and talents of the Saltines (Emilee Nimetz, Sadie Evans, Ingrid Moore, Sarah Murphy, and Jana Morrison). In a show with five performers it’s a treat that you can’t single out any one of them as being “the star” because damn, they’re all stars. Everybody has time to shine, and everyone is clearly into it and having a hell of a time. Crisp choreography, good harmonies, and great bits of just enough schtick to keep the audience laughing, this team clearly knows how to work it and deliver a message at the same time.

 

If I were to complain about anything, it’s that I found the levels a bit loud/wonky for myself. Sometimes I found it hard to hear the Saltines over the music tracks, which led to a feedback loop of everything getting a bit louder. Another quibble, which may actually be praise, and a bit of a funny thing for a 30-something man to say, but I wanted more feminist lecure! The super well-executed renditions of 90s girl group hits were great, but I was even more captivated by the feminist angles on everything. You mileage will probably vary if you know the songs in the first place, and since I effectively lived under a pop music rock for the 90s, I know that one’s entirely on me.

 

If you’re looking for an uproarious, energetic, and informative experience, look no further than GRL PWR. Take your friends and particularly take anyone who’s afraid of the word “feminist,” you’ll come smiling and smarter.

CVTV reviews The Psychic Dynasty and Summer Bucket List

Psychic Dynasty – Venue 5 – Langham Court Theatre

 

Psychic Dynasty, a Father-Daughter two-person magic show by Joey and Phina Pipia, has got some real tricks and neat stuff, though it misses some of the razzle dazzle you might expect from the show.

 

So, to put the cards on the table (so to speak) I love a good magic show. The wonder of knowing that there’s no way that what’s happening should be “possible,” but also knowing that there’s some sort of trick or artifice behind it. Puzzling over the “how” of a great trick is lots of fun, and Psychic Dynasty certainly delivers on that element. From psychically learning what Beatles song is written on a whiteboard, to revealing what cards were secretly chosen by random audience members, to somehow manifesting the spirit of Johnny Cash, Psychic Dynasty has lots of the kind of tricks that should leave you gasping with delight. Unfortunately, the flourish of the reveal doesn’t quite match the tricks themselves.

 

What’s lacking is a clear set of expectations, and this is unfortunately the case almost the entire time. The set-up for some of the tricks is rather muddy, making it unclear what was going on. An example: a deck of cards is bound with some elastics and sent into the audience for members to secretly peek at individual cards. The cards are then recited by Phina, and the folks in the audience sit down when they hear their card. But… well, it all happened so fast, and there was no clear set up that the deck wasn’t a trick deck beforehand. Rather than dazzle, as some of these tricks should, they come across as half-set up, relying on the audience to make some leaps to complete the mental setup, as well as having to bring in the excitement over figuring out just what happened. That said, there is a particularly neat set of tricks involving “conjuring the spirit of Johnny Cash” which are very well done, showing that the duo can really pull some feats off exceptionally.

 

Psychic Dynasty could be a lot of fun, and your mileage may vary. If you’re willing to put in a bit of the work yourself to be amazed, and aren’t afraid of getting called up on stage (a lot of people participate in this show), it’s a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon.


Summer Bucket List – Venue 6 – Roxy Theatre

 

Hot off the heels of last year’s Pick-of-the-Fringe winning The Fitting Room, Collectivus Theatre appropriately brings their newest work to life in the dog days of summer. Summer Bucket List, written by Ellery Lamm and directed by Anna Marie Anderson, continues their trend of bringing well thought-out, well crafted drama to Victoria audiences, full of hope, yet embracing the flaws it takes to get to that place.

 

While serving summer detention by cleaning the school, teenagers Zoey (Lili Martin) and Grace (Maggie Martin) come across a “Summer Bucket List” left behind in a locker, presumably by a departed senior. A list that may seem familiar to anyone who remembers the seemingly limitless possibilities of two months away from school, bounded only by the confines and pressures that society puts on us: get drunk, have sex, lemonade stand(?), break into the pool at night, etc. The girls take to the list with a kind of resigned gusto, seeing this newly found list of objectives as a yardstick by which they have to gauge their whole summer. Moreover, there’s a ticking clock: they’ve got to get it done before Grace heads off to camp in a couple of weeks. Along the way, we meet other characters (Emily Hay, Isaiah Adachi, and Willa Hladun) who have either been party to the events that led to detention, or have influence over the goings on of the girls. Finally, many of the scenes are punctuated or intercut with glimpses into a therapy session, where The Girl (Arielle Parsons) talks about her own hopes, fears, and issues with an unseen therapist. 

 

There’s a lot of really great work on display, and it’s important to point out as much of this brimming talent as possible. Lamm continues to show herself as the playwright to watch in Victoria. Her dialogue is natural, and doesn’t feel like that of an adult trying to put on youthful affectation. Anderson’s direction keeps things moving, pretty effectively navigating the intricacies of the many scenes and locations. Moments like a chorus of screams at a concert or the final few lines, delicately delivered, are both powerful and lovely, showing a great attention to the emotional impact the work can have. Anchoring the piece, really, is the relationship between Grace and Zoey, which Martin and Martin (what a name for a duo!) navigate to perfection. Their friendship, close-knit at times, fraught at others, is believable and nuanced. Parsons really knocks it out of the park, though, as The Girl. Complex and angry, thoughtful and tender, she shows such a range and dynamism that is simply delightful.

 

Criticisms? I have some on a sliding scale of intensity. While from a technical standpoint it was a well executed piece, I had a lot of problems hearing what was happening on stage. Not that Aaron Smail’s sound design wasn’t good, but in the environs of the Roxy Theatre, I happened to be sitting in a dead seat. During a pivotal moment of the show (a monologue delivered at a concert) I could barely catch a word, not because things were too loud, but because the actors just happened to be in the places where the acoustics sucked up every decibel. A structural thought, too: the show really belongs to Grace, Zoey, and the Girl, and while I found the actors in the other roles were good, the characters themselves seemed less fleshed out. I found myself wanting to hear their stories reflected in the actions and dialogue of Zoey, Grace, and The Girl, rather than from them.

 

One last bit, which is separate from discussion of the show itself: while the Facebook page for the show has a full content warning, the Fringe guide (and thus, the board outside the venue) doesn’t include discussion of suicidal thoughts. Given they come up a number of times throughout the work, it seems an oversight.

 

Summer Bucket List is not just a good piece of theatre, it has real vitality and necessity to it. Poignant, funny and thought provoking, learn a little bit about teenage female rage and tick seeing this show off of your own bucket list.

Check the Program reviews Destiny, USA

Fringe review: “Destiny USA” **** (4 stars)
Venue 4: Wood Hall

Ever wonder what it’s like to be third-person invisible? That’s Laura Anne Harris as a relay operator for people who are deaf and hard of hearing: a conduit for verbatim conversations via typed text. Based on her own experiences, “Destiny USA” recounts her role saying things she would never say, in situations she would normally never find herself.

Propelled by a self-deprecating stage presence, Harris keeps things Spalding Grey-simple here by mostly sitting in front of a mic and using projections to further the compelling, layered story. Less about the USA and more about communication in all forms—how we talk, who we speak with, what we say, why it matters—the talented Harris offers vivid characterizations of those around her, and the importance of listening without prejudice.

A strong show, this is ideal for anyone who has a hearing impaired person in their life . . . but more than enjoyable for the rest of us too.
—JT

Monday Magazine reviews Josephine, Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, & The Psychic Dynasty

Josephine – Dynamite Lunchbox

Adult themes, nudity, musical theatre at Langham Court Theatre through Sept. 1

Wow! Tymisha Harris is one fabulous performer. Whether she is singing a passionate protest song, or dancing in no more than a thong and a pair of bejewelled nipple covers, her huge stage presence fills the auditorium. But she also has a warm personal touch, selecting a couple of people from the audience, to help her dress or to be, for the moment, one of her lovers. Based on the life of Josephine Baker, who burst onto the international stage at age 17, this lady with the larger-than-life personality shocked the U.S. and was adored in France. This is a polished, emotional and heart-warming show, worthy of the West End or Broadway.

***** (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

Melanie Gall stars as Deanna Durbin in Ingenue.

Ingénue – Melanie Gall Presents

All Ages, on at The Roxy Theatre through Sept. 1

“One-person show about a famous figure” is practically a subgenre, with shows like Leslie McCurdy’s The Spirit of Harriet Tubman or Michael Hughes’ Mickey and JudyMelanie Gall’s Ingénue is a respectable entry in that niche, putting the spotlight on 30’s film star Deanna Durbin.

Written and performed by Gall, the piece focuses on Durbin’s complex relationship with fellow star Judy Garland, from the perspective of an older, wiser Durbin giving a rare interview. The songs of the era effectively showcase Gall’s powerhouse vocal range, and her stunning voice alone makes this a worthwhile piece. Add some solid research on Durbin, and an emotional thread in her relationship to Garland, and you’ve got a great Fringe show.

•••• (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

The Psychic Dynasty – Psychic Dynasty

All ages, mind reading, mentalism, magic at Langham Court Theatre through Sept.1

Unfortunately, this shows falls a bit short of the dramatic title. Yes, there is some clever telepathy, which garners appropriate applause, but much of it takes place off the stage, requiring the audience to twist around in the less-than-spacious seats in this pleasant but uncomfortable auditorium.

And there is something slightly unpolished in the presentation, as if it is not quite ready yet for public consumption. Public participation is fine if the spectators are young and energetic, but a mite pathetic when a largely senior and slow population is called upon. This, of course, will be different with each performance, and the principals cannot honestly be blamed for the physical condition of the attendees. But, maybe a rehearsal or two more?

** (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

Monday Magazine reviews This Man is an Island, Tuesdays With Morrie, Scaredy Cat and Diagnose This!

This Man is an Island – Dread Pirate Productions

All ages, at The Roxy Theatre through Sept. 1

This Man is an Island is less one-man show, more stand-up comedy routine, with the barest narrative conceit to justify having a palm tree on stage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that when it comes to audience enjoyment, mileage will vary depending on personal tastes.

Writer/creator Evan Roberts has a subdued style, with wordplay jokes often so subtle they whiz by unappreciated. His laugh lines are more chuckles than outright guffaws. In truth, his approach might be better suited to a column or a book, despite the inclusion of songs. His witty use of diction would shine on the page; on stage it is a bit tough to parse.

**1/2 (out of five)

– Tim Ford

Tuesdays with Morrie – Theatre Alive Productions

Ages 12 and up, at the Downtown Activity Centre through Sept. 1

Mitch Albom is one of my favourite authors, so I had to see this play, adapted from the novel of the same name. And it did not disappoint. The two actors held the audience spellbound for an hour, making us think about what is important, how we live our lives and how to die with grace, if not with dignity. The talented actors might have been well served by the use of personal microphones in this particular venue. But they were wonderful to watch and listen to. Minimal props allowed us to concentrate on the words, facial expressions and body language of the actors.

****1/2 (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

Carlyn Rhamey in Scaredy Cat

Scaredy Cat – Squirrel Suit Productions

Adult themes, comedic storytelling at Wood Hall through Sept. 1

Maybe the techie on this show deserves equal praise, for the quick changes of light and sound. But the creator and performer, Carlyn Rhamey, does a great job of sharing her childhood and adult fears with her audience. The comedy keeps us from being totally terrified, even helps us to laugh at these dark imaginings. Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, maybe the telling of the stories keeps the fear in proportion. And, perhaps due to her mother, the performer does begin to grow out of her nightmares. She should not be afraid of those incipient wrinkles, she has earned them. Maybe being afraid of the F-word might be a good idea, though.

**** (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

Nevermore – Hapax Theatre

PG-12+ Musical Theatre, on at the Metro Studio Theatre through Aug. 31

Entering the Metro to find fragrant mist wafting through the space (water-based, better than dry ice), one is prepared for a gothic tale to be told on stage. Having the pianist play equally foreboding minor chords in a darkened theatre added to the sombre mood.

The subject of the story, early 19th-century writer Edgar Allan Poe, is portrayed well as a tortured soul who seeks solace in the bottle from his many nightmares. The remaining cast members, who hauntingly play the women who have died or otherwise left him – from his mother to past lovers – do a great job vocally of turning Poe’s prose to song and maintaining the dark mood. At 90 minutes with no break, it could have been a little shorter, but the cohesiveness of the chorus and solos, and the creativity of the writers make this show a winner.

**** (out of 5)

– Don Descoteau

Diagnose This! Tales of a Medical Actor – Donna Kay Yarborough

Adults only, coarse language solo storytelling, on until Sept. 1 at the Wood Hall

Who knew there was such a thing as a standardized patient? Yarborough describes the job in great detail, sometimes in ways not for the squeamish, such as when she has her “pelvic region” examined. Her dedication to helping new doctors learn bedside manner and communication is admirable, but her stories about her experiences working with green and often terrified students is hilarious.

Her delivery and wit are razor sharp and she makes those topics that don’t usually make the dinner table conversation seem somehow more palatable. A bad personal experience related to a prolonged health diagnosis led this longtime actor to the standardized patient job, a finale which leaves the audience with food for thought and respect for her mission.

***** (out of 5)

– Don Descoteau

Check the Program reviews LUB DUB

Review: “LUB DUB at the Victoria Fringe Festival!
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(four stars out of five)
Venue 2: Downtown Activity Centre

If your idea of a good night of theatre includes having a moving communal experience with your fellow theatre-goers and seeing something that sticks with you, you’ll want to check out LUB DUB. It’s unlike anything else on offer at the Fringe, and an important show worth seeking out.

Billed as a social justice cabaret, LUB DUB features Victoria performers KP, Monica Ogden and Tony Adams, who use a combination of spoken words, skits, dance, monologues, art and consensual audience interactions to explore ideas around white supremacy, patriarchy, and centering the experiences of Black, Filipino, queer, indigenous, disabled, and other marginalized populations. While some folks might be intimidated by this description, I encourage you not to be. Yes, this is a political show, and has moments of fully justified rage (including a fascinating breakdown of the word “angry”), but there is also a lot of joy, silliness, fun and community to be had here.

This is a beautiful little show with a lot to teach us white folks about the privilege we enjoy, the damaging systems we uphold, and how we can work to be better allies. Yes, you will feel uncomfortable at certain points, but this work isn’t easy, and honestly I left feeling more uplifted than beaten down. There were some really beautiful moments during Tuesday night’s performance where audience members came forward and participated in unexpected ways. And while it was nice to see a mostly younger crowd out at the Fringe, it would be great to see some of the Fringe’s older audience supporting a show like this, as I think they would gain a lot from going to see–or participate in–this show.

-AFL

Check the Program reviews Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

Review: “Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation”
⭐️⭐️⭐️(three stars out of five)
Venue 2: Downtown Activity Centre

The latest in Tim Motley’s popular Dirk Darrow film noire detective magician series, I couldn’t tell if this show was having a rough opening night or if this concept was running out of steam–maybe a little bit of both.

Motley’s Dirk Darrow is a fast-talking private dick who cracks jokes and performs magic and mentalism tricks while trying to solve a murder that took place at a 1930s mental hospital. But don’t expect much in terms of an engaging plot here; the setup is mostly just a way for Motley to switch between characters, most of whom aren’t even grounded in the era the show takes place in, which I found frustrating. (Why set a show in the 1930s and then have your characters reference social media and modern films?) As for the tricks, some of them were clever, but there there was also a fair share of underwhelming ones–including a couple where I couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be that bad or he was having an off night. And while there’s no denying Motley’s charm, a lot of the Donald Trump/Kim Kardashian jokes fell flat with the crowd. There was also a lot of missed cues and a few flubbed lines, but those are things that I am sure will improve as he settles in here.

All in all, this felt like a decent busking performance shoehorned into a Fringe show. Still, the show was packed, and given Motley’s reputation, I’m sure he will continue to enjoy a healthy audience at this year’s Fringe. And maybe he’ll have better luck with the balloon next time.

-AFL

Check the Program reviews Man Cave A One Man Sci-Fi Climate Change Tragicomedy

Fringe Review: Man Cave at the Victoria Fringe Festival! : A One-Man Sci-Fi Climate Change Tragicomedy
(three stars out of five)
Venue: Langham Court Theatre

What if the last human being left on a climate-ravaged earth was a middle-age guy in a Justice League t-shirt and boxers hoarding a bunker of supplies and ranting on a podcast to nowhere? 😬
Timothy Mooney’s solo show Man Cave is a rapid-fire, somewhat preachy, monologue about an average American who flees the climate crisis by heading north and taking cover in a solar-powered shelter to find himself likely entirely alone in 2029 as the world falls apart.
Mooney, a seasoned actor and Fringe performer from Chicago, uses the story to challenge audiences to consider the devastating effects of climate change and how humans have evolved, and multiplied, to destroy the planet. He issues a course of commandments from the practical, “The cost of buying a thing needs to reflect the expense it inflicts on the planet, at large,” to the existential, “Stop idling.”
While Mooney’s efforts are impressive the show packs in too much to think about and not enough narrative or character to grab the heart as well.
– Sarah

Check the Program reviews False Profits

Fringe review: “False Profits” ***½ (3 ½ stars)
Venue 1: Victoria Event Centre

The latest from Fringe favourite Jeff Leard is an odd but engaging mix of satirical infomercial, angry diatribe, stand-up comedy, social justice storytelling and searing condemnation of the super-rich American right-wing that ends, weirdly, with an extended revolutionary fantasy sequence. A devastating castigation of how Charles Koch and his ilk created the world in which we have to live, “False Profits” offers us no solutions—but I guarantee you’ll leave more informed (and furious) than when you arrived.

Equal parts achingly funny and depressingly truthful, it’s easy to picture Leard as a clean-shaven, live-action Yosemite Sam as he rants and spins and fills the stage with the blistering truths (in multiple voices) of how we got where we are, and who put us here. That said, a more cohesive ending (opening night’s finale switched mid-stream to an endearing but likely one-shot ode to his dad, local theatrical legend Jim Leard) and a slightly more hopeful tone wouldn’t hurt this show. Expect to be entertained & infuriated!
—JT

Monday Magazine reviews 13 Dead Dreams of Eugene, 5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0 & How I Murdered My Mother

13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” – Theatre Mobile

PG 12+, violence, on at the Metro Studio through Sept. 1

A body found in a ditch outside Sabina, Ohio is never identified, is nicknamed “Eugene” and embalmed and displayed as a weird tourist attraction from 1929-63. All of that is completely true.

Theatre Mobile takes that weird chestnut and runs with it, creating a series of 13 strange “dreams” that haunt the people of Sabina. The dreams are given life by creative light and shadow play, and by eerie musical numbers and short monologues. It’s a surreal, horror-lite (horror light?) experience, and creator/performer duo Erika Kate MacDonald and Paul Strickland are engaging to listen to, especially as they “investigate” the source of the dreams. It’s straight out of a campfire ghost story and good fun.

**** (out of 5)

– Tim Ford

5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0 – Paco Erhard

PG12+, standup comedy, coarse language, on at the Roxy Theatre through Sept. 1

Paco Erhard makes clear at the outset of this hilarious, self-effacing routine about himself and his homeland that it has changed since he first performed it in 2011. There’s no more five steps – it’s actually 18 – a fact anyone seeking confirmation of German precision and order will find annoying, he admits.

He makes lighthearted fun of natives of Canada, England, Australia and yes, the U.S. The fact he has lived and performed in numerous countries – impressively learning about the quirks of their people and geography – makes him qualified to do so with authority and great humour.

But it is his examination of what makes the German people tick – and ticked off – that provides the biggest laughs. He carries the audience with him, which made this precisely 75-minute show worth catching.

***** (out of 5)

– Don Descoteau

How I Murdered My Mother – Tomo Suru Players

All Ages, storytelling, drama, comedy at Wood Hall through Aug.31

Gerald Williams tells his audience he is a middle-aged homosexual who weeps when he gets emotional and is married to a Japanese man. He and his husband elected to become midwives to the death of Gerald’s parents, one of whom had Alzheimer’s. The parents chose this particular son (out of six siblings) because he was the one who loved them least, and who would do the right thing.

Interesting concept. It was a decision he does not regret, but if given another chance, he might opt for a different method of caring for dying parents. Gerald tells his story with the aid of images on his computer, in a relaxed manner. A charming and thought-provoking one-person performance. Be prepared to laugh, but keep the tissues handy.

****1/2 (out of 5)

– Sheila Martindale

 

CVTV reviews Josephine and The Ballad of Frank Allen

 Burlesque Bodies and Beard Buddies

 

Josephine – Venue 5 – Langham Court Theatre

 

Part cabaret, part biographical play, Josephine (performed and co-created by Tymisha Harris) is a touching and powerful look at the life of burlesque pioneer, international superstar, and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker. It’s also probably the hottest ticket at the Victoria Fringe and you should do everything you can to get a ticket.

 

Following Josephine Baker from her childhood in pre-Great War Missiouri, to her stage career in Paris, and her work as a spy for the French Resistance. Weaving between performances of works she was famous for, dazzling (and cheeky!) dance routines, and dramatic monologues that open up the travails and turns in her career, the story of Baker’s life is fascinating and dramatic. She shakes off the confines that society would impose upon her, defying racial, familial, and sexual expectations. The story of Baker’s life is that of all great heroes: one of humble beginnings, overcoming adversity, and fighting for those around her. Taking on this mantle is no mean feat, and fortunately it is accomplished with aplomb by Tymisha Harris.

 

Simply put, Harris is undoubtedly one of the best performers to set foot in Victoria in recent memory. Her dynamism in portraying the different stages of Baker’s life is brilliant. She gives thought and attention to how to affect her voice and bearing for each stage of life without becoming cartoonish or over the top. Even while portraying this formidable woman at her fiercest and most defiant, she elevates the fragility and vulnerability that Baker still encountered as a bisexual black woman in the mid 20th century. This is the kind of performance that is a rare treat to see in town.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up a couple of quibbles that I had with the show, but they really are quite minor. For myself, I could’ve used a bit more of a framing structure to the piece overall, as I found myself a little unmoored in observing the whole of her life. The show is similar to Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (a cabaret show about Billie Holiday), however it lacks the anchoring framework of being entirely a work of reminiscence. This lack of frame manifests most clearly at the end of the show where it feels like it tries to end a few times, sapping the momentum right at the end of the piece. That said, these are minor qualms, and are made up for by the raw talent on stage.

 

Josephine is a gem of a Fringe show: expertly executed, approachable, and important, it’s a work that is simply a privilege to watch. Get your tickets while you can, as this is sure to sell out quick!

 

The Ballad of Frank Allen – Venue 7 – St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall

 

When stuck on the path of least resistance in life, sometimes all it takes to make a big change is to have a tiny man living in your beard. This, effectively, is the premise of The Ballad of Frank Allen, a sci-fi bizarro comedy that is high energy and high hilarity.

 

Al (Al Lafrance) is a man stuck in a rut. Unable to scare up motivation to stick with a job, unable to work up the nerve to ask a girl out, and just generally unable to do much other than coast along the easiest route possible through life. Luckily for him, routine-oriented janitor Frank Allen (Shane Adamczak) has gotten shrunk down to a microscopic size, and now inhabits Al’s prodigious facial hair. Able to influence his host’s behaviour through tugging on his hairs, Frank sets about course correcting Al’s life, improving his playlist choosing ability, social skills, and even his kissing techniques. Eventually, Al and Frank learn how to communicate with each other, and find themselves caught up in a deadly showdown with a mad scientist. It’s a madcap ride from one crazy scenario to the next, punctuated with song and silliness.

 

Adamczak and Lafrance are nonstop energetic performers, and it’s really fun to watch the two of them ping-pong off of each other. Their commitment to the bits, however ridiculous, is complete, ensuring that they bring the audience along with them on this strange ride. On opening night one particular gag seemed to go on a bit long, sliding from amusing into puzzlingly unending, like an improv scene that can’t find its ending, and it seemed to be getting a muted response from the audience. At its conclusion, though, one commented to the other “You’re really committed to that bit?” and got a knowing “oh yeah,” in response, drawing laughter from the audience. It’s clear that the two performers are able to read the room to see what’s working, while also demonstrating that they’re in it for the fun of what they’re doing. It’s good to be able to visibly see performers enjoying the work that they’re undertaking.

 

This strays further into “your mileage may vary” territory, but it goes without saying that some of the gags or bits work better than the others. The scenes that took place in the lab where Frank was shrunk down were uneven, ranging from delightfully insane (I’ll never be able to hear “enhance” in the same way again) to kind of flat (the quintuplet genius scientists were a little quirky, but didn’t really stick). That said, they’re all given the same level of dedication, so what may not resonate with one crowd might with another. 

 

The Ballad of Frank Allen is a good weird show to take in this festival. Tongue in cheek, zany, and packed with enthusiasm, it’s a great piece to take some friends to if you want to laugh along with a tiny man clinging to another man’s facial hair. And really, who doesn’t want to do that?

Check the Program reviews The Ballad of Frank Allen

FRINGE review: “The Ballad Of Frank Allen – Victoria Fringe 2019
 (four stars out of five)
(Venue 7: Kirk Hall)

An accidental button push finds Frank, a timid lab janitor, shrunk and unexpectedly living in man-child Al’s unruly beard, lounging in hair hammocks and living off beard crumbs while Al navigates a floundering romance and moves from one dead-end job to another.

Both dudes desperately need to grow up and this brisk 55-minute two-hander shuttles the pair out of their respective regressions with a handful of catchy songs, laser guns and the evil genius bad guy that every buddy comedy worth its salt requires.

Shane Adamczak is especially good in the titular role of Frank Allen and a half-dozen other minor players, shouldering the musical chops of the show and (partly improvising?) a slew of extended slapstick gags that fill out the relatively simple plot.

My only quibble with this kooky ballad was the humour itself, which felt a bit like it belonged in one of Seth Rogen’s mid-2000s party comedies. Al can only hear Frank when they’re both blind drunk, for example, and one of the show’s most rollicking tunes is a bit of a slut-shame-y jig about a girl named Heather.

Humour preferences aside, the show was met with a lot of laughs from the crowd on opening night and its energy is elevated by great costumes and lighting. If buddy comedies with a bit of heart are your jam make sure you catch Frank Allen’s ballad this weekend. —MTH

Check the Program reviews Jon Bennett: Playing With Men

Fringe Review: “Jon Bennett: Playing with Men” – A Mulled Whine
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Four Stars)
Venue 1: Victoria Event Centre

Before Jon Bennett became a comedian/poet, he originally planned on being a footballer. This is the story of how that never happened.

Both funny and crushingly tragic, Jon leads the audience into a story about toxic masculinity and the culture surrounding Australia football. There was laughter, there was silence, there was a lot happening all at once. Somehow you’re laughing at a piss joke, and at the end, you’re contemplating the necessary conversation that Jon leaves you with.

This isn’t to say that it isn’t a good time. The journey is definitely a fun one. Jon is a great storyteller, taking you from tangent to tangent with surprising speed and definitely a lot of cursing. Warning, there are some pretty gross jokes ahead, if that isn’t your thing.

But overall, it’s worth seeing it for the questions that it leaves you with. So, if you’re up for it, give it a watch.
-BB

Check the Program reviews 13 Dead Dreams of Eugene

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Four Stars)
Venue 3: Metro Studio Theatre

A body was discovered in a ditch outside a small town in Ohio. With no one available to identify him, ‘Eugene’ was displayed for 30 years in hopes of finding out who this man was. It was then that 13 dreams began to infect the town.

The abstract dreams are presented to the audience as a flashlight play with shadow puppets, singing, and voice-overs to convey the nature of these visions. Erika Kate MacDonald and Paul Strickland are able to tell so much with so little and with so much creativity!

With each dream, you wonder, will this one reveal Eugene’s identity? Will this one explain what’s going on? It’s a riveting experience, both strangely funny and dark in the best way.

It’s a fantastic ghost story and it shouldn’t be missed. Granted, you won’t be able to sleep the night after you see it.
-BB

Otakuno Culture reviews Pippin

No year of attending the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival can be complete without a trip to St Michaels University School for their high school level production of an award winning Broadway play. This year is notable as the summer program which teaches theatre celebrate 20 years and returns to Pippin. This musical was their very first production.

In all the years I’ve been covering this event, I feel it’s worth the trip away from the event core (downtown Victoria) to check out. Fans of Broadway shows and supporters of high school level productions will not be disappointed.

The opening night of Pippin had more than I usually expected for a show. It’s a coming of age tale set within a medieval world, with music from different eras to support it. The jazz, pop, comedy and sound of the 70s is the most notable. Some years differ from others for the amount of involvement by the local theatre community in realizing this show. Director Cam Culham revealed involvement by notable local talents like Britt Small (of Atomic Vaudeville) and Emma St-Denis.

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This work is filled with plenty of musical numbers and noticeable rising talents in the cast. Paris (who played Fastrada) could be the next Jeanette McCurdy, and seeing the return of a few performers from last year’s Disaster! shows how much they love this program. Their dedication to further their craft speaks for itself than the Broadway show which needs a summary:

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The play is loosely based on the historical character of the same name (played by Raine). He is the son of Charlemagne (Max). The youth joins the knighthood but the violence is not for him. He flees and after a few misadventures, finds some solace with Catherine (Alex). Since he has not found the meaning of life just yet, I doubt Terry Gilliam or Eric Idle cannot help either.

Some of the best meta moments where The Leading Players (Rachel and Evelyn) break the fourth wall to set up the next scenes are hilarious. Some of the lyrics feel they were inspired by Idle’s style. The humour includes a cheerleader who does not know what her cue is. One moment I particularly felt attached to was “Prayer for the Duck” and as for the music, I single out the number, “War is Science” as perhaps the most Pythonesque.

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The meta moments in this work is downright hilarious. The play occasionally breaks the fourth wall. The Leading Players deliver the context needed for the upcoming scenes, and there’s no denying that when Pippen leaves and gets to enjoy the simple life, a cry for foul would be coming. However, I thought the picnic scene with Catherine (“Love Song”) had a few quick genuine moments.

While this year has Broadway Bashwhich is a mashup of the best of the golden and silver age set to comedy (to which I still have yet to go see), the Fringe theatre enthusiast in me would like a whole show at SMUS than select numbers. That way, I can at least say yes, I’ve seen Hairspray (for example). Although I missed bigger productions of shows like Urinetown at the McPherson Theatre, I feel these smaller performances are more fun and intimate to attend. Now all I have to do is patiently wait for Shrek …

Otakunoculture reviews 13 Dead Dreams of Eugune

13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” could not be any more timely. Hot on the heels of the cinematic adaptation of Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark, Fringe theatre goers can have the thrill of experiencing a shadow play and trying to solve a mystery in the grand tradition of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best whodunits (the poster design is heavily inspired from Vertigo) and Man Ray‘s surrealist works. Technical spoiler alert: most of the projections are common objects that show creators Erika Kate MacDonald and Paul Strickland found in the kitchen. This duo offers a song and dance in between separate narratives such as “Water Under the Bridge” and “Mummy of Sabina, Ohio.”

When considering how this show within a show is constructed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Bubba Hotep with the latter story. Like the undead pharaoh who can strut his stuff, he’s in search for something lost long ago. Unlike Jon Landsdale’s work, it’s an entire town that’s beset with danger than a retirement home. In the story arc that defines this play, everyone is having nightmares because of a curse presumably caused by a different corpse that’s been dug up and put on display in hopes a traveller can identify him one day.

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This ghost asks who am I? One simple but unsettling image is that of a haunted manual typewriter, with a haunting voice over, and the sound of endless typing. This simple sound design gave me gentle goosebumps. The various other projections were hit and miss, guns included, to evoke a properly eerie quality. As for innovation, to see victims bleed light had me spellbound. This technique is rarely realized live; I know it’s easy to fashion in a CGI world but in other mediums, creating it is all but forgotten. Props goes to these two performers for going old school, using flashlights of different intensities, to create some really cool effects. It makes me wonder what else they can do if they included a fog machine and barn doors (a box where light can be tightened to specific shapes) to enhance scenes in their show.

13 Dead Dreams made its debut in 2016 in Minnesota and have since gained a following. With some supernatural tales, word of mouth is a slow but steady process before it becomes very well known as the investigations which eventually inspired The Conjuring films. As much as I’d love to see an adaptation into another form of media, I doubt it’ll happen. Alvin Schwartz and del Toro beat Macdonald and Strickland to the punch; time is needed before both an coexist happily.

While these two claim that you may have trouble falling asleep after seeing their show, I’m the type who can easily fall asleep to episodes of Creepy Canada. Nightmares do not come easily for me, but for others, I advise keeping a nuclear powered proton gun nearby.

4 Stars out of 5

Two Hungry Blokes reviews Man Cave: a One-Man Sci-Fi Climate-Change Tragicomedy

When the world is about to end, ala Chris Nolan’s Interstellar with all the loss of natural resources going on, Tim Mooney is sure to survive. His one-man show, Man Cave, a One-Man Sci-fi Climate-Change Tragicomedy is set in the future (2029 to be exact) and global warming is at the forefront of all damage going on. Although only a decade away, what he says is a touch uncomfortable since it suggests we have time to reverse the damage. After seeing Freeman the Handyman‘s Timeline for Homo Sapiens last week, you’d think the producers of the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival would pair the two shows together for an evening of T-talk and radio show about the decline of civilization (and what we can do to fix it).

In this possible projection of the future, Mooney knew it was coming. He prepared for it. When those fire tornados are getting worse, he knew it was time to hole up in his bunker somewhere up North. The ‘Man Cave’ is not just about the nerdy sci-fi stuff he’s into but rather it’s a bunker prepared as though he’s expected a nuclear war to happen instead of a world besieged by Mother Nature at her worst. While he injects a good bunch of sci-fi references, pop culture includes influential music and art too. He does mention Andy Warhol, which I appreciate.

I’m hard pressed to say if his character believes Klingons and Vulcans are real. Instead, it’s about following the ideals set in stone by visionary Gene Roddenberry, and he follows on the heels of this idealist storyteller.

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This performer’s delivery offers giggles at the right time, and I firmly believe he’s channeling the authority image of George Noory with the impressionable voice of Casey Kasem in his own version of Coast to Coast. The topics are appropriate to this subject, and had to pay the licensing fees for song use had not been an issue, I suspect this performer would have considered including tunes to highlight the topic at hand. I can easily hear Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow.” An even more powerful song, in my opinion, is Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning.”

As a monologue on the species-wide inability to address global warming, I don’t think Johnny Carson would have spent this long on it. This show can be shorter by 10-12 minutes. Thankfully, Mooney’s voice, projection and delivery is strong. He wants to be heard, but if anyone is listening (namely the aliens he’s broadcasting to), that’s anybody’s guess. Much like the cinematic counterpart, Pontypool, it’s up to Mooney to be a voice to keep things stable. Outside is chaotic. Ultimately, it’s lights out and this show offers food for thought for those concerned in where humanity is headed. It’s not too late to change!

3½ Blokes out of 5

Two Hungry Blokes reviews Jon Bennett: Playing With Men

Disclaimer: Profanity, sexual themes and adult humour.

Jon Bennett is always amazed in how he never misses performing at any Fringe Festival from around the world. The Gods of Comedy must love him and influence the lottery selection so that this comedian will never miss a chance to share his story. I knew I should not miss his latest show, Playing with Men, and its themes is not for the conservative minded. This show looks at what being machismo is about and the fallacies associated with it. At the same time, he talks about the most aggressive sport on Earth, Aussie rules football, and how it relates to his life now. That means:

  • No holding the man
  • No holding the ball
  • Out of bounds
  • Boys don’t cry

Ever since I saw him in works like Fire in the Meth Lab and Pretending Things Are a C*ck, I knew I had to keep an eye on any new work he brings to town. He is simply a tour de force who will make you laugh–to tears even. It’s tough to beat the latter; I feel it’s his most visually memorable work.

His shows are a mix of autobiography and quirky Aussie humour blended into a perfect margarita. In my case, I like pineapple vodka. He talks about bittersweet moments of his life, and how he manages to overcome it in myriad ways. When all the ideas he tosses to the wind comes full circle–like a boomerang whizzing back to the thrower’s hand–you get what he’s going for and have to cheer. The smile I always have after the performance lasts for hours.

His latest show, according to Bennett, took four years to fully realize. Like his prior works, he puts himself out there and talks about some aspect of his life. Whether that’s as a young boy growing up in the outback or as a young man, those photos must be authentic. Also, I want a copy of his rookie card to get autographed! He was once an A-list footballer back home, but when his coaches realized he won’t be growing any taller, they put him in the junior leagues. Eventually, he finally decided that this game is not for him any more. His hopes and dreams were dashed, and thankfully he did not let any of that stop him. He found a new calling: to tell others not to let anyone knock you down or play to your weaknesses.

Brotherhood and standing up for yourself are the themes here, and I get it. Using comedy to reinforce a point helps makes Bennett’s shows very memorable. His slideshows are always bang on. I’m not saying that literally, but also with the timing since he nicely hides that clicker to move to the next slide. I gotta love the subliminal images snuck into the presentation, giving ‘that meaning’ which is the name of this performance.

I feel this show will only tighten the bond between him and audiences everywhere. It’s possible to sing kumbaya together and still stand tall.

5 Stars out of 5

Two Hungry Blokes reviews The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Chimera Theatre‘s revisionist take on the Brothers Grimm fairytale The Robber Bridegroom is simply a masterpiece of German expressionism. Not only is this adaptation a love letter to this artistic movement but also a Shakespearean playwright was behind the reconstruction of the seminal tale. I have to tip my hat to Andrew G. Cooper for his use of turning the Sisters Grimm to a wicked new take of the Moirae as they are the narrators to an otherwise mimed show using various styles of puppetry to tell the story within the story. That is, to recount the seminal tale with sound, light and vision.

Those familiar with this tale knows where the horror lays. Before the daughter can be married away, we are whisked into a dream–a flashback–of her days before the wedding. What we witness is of her meeting the groom for the first time, of her invited to his home and of her discovering what he truly is. All of this is told with the use of skillful puppet theatre antics and creative lighting effects. As much as I wanted to see a light ground fog cover the entire stage, I suspect that’s a restriction Intrepid said that could not be done.

This tale keeps everything from the tale truly dark and very deathly so. When considering the soundscape is a perfect visualization of all that’s unholy, I was in that grip of following the bride’s trip through the stygian forest and quietly whispering, “Go back! Go back!” I recalled enough of the original tale to know what she’ll discover and guess No Face (from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away) has a distant cousin. Her meeting of a very different looking hag honours the Germanic folkloric traditions well. The wolf is a very traditional fear in this world and I was glad to see this creature haunt the story too.

Within the cusp of where the two tales meet–to return to the waking world–unless someone in the audience did not say something, I wondered how this play would end. I’m sure this production has a backup plan if audience interaction went afoul. Thankfully, the show delivers. Because this travelling show started months ago, they had plenty of time to solidify any hiccups and deliver a solid performance!

Like The Untold Tales of the Brothers Grimm when Chimera Theatre performed in their 2015 Fringe Festival tour, the blend of live-action with puppets gives the stories a breath of fresh air for young and old to enjoy. Honestly, these narratives are not that spooky. When you’re a huge fan of the supernatural like me, there’s a time where you have to switch off those critical sensors so you can get the chills as the creators intended.

5 Blokes out of 5

Two Hungry Blokes reviews The Trophy Hunt

The scents of the nearby restaurants during a very DIY Fringe show, Trophy Hunt, certainly made me go on an expedition (for food) afterwards. In what’s unique about this performance is that it offers to local talents a chance to interpret Trina Davies dialogue and broadcast the ideas in new creative ways. This Vancouver, BC based playwright is best known for Shatter, Multi User Dungeon and The Bone Bridge.

Here, Parker (Geneviève Doyon), Jan (David Radford), and Soraya (Christina Patterson) talk about the thrill of the hunt and the reasons for why they embark on this ritual in a point of view that few understand. This show does not endorse these safaris. It does, however, delve into all those questions people ask to others who enjoy hunting. Is it really a crime? What makes being a predator so special? Is it some endorphin which gives the stalker some sense of perverted pleasure? Or is there something else?

Parker’s story mirrors the incident back in 2015 about the death of Cecil the Lion. The outcry had the guy go into hiding, and he was the hunted. Doyon conveys a perfect sense of paranoia which the real life individual most likely developed since activists were just as much out for his head.

David Radford as the tired hunter.

Jan speaks as the anguished expert hunter/marksmen who serves as a guide to those first-timers wanting that thrill of chasing down big game. When they can’t make the skull-crushing shot, it’s up to him to put down the beast. He anguishes over how he can’t put up with this crap anymore. This hunter respects the beast. I feel Radford is drawing from Kraven the Hunter from the Spider-Man comics as his inspiration. He respects the beast far more than the man who thinks killing for sport is fun.

Last, if not least, is Soraya, the socialite who finds her prey in the urban jungle. Patterson is just perfect in the role given her statuesque form. In character, she realizes those who stalk the innocent deserve more than being put in jail. If I was to compare her to an Egyptian Goddess, Sekhmet and her role in the Destruction of Mankind (which immediately popped into my head), she is a dangerous cat! This visualization is especially true with how this show closed with everyone wearing the panther’s mask.

This show is more than just a dramatic social commentary. The satire was light and I believe it’s a very philosophical look at what we represent as the most dangerous species on Earth. As a Fringe show, it allows anyone interested in spreading Davie’s message without being constrained to one person’s vision. I’m sure my reading of the show comes through as unique given how well I know world mythology.

The space tucked away in Fan Tan Alley in Victoria, BC’s Chinatown is perfect to convey the atmosphere. I recommend seeing this at dusk or at night instead of a daylight. It allows for different ambience; the shadows are used to great effect to suggest other forces are in our midst altering our primal instincts. Yes, this includes those seagulls or other amusing neighbouring noises (or scents) which can interrupt the show. In my case, it was to track down ground up bovine for a late-night snack. Mmmm, hamburgers.

Times Colonist reviews Broadway Bash, Destiny USA, The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale, TravelTheatrics, Crazy fir Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation, False Profits and Josephine

Broadway Bash

Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

Victoria comedian Steve Ivings has created a pocket-sized revue poking gentle fun at the Broadway musical. The humour — amusing and a touch cornball — is a throwback to variety TV shows of the ’70s. It’s a smartly turned out production — fans of classic musical theatre will likely enjoy it.

A tuxedo-clad Ivings MCs the proceedings and joins in the singing. Performing to pre-recorded music, five vocalists offer Mad magazine-style parodies of such songs as Getting to Know You, Food Glorious Food and I Could Have Danced All Night.

Some send-ups employ local references. The Rain in Spain takes aim at Victoria’s obsession with bike lanes with such lines as “Go gallop your goose please” and “Lisa Helps is just not helping.” Almost Like Falling in Love skewers politically correct jargon. The “favourite things” in My Favourite Things are Cartier, Hermes and Gucci.

Some of the humour seems dated. The Drinking Medley — which changes Hava Nagila to Have a Tequila — might have been exhumed from The Dean Martin Show. Overall, the singing achieves a satisfactory standard, with Julliard-trained Lena Palermo emerging as a stand-out.


 

Destiny, U.S.A.

Where: Wood Hall
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

If handled perceptively and with a fresh eye, any subject can be fascinating. Victoria native Laura Anne Harris proves this with Destiny, U.S.A. The autobiographical show examines her experiences at a relay call centre for the deaf and hard of hearing.

This may not sound like particularly compelling material. Yet in Harris’s hands, it absolutely is — her one-woman show is funny, poignant, cleverly crafted and well acted.

Harris moved from Toronto to Syracuse, New York, at a fraught period in her life: her mother was dying. Trump was just elected president. At the call centre, she was a telephone interpreter for deaf people who sent in typed messages. Harris was the conduit for a mind-boggling variety of human experience, passing on racist messages, expressions of love, lewd notes, ER emergencies and calls to suicide hot-lines.

This bird’s-eye view was a treasure trove for Harris, happily blessed with a writer’s eye. We also get an amusingly self-deprecating glimpse into her own struggles. She describes her experiences with empathy, displaying an ability to parse life’s paradoxes in a perceptive manner. Harris shifts from character to character cleverly, showing a knack for regional accents. The accomplished script is tightly written — overall it’s a fine show.


 

The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Where: Metro Studio
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

When a folk tale includes scenes of dismemberment and cannibalism, chances are the Brothers Grimm penned it.

Enter The Robber Bridegroom, adapted for stage by Kamloops-based Chimera Theatre. A girl is invited to her fiancé’s house in the woods; a bird warns her away and she escapes after witnessing flesh-eating horrors (this isn’t a play for kids). Not surprisingly, the wedding ceremony that follows is no barrel of laughs.

Chimera’s show is more fully produced than the typical fringe fare. The Robber Bridegroom is notable for its well-crafted life-size puppets, clever shadow puppetry, deft lighting and a truly haunting soundtrack.

Rather than speaking, the puppets communicate via grunts, hums, moans, etc. (there are also human characters who talk normally). The hum/grunting can get a bit self-conscious and tedious. Overall, this is a superior effort, well-crafted and detailed. The contemporary thematic link to violence against woman (the show ends with the words “Stand up and fight!”) works well, giving the fable extra potency.


 

TravelTheatrics

Where: Wood Hall
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

Solo performer Keara Barnes would make a terrific children’s performer. In TravelTheatrics, she performs with wide-eyed, high-octane gusto, giving every scene 150 per cent.

This well-rehearsed autobiographical show is something of a mixed bag. Sometimes delivered in rhyme (giving the proceedings a rather precious quality), TravelTheatrics follows Barnes’ global travels as a young woman. She journeyed to England, Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, and Morocco.

Travel stories are generally the most interesting to the traveller in question, as anyone who has suffered through a slide-show knows.

Such is the case with TravelTheatrics. Barnes certainly had adventures: a German cab driver turned out to be a sexual predator; in Malaysia, she skinny-dipped and thought she saw a tiger.

These are wonderful dinner-party anecdotes — but not especially remarkable in the grand scheme of things.

Barnes says she overcame shyness not only to travel, but to pursue her career in theatre.

The overarching theme of TravelTheatrics is that we must be brave and follow our dreams.

This is commendable, certainly — yet overall, the show doesn’t offer particularly original insights.


 

Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

Where: Downtown Activity Centre
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

There’s a strong following for Tim Motley’s Dirk Darrow shows, which spoof noir detective films while showcasing his skills as a magician.

The latest, Crazy for Dick Tricks, once again features Motley as a fedora-wearing private investigator channeling his inner Humphrey Bogart.

The narrative is mostly a platform for his magic.

We see a variety of tricks, often with audience participation, using handkerchiefs, decks of cards and balloons. One rather amazing sleight of hand with a rubber snake is worth the price of admission.

Not every trick worked perfectly on opening night, but there’s no question Motley is a highly skilled magician. His performance was slow to warm up, but to be fair, he had hurried to the theatre directly from the airport.

Arrive early if this interests you — Motley’s shows sell out quickly.


 

False Profits

Where: Victoria Event Centre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

In False Profits Jeff Leard takes razor-sharp aim at Libertarian poster boys Charles and David Koch (the latter died only a week ago).

Koch Industries, one of the biggest U.S. multinationals, is notorious for its money-grubbing pursuit of petroleum and other interests with no regard for human cost or environmental destruction. Leard takes direct inspiration from Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money which details the unscrupulous way the Kochs and other corporate baddies operate.

False Profits is an excellent primer for the uninitiated. Leard provides solid background, delving back to founder Fred Koch’s nefarious Third Reich connections. And he describes victims of the family’s heartlessness, such as the employee who died of cancer after years of cleaning out gasoline tanks (Koch failed to inform him of abnormal blood cell counts showing up in company physicals).

Leard’s script is intelligently penned (although the swash-buckling fantasy sequence at the end does run a bit long). What most impresses is the first-rate level of performance — his acting is forceful, sharp and incisive with wonderful use of gesture.


 

Josephine

Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

If you’re lucky you can score a ticket to Josephine, Tymisha Harris’s popular one-woman show about the fascinating Josephine Baker.

Missouri-born Baker is among the most intriguing entertainers of the 20th century. Born into poverty, she became a Parisian superstar notorious for dancing covered only by a string of faux bananas. The so-called “Black Venus” later became a spy for the French resistance and a prominent civil rights activist.

A striking and strong stage presence, Harris — who co-wrote the play — recreates Baker’s life with saucy humour and warmth. She’s not shy about recreating Baker’s naughty dances and cavorting with the crowd (one audience member helped put on her brassiere). Highlights included her rendition of Strange Fruit and a starkly soulful version of Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’.

Check the Program reviews Josephine

FRINGE review: “Josephine” (Venue 5: Langham Court)
 (five stars out of five)

Truth be told, this review could probably just be 200 words of jumpy claps and cheering like the standing ovations co-creator/performer/choreographer Tymisha Harris has received at every sell-out performance of ‘Josephine’ so far.

A one-woman burlesque cabaret, ‘Josephine’ is a faithful celebration of Josephine Baker’s unconventional life as the world’s first African-American international superstar, a queer icon, a French spy and, in her later years, a civil rights activist championing the freedom she enjoyed living abroad in Paris for black men and women back home in the segregated US.

Fascinating subject matter aside, it’s Harris herself that makes this well-written, beautifully designed show a Fringe masterpiece.

Her presence on stage is electrifying and her talent as a performer and singer is outdone only by her inimitable beauty as a dancer, running the gamut from foxtrot to burlesque to an intimate contemporary piece that leads into Baker’s final years and a truly soul-stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’”.

A solo show of this calibre is rare in Victoria and advance tickets for Josephine’s Fringe run are completely sold out…but FOMO not: half of the house is sold at the door an hour before each show. This one is absolutely worth lining up for. —MTH

Check the Program reviews 5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0

Fringe Review: “5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0” – Paco Erhard
⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Three Stars)
Venue 6: The Roxy Theatre

What does it mean to be German? Paco Erhard attempts to answer this and ends up spiralling into an exploration of identity through stereotypes, the good and the bad.

The jokes are solid, and Paco plays off the audience’s reactions to enhance his material. The main theme of the show is mocking the national caricatures, as well as the truth behind some of them. They are clichés for a reason, right? It’s a mocking of everybody, but all in good fun.

However, the greatest weakness of “5-Step Guide to Being German 2.0” is that it’s the same show from last year. There are slight differences, but it’s more or less the same jokes, same story, same conclusion. If you saw it last year, you’re not seeing anything new.

So, if you’re looking for a straightforward stand-up routine for some good laughs, check it out.
-BB

CVTV reviews 13 Dead Dreams of Eugene, False Profits and Jon Bennett: Playing With Men

13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” – Venue 3 – Metro Theatre

 

A projected shadow show about the dreams that an unidentified corpse is visiting upon the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town, 13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” is certainly among the more uniquely premised and well-executed pieces this Fringe. Whether or not it delivers on the spookiness that that premise should have is altogether a different story.

 

Dead Dreams (created and performed by Erika MacDonald and Paul Strickland) loosely follows the two of them as they travel to Sabina, Ohio, where the body of an unidentified man (called “Eugene” because of the nearest resident to a scrap of paper found in his pocket) was kept on display for over three decades. Over this time, people in the town have been experiencing the same dreams, at least twelve distinct ones that feature watery secret-keepers under a bridge, curious encounters with ominous preachers, and the particularly chilling tale of the Whistlemaker. They uncover letters, written ostensibly by Eugene’s spirit, inhabiting the body of one of the residents, ultimately promising the haunting of whoever experiences all of Eugene’s dead dreams.

 

This piece has a lot of the things that make for a great Fringe show, an unusual premise (based on a real cadaver which was displayed for 35 years!), clever design, and solid performances; the creativity with which MacDonald and Strickland play with shadow and motion is really something else, and really clicks with the DIY aesthetic of their production design. The stories are spooky, reminding you of disturbing dreams or chilling nightmares. Some of the dreams are told through song, and they all have a dark folk, creepy-country vibe, and seem to be plucked straight from a Midwestern folklore. All of these are great qualities that the two performers deliver with dedication and enthusiasm. All of these formidable skills, however, don’t quite deliver on the promise of a spooky night at the Fringe.

 

Undercutting the work overall are two main problems, one structural/technical and one stylistic. On the structural side, the piece begins with a distorted recording of one of Eugene’s letters delivered over a clacking typewriter, and is really difficult to understand, putting the audience at arm’s length from the action of the work. We then are introduced, sort of, to the investigative “characters,” but it never really is clear if we as an audience are supposed to believe that these are the actual experiences of the performers, or if the investigation is something which these two characters are engaging in. This extra distance between the audience and the narrative framework keeps the story that hangs the stories from really clicking emotionally. The stylistic incongruities are harder to pin down; the night I attended the audience took every opportunity to laugh throughout the show. This really defused any tension that might have built up from the otherwise unsettling visions, and made it seem less like horror, and more like a vaguely spooky story. Of course, that experience would vary with the particular audiences, but I get the feeling that the tales generally skew more towards campfire creepy, rather than full-blown fear-inducing.

 

13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” is one of the most unique offerings in the festival, and presents its DIY shadow show with a lot of vigour and heart. Go with the expectation of something a little spooky, rather than really scary, and you’ll probably come out charmed.


 

False Profits – Venue 1 – Victoria Events Centre

 

What if the super-rich were trying to manipulate the world and governing systems into simply increasing their own already massive wealth? What if they had cartoonishly evil names for their organizations that were trying to siphon all of the money in the world? Well, it’s not so much a “what if” scenario, as Jeff Leard lays out in his newest solo show False Profits.

 

Focusing mainly on Koch Industries (the largest privately owned refining company in the United States) and the machinations of the Koch family promote deregulation and “trickle down economics,” False Profits takes a wrecking ball to the neoliberal agenda that has defined American industrial capitalism for the last half century. Jumping between stories of the downright evil deeds of these profiteers to campy, over-the-top commercials for services such as phoney nonprofits set up to buy more political influence, Leard tells a story that is at once tragic, hilarious, and infuriating. Particularly his take-down of the champagne tower metaphor for the Reaganomics of the 80s is pitch perfect and conjures up some of the most funny and accurate imagery (and really, all those Gordon Gecko types are best referred to as “hoarding old goblins.”)

 

It’s clear that the show is relatively new, having clearly not fully settled into Leard’s muscles just yet. A few times Leard set out on a sentence only to restart after a few words, having seemingly missed an adjective important to his metre. These bumps in the road are addressed head on, though, as Leard is skilled at adapting to the situations he puts himself in, and as one of the most self-aware performers around, he overcomes with grace and humour. 

 

It’s rather refreshing to see a work that takes on a rather low-hanging fruit (unregulated free-market capitalism is, in a word, bad) it makes the subject more real and human by focusing on a particular dynasty of wealthy people and their pernicious influence. It makes the reality of the evils wrought not nebulous or removed but specific and immediate. The one thing missing is a definite call to action, which would really tie the work together. While Leard obviously can’t offer any magic-bullet answers, a fact he openly bemoans, pointing the audience towards a plausible activity that they can do would serve as a fitting way to conclude the show. That said, the showdown in a castle fantasy he constructs as a finale is rather delightful.

 

Full of uncomfortable and infuriating truths, False Profits is a great education piece on the pitfalls of capitalism and a flashlight on the misdeeds of one of the most influential families in the modern world. What’s more, it’ll give you a good laugh while you get ready to stage a workers’ uprising.


 

Playing With Men – Venue 1 – Victoria Events Centre

 

Staying on his tried and true method of mile-a-minute storytelling, Jon Bennett’s latest offering, Playing With Men, may be the perfection of his performance style. Side-splittingly funny and scathingly self-critical, it’s a valuable work that probes at toxic masculinity and the culture of machismo.

 

If you’ve seen one of Jon Bennett’s shows before, the formula of Playing With Men will be familiar to you; Bennett delivers quips and anecdotes at a blistering pace, aided by the mother of all slideshows. Divided broadly into two halves, Bennet first sets up his youthful love of Aussie Rules Football (which, to the uninitiated North American, looks like a fusion of Rugby and some sort of bloodsport) and his equal, or perhaps greater, childhood devotion to animals. As the show goes on, confronting a tragedy causes Bennett to reframe his past experiences, uncover the toxic norms that were instilled in him, and expose how deeply integrated misogyny and racism were into his upbringing. 

 

Perhaps moreso than some of his other works, in Playing With Men Bennett displays a level of self-awareness and criticality. While played off for laughs, and there are lots of laughs to be had, Bennett unpacks traumas from his youth which set him on his course and informed his notion of how men are ‘supposed’ to process grief and pain. While some outlets appear to at least be constructive (his final game of Aussie Rules was rather touching), he explores the poisonous nature of the idea that feelings are to be bottled up, not discussed, and ultimately unleashed in violence and destruction. 

 

The kicker to the work is in Bennett’s insistence on calling out his own behaviour in a really powerful way. Recognizing his own behaviours, his own internalized racism and sexism, and his own blindness to the effects of his actions over his life. He knows that he is wiser now, and able to at least see the patterns of harm, able to talk about them, and to confront his own behaviour and the actions of other men. Powerfully, he calls on men in his audience to look at themselves and to begin the process of actually talking with other men, particularly men whose behaviour is harmful and toxic. Stated simply and powerfully, confronting this internalized toxicity “can’t be left to the Hannah Gadsbys of the world.”

At once critical and hilarious, Playing With Men is a powerful show that is important for men to see, particularly those who are coming to terms with their internalized biases. Bennet demonstrates his capacity for introspection, while engagingly delivering this self-reflective dissection of toxic masculinity.

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