Fringe Festival 2018: Review Round-Up

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Vancouver Fringe Festival Review Round-Up | September 6 – 16, 2018

The Lady Show

What does it mean to be a lady? Who is a lady? All this and more is creatively explored in this sketch comedy bonanza that will knock your socks off. As the ladies say in their anthem, “Bring your bitches, bring your old man, call your grandma, make a new friend.” You won’t want to miss a chance to see this show.

Diana Bang, Morgan Brayton, Fatima Dhowre, and Katie-Ellen Humphries take turns using their unique talents to lampoon gender norms and upend stereotypes. Bang’s original acapella song, “Forehead,” was an aggressive declaration to an ex-boyfriend, letting him know that he would be missing out on her impressive pre-frontal region. Humphries performed some stand-up comedy using the persona of an offensive male comic to show how ridiculous their content can be, Dhowre’s stand-up comedy was about her parents’ cruel nicknames and reactions she gets when calling herself fat, and Brayton did a scene as a film noir ladybug. Another hilarious segment, the Lady News, lampooned current events in late-night talk show style.

All of this may sound highly unrelated, but somehow this disjointed commentary on something that is never fully defined works—after all, the definition of a lady or what it means to be a woman is not static. Intelligent, flashy, subversive, and feminist: this is a unique show by a group of talented ladies. 

Small Town Boys

Chateauguay, 1973: three friends make trouble in the local bar and around town. There isn’t much to do in small town Quebec. Eventually, they part ways and move to different parts of the country. Their paths diverge wildly, but they will always be small town boys and they will always be best friends. With only a few bar tables and chairs on stage, Sean Casey LeClaire tells this evocative story of his boyhood filled with touching scenes that show us no man is born violent. 

The only problem is, on the night I saw the show, there were so many pauses to ask for a line that it interrupted the flow of the story. I’m sure more rehearsal would have solved this. Once getting back into the story, it was compelling. LeClaire could have employed some more physicality in his performance, but it was clear that this story means a lot to him and it’s told from an authentic, sincere point of view. Despite the interruptions, the themes and content are moving, and it’s a worthy story to put on the stage.

A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s

This marks TJ’s 113th fringe festival, and this year also marks the 15th anniversary of his one-man show, A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s.

TJ is a master storyteller, and this show brings out all his strengths: physicality, impressions of quirky characters, and tangents that seem unrelated at first but somehow tie everything together thematically by the end. He begins by describing a strange incident that occurred during a cabin trip with friends, but the story that frames all of the themes is the time he spent working as a bartender at Butlin’s, a holiday camp for families in England. He describes the demanding job, dismal living quarters, quirky coworkers, unrequited love, and linguistic differences such as using “toilet” instead of “bathroom” and the important difference in meaning of the word “fanny.”

Fast-paced, full of entertaining asides, and using just enough repeating elements to keep things on track, Dawe always has something new to add to the plot to keep us intrigued.  

A Sad-Ass Cabaret

Dawe and his partner Lindsay Robertson have created a beautiful fusion of story and song in this show that alternates between Dawe’s tragic biographical tales of Hank Williams, Judy Garland, Bessie Jones, and Sufjan Stevens and Robertson’s renditions of the sad songs of these artists.

The idea to do this show came about after the couple performed as part of a Leonard Cohen tribute at the Rio Theatre (Robertson sang a song and Dawe told a story between verses) and they did a similar bit as part of a Gord Downie tribute. This longer version works very well as Dawe discusses some of the tragic childhoods and circumstances of the personal lives of some of the best songwriters of tear jerking songs. It’s interesting, notes Dawe, that it seems this suffering can lead to immense creativity and provide inspiration for beautiful, timeless songs.

Robertson’s performance of these classics was also impressive. Adding her own take on the songs while not subverting them, her powerful voice and measured demeanour pulled us in and gave us pause between the anecdotes from Dawe. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” brought a tear to my eye as she sang it for us after Dawe described Judy Garland’s abusive childhood. The result of their combined talent is incredibly moving.

Delirium

This rapid-fire, one-man show is a delicately woven collection of three stories that at first seem unrelated and full of lengthy tangents. But, using the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” lyrics, Martin Dockery pulls together common themes of love, loss, and natural beauty. It turned out to be powerful stuff; I had a tear in my eye by the end.

His first tale in this trilogy was about his harrowing experience in the Toronto airport as he waited for his Canadian girlfriend to make it through customs. After a stressful four years of long-distance relationship and the thought of being separated by immigration laws, he makes a plea to the universe that if it makes Vanessa appear, he’ll ask her to marry him so that he never has to go through this agony again. They get engaged, and he ends this story with the lyric, “Sometimes happiness makes you cry.”

Though the stories are connected thematically very well, there were no smooth transitions between them. Part two is about his wacky idea to open a restaurant called “Le Petit Strawberry” (where they only serve strawberry sandwiches) at Burning Man. His first and only customer at his makeshift restaurant (a picnic blanket, candles, and a packet of strawberries), shares a deeply personal story and Dockery ends up providing some counseling to the stranger. The moral of this story is the lyric, “Life goes so fast, and you gotta make the good things last.”

The final story, though, is what had me holding back tears as he described his dog, Lucy, passing away. He would often play “Do You Realize?” and look Lucy in the eyes and tell her, “Do you realize you have the most beautiful face?” Through all three of these seemingly unrelated stories the shared themes emerged by the end and the lyrics and themes of the song resonated. 

My Imagination Ran Away Without Me

This was a very short and very strange show. There were acrobatics that were impressive in their own right but not extremely polished; there was supposedly acting, but that was debatable; and there was no plot whatsoever except for a few strange scenarios to frame the acrobatics. These scenarios included a teenager staying up late to play video games and ending up fighting ninjas and running into Mario. There was also a strange roller coaster in a haunted house and, for some reason, an insurance salesman was visiting to adjust this acrobatic coaster.

The scenes were nonsensical and not well acted, there was no plot, and it was confusing. The acrobatics did impress, but perhaps a Fringe show wasn’t the best format to showcase these talents.

Trudeaumania

Giving us a full life story of Pierre Trudeau from 1946 to his passing in 2000, this musical was at times cheesy and unpolished but did an excellent job poking fun at politicians, political parties, and pipelines. The original songs were silly and serious by turns and well-written, and featured appearances from Tommy Douglas, John and Yoko, Barbara Streisand, and Margaret Trudeau.

There is very little mention of Justin except to say that he was thirty years old when his father died and to make a jab at his handling of the pipeline issue. Educational and entertaining at the same time with plenty of narration to cover major events during his tenure, the show paints a favourable picture of Canada’s 15th Prime Minister as a hip ladies’ man who knew how to manage controversy and win over the country. While not seeming to favour any particular political position, it would be most enjoyable for anyone who is a former or current Trudeau or Liberal party supporter.

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