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VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL 2011 – REVIEWS

JUMP TO THE REVIEWS (listed in alphabetical order by show title)

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NEW! Check out our CVV Fringe Reviewer’s Lightning Round – 2011 video below. Head reviewer John Threlfall heads up a panel of reviewers who discuss the 2011 Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival!

Christopher Bange and Tara Travis in Houdini's Last Escape

Faster, Pussycat—Fringe! Fringe!

Looking for an appropriate way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Victoria’s Fringe Festival? Try taking in 25 shows—which may sound like a lot, but isn’t really so daunting once you consider there are 430 performances of 72 shows happening in 14 venues across town . . . and you’ve got till September 4 to see them all. Some 24,000 people visited the Fringe Festival last year, so no surprise it’s one of Victoria’s most popular, and most enduring, festivals. But whether you plan on just catching a few or pulling a full-on Fringe-binge, the same dilemma faces both first-timers and frequent Fringers: how do you know which shows are worth seeing?

Fortunately, we here at Culture Vulture Victoria have got your back: we’ve assembled our own crack team of Fringe reviewers to cover the entire festival. Yep, you’ll be able to find reviews of all 72 shows right here.

Ultimately, of course, the choice is yours—pick up a program guide or visit the Fringe site to get the full details, and don’t forget to grab your Fringe button (you’ll need both a button and a ticket to get into any show). Check back here frequently—we’ll be posting reviews throughout the festival—and be sure to keep up on any program updates or show changes too.

Here’s to 25 more years of the Fringe Festival—happy Fringing, everyone!

Know your reviewers

It can often be frustrating reading Fringe reviews signed with nothing more than a pair of initials. (“P.U.? Who the hell is P.U?”) With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to CVV’s Fringe reviewing team.

E.G Anderson balances a full-time marketing gig with Fringe reviewing and other freelance projects, including photography. Be sure to check out her CVV review and photos of the recent Michael Buble show.

Amanda Farrell-Low is a freelance arts and culture writer in Victoria. She spent nearly five years as the arts editor and reporter for Monday Magazine, Victoria’s alternative weekly, and has contributed to Focus Magazine, Boulevard, Ion and many other local, national and international publications. She suffers from occasional bouts of stage fright.

Chris Felling is a poetry-tweeter, entry-level swamp rock guitarist and, most importantly, a theatre reviewer for CultureVultureVictoria.com. Don’t forget to check out his thoughts on Die Roten Punkte‘s pre-Fringe blowout.

Ryan Harper-Brown is a Montreal-based writer-performer who teaches a UVic course on Canadian sketch comedy and is a past Fringe performer himself. He has more than a dozen years of sketch and stand-up comedy under his belt . . . if only he would wear it once in a while.

Jason Schreurs is an editor and freelance arts writer who went on an epic Fringe bender last year.

John Threlfall spent most of the ’80s and early ’90s as a theatre tech, has been a local theatre critic since 1999, is the former editor of Monday Magazine and is currently the communications honcho for UVic’s Fine Arts faculty. He is a regular contributor to Culture Vulture Victoria and has an unholy passion for musicals. 2011 marks his 10th anniversary reviewing Victoria’s Fringe Festival, and he’ll likely crack 200 Fringe shows this year.

Dylan Wilks is a local freelance writer and photographer who lives for storytelling in every medium.

Phil Pierce is a former singer and dancer, a member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, and one of the founding members of CVV.

THE REVIEWS – all 72 of them!
We will be adding reviews as they come in throughout the festival so check back often!

Reviews are listed alphabetically by show title.
A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z

A

Aladdin, The Secret Voyage

This story is about a boy named Aladdin, his mother and his father. When Aladdin was young, his father left on a voyage to find an enchanted kingdom. His father was gone for many many years because he was enchanted by a witch. When Aladdin gets older, he meets a merchant at the bazaar who claims to know his father. The merchant told Aladdin all sorts of amazing lies to get his trust, because he wanted a magic lamp that was in a cave and he promised Aladdin more riches than the king. But once Aladdin got the lamp, the merchant left him trapped in the cave with a monster—but he didn’t notice the lamp had fallen out of his pocket. Aladdin picked up the lamp and shook it three times, and the room filled with deep blue smoke. From that smoke came a genie. 

This is a different version of Aladdin than Disney. There are no songs, no Jasmine and Aladdin doesn’t have a monkey. But it is still a very good story because it has a good moral—don’t talk to strangers unless you’re lost, and always ask questions to see if they are lying. Aladdin asked the merchant what his father’s name was, and the merchant didn’t know it was Sinbad.    

This was the first time I had seen this play by Story Theatre, and I liked it as much as Magic Soup Stone. Jeff played Aladdin and did some really good rhyming. He is very funny. Samantha played the genie, Aladdin’s mother and the witch, who was a little scary but not scary enough to frighten little kids. She is a very good actor, and was good playing the different parts. David played Aladdin’s father and the merchant. He has a very strong voice and everyone could hear him, even in the back. All the costumes were very fancy and really matched the surroundings, and it was neat that the blue smoke was done with fabric, and that the monster’s footsteps were done with a drum.     

Aladdin, The Secret Voyage is really amazing and it’s good for kids to see these shows. They are funny, very well told and they made me use my imagination a lot. I wouldn’t change anything about it and would see it again. 

 —Grace Threlfall ( age 8 )

Read more about Aladdin, The Secret Voyage HERE.

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All Alone on Stage

Stand-up comedy is always a strange fit for the Fringe. Why would I go to an out of the way venue to see something I can catch regularly at a comedy club? Scott Belford and David Dempsey are two Edmonton-based comics who‘ll probably be headlining in a couple of years. They’re not quite there yet, and filling an hour-long timeslot proved a challenge. Belford’s opener had plenty of amusing anecdotes about childhood and one of the best analogies for stand-up comedy I’ve heard: it’s like robbing hobos. Dempsey was visibly put-out at the low turnout and while his delivery and stage presence is quite good, jokes about reality TV are bland. And so are pot jokes, guys. Belford and Dempsey are friends, and it’s surprising the duo don’t finish with a third set onstage together. It would be different from the norm, and play to their strengths.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Find more info about All Alone on Stage HERE.

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All My Day Jobs

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t had to hold down a misery-inducing day job at some point in their lives. This is part of what makes Kristen Van Ritzen’s All My Day Jobs an appealing show; as we watch aspiring actress Kristy struggle through waiting tables at a busy burger joint, spritzing perfume on passersby and herding grumpy tourists off a cruise ship—to name just a few of her many gigs—we share her pain and frustration. (It helps that Van Ritzen does a great job of portraying these traits; a scene that reveals her inner monologue while serving a slowlunch customer is particularly funny.) Some fun direction from Ian Ferguson and good use of props and sound really make this show clip along. While a few of the jokes seemed to fall a bit flat, All my Day Jobs is still an enjoyable examination of all the shitty things we have to do to earn money while we pursue our dreams.

—Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about All My Day Jobs HERE.

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An Inconvenient Truthiness

Warning: If there’s anyone out there who has never seen The Daily Show with John Stewart or The Colbert Report, An Inconvenient Truthiness might be the show to skip. What, no one? Right. With such a broad target audience it’s a wonder this show wasn’t packed, but then again, there’s probably a reason for that. Really, An Inconvenient Truthiness is kind of hard to get excited about; one person going on about how big of a fan they are of certain celebrities (in this case, Stewart and Colbert)—and what lengths they will go to in order to make a connection or share an experience with someone they idolize—can be a little trying on the nerves, even if they are questioning the psychology behind that very behaviour. We are all fanatics about something; whether it’s a sports team, musician or larger-than-life celebrity. Hell, some people even idolize fictional characters. But no matter how much Sharilyn Johnson pontificated on these cultural dilemmas and shared her own weird and desperate descent into fandom, her solid delivery and bubbly personality couldn’t save a too-long, dull script. Plus, I’m the guy who’s never actually watched either Stewart or Colbert’s show. Not even once. Yes, bring me to the town square for my stoning now.

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about An Inconvenient Truthiness HERE.

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B

BFA: The Musical

Five just-graduated university friends and “soon to be” artists are faced with finding creative satisfaction in the real world, armed with only their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees and a passel of songs. It’s a cute Glee-meets-Friends-in-Mile-Zero concept, and this 70-minute musical starts out well enough with the uber-catchy “BFA: The Song”—but rather than stay in that same Broadway vein, it evolves into a local jukebox musical featuring songs by Immaculate Machine, The Racoons, Sunday Buckets and others, which makes for an odd mishmash of songs and moods.

Good performances by Alex Frankson, Robin Gadsby, Hayley McCurdy and Alan Penty help (as does Kale Penny’s turn with his own band’s “Strangerman”), but despite the actual BFA-driven nature of this show, director Andrew Wade has to trim the dead zones and writer Meghan Bell needs to beef up the characters and conflicts for it to have any legs. Despite borrowing from the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Dr. Horrible and Spring Awakening, BFA never really lives up to its promise—but I bet it’s still popular with the university set for whom it’s so obviously written.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about BFA: The Musical HERE.

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Burning Brothels

The program guide describes this as “a one-woman show about the only US state with legal prostitution”—which is essentially correct, if you substituted the word “show” with “lecture.” Less a theatrical production and more a historical presentation with occasional costume accoutrements, this is a surprisingly dry and—given the subject matter—not very engaging recitation of facts and “colourful characters” . . . many of whom are actually the male brothel owners, not the working girls themselves. Katherine Glover’s idea is interesting, but she lacks the acting chops or staging concept to really bring it to life, and it’s the only Fringe show this year that has made me check my watch. This is one time when what happened in Vegas should really have stayed in Vegas.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Burning Brothels HERE.

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C

Canterbury Cocktails

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, considered revolutionary when they first emerged 600 years ago, come vividly to life in this classic rendition. The fact that these stories are performed in Middle English may seem daunting, but fully understanding the text isn’t necessary to appreciate or follow the show. Actor Julian Cervello does wonders in conveying character and action with gestures. His sheer bravado and confidence on stage and his love for these tales make for a mesmerizing performance. Though the audience receives an outline of the show and a small translation, it’s more interesting to sit back and enjoy the intricate rhythms of the language and to decipher what you can. Canterbury Cocktails is an energetic, impressive piece featuring a masterful leading man.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Canterbury Cocktails HERE.

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Charles Presents: A Trip Through the Multiverse

Sketch comic comrades Charlie and Chuck serve up a hyperliterate, design-savvy batch of skits for your viewing pleasure. A mind needs a special twist to both quote Beowulf at length in the original Old English and use it as a springboard into 12th century racist jokes. Other highlights include a laser light show about sperm fertilizing an egg, a battle over rock radio’s future and some Lovecraftian horrors which defy geometry and mildly disturb the sleep of office workers. The writing is hip and dilettante in the best possible way, but the attention to props and set is unusually thorough for the Fringe.

The only blemish? A malfunctioning microphone on the Big Mouth Billy Bass. That’ll clear up soon, and the tech hiccup didn’t slow the show down a single beat. These are highly trained professionals, people, and this is seriously good comedy.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about Charles Presents: A Trip Through the Multiverse HERE.

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D

Dianne & Me

When it comes to micro-theatre like the Fringe, a good benchmark of success is believability. Doesn’t matter if I’m watching a 40-year-old baby learning to walk or a giant piece of toast talking its way out of a nasty jam; what matters is if I believe what I’m seeing. And with Ron Fromstein’s sweetly enchanting Dianne and Me, I believed every word. Confidently performed by Chelsee Damen (in her Fringe debut), I totally bought into this story of teenage sexual awakening and how the ensuing entanglements result in a new relationship with her single mom, Dianne. From first shy kiss to final whispered “I love you,” Damen’s strong physical storytelling and expressive delivery allow her to deftly switch between a half-dozen characters without ever losing sight of the blossoming woman at the heart of it all. Elegantly directed by Jeremy Banks (of last year’s The Big Smoke, and the man behind this year’s Nanaimo Fringetastic), this is a sweetly simple mother-daughter show anyone can love. Don’t let the hike out to Oak Bay put you off; Dianne and Me is well worth the trip.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Dianne and Me HERE.

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E

EXTRAterrestrial

This show seems to operate under the premise that alien life forms can be just as annoying as us humans. The show opens with Bernard, the annoying alien in question, examining his latest abductee, Nate, who is snoozing on the floor of a very dressed-down spacecraft. We’re talking a beer cooler and a couple of comfy chairs passing as a spaceship, probably to alleviate Nate’s panic upon reaching consciousness again. EXTRAterrestrial is a talky 55 minutes, with a somewhat interesting climax twist. Luckily, Vancouverite actors Christopher Fofonoff and Alex Ross manage to match up nicely against each other, both delivering solid physical performances (the danger here is that the alien character would be too overstated and just take over the show). Trouble is, about halfway through we kind of forget that the curious and rather asshole-ish Bernard is from outer space; he could easily pass as that grating buddy who always asks stupid and pointless questions. But maybe that’s the idea. Regardless, EXTRAterrestrial has a lukewarm script with a few scattered chuckles.

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about EXTRAterrestrial HERE.

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F

Fortunate Son

Fortunate Son opens on the day of Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in 2000, moments after Justin Trudeau delivers a much-praised eulogy to his father. Justin finds himself alone with one of his father’s closest associates and political advisors, and the two men then engage in a debate about Justin’s future, touching on destiny and idealism, life and friendship, duty and family. At times almost unbearably intense and always enthralling, Fortunate Son rides on the incredible chemistry of its two-man cast. Though comedy abounds, it’s smartly undercut by sadness and sentiment. The retrospective view provides an interesting angle to the story, as the audience can compare Justin’s past aspirations to his present life and imagine why this charismatic drama teacher would enter the psychotically impossible life of a politician. A fast-paced and well-acted drama to revive your latent patriotism.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Fortunate Son HERE.

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G

Giant Invisible Robot

In 2007, a largely unknown-to-Victoria performer from London, Ontario, named Jayson McDonald became the buzz of the Fringe with a show called Giant Invisible Robot. It’s not hard to see how this tale of Russell, an awkward child (and teenager, and man) whose only companion is the show’s title character, took that year by storm and made McDonald a Victoria regular. He uses little more than a chair and a couple of props and costume pieces to weave a tale that’s hilarious in one breath and heartbreaking in the next. McDonald truly is a master at writing and performing a show that’s both unbelievably magical and undeniably truthful. If Monday’s mostly full house was any indication, he doesn’t need this glowing review to get the audiences he deserves. Watching Giant Invisible Robot at this year’s Fringe made me wish I’d caught it in 2007, when it played in the tiny Intrepid Theatre Club—but also made me thankful it’s returned so those of us who missed it (or even those who saw it) have a chance to take it in.

—Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about Giant Invisible Robot HERE.

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Giving Into Light

For some, motherhood is just an excuse to shop for new clothes; for writer-performer Alison Wearing, however, it’s a “call from the wild” she just can’t answer—at least, not in a Toronto suburb. And after a moment of postpartum illumination, Wearing seeks a more natural life in rural Mexico, where colour and celebration replace urban sterility. It’s hard not to be entranced by this beautiful autobiographical tale, vividly brought to life by Wearing and brightly directed by Stuart Cox; using a handful of characters and strong storytelling skills, she effectively captures both a woman’s maternal transformation and Mexico’s “carnival of lights and sounds.” A natural pairing with the Fringe’s other motherhood journey, Dianne & Me, you don’t have to be a mother to love this show, but it’s a show all mothers will love.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Giving Into Light HERE.

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God is a Scottish Drag Queen

I’m not sure how to write this. If you know how funny Mike Delamont is you’re already going; if you don’t, well, it sounds like every ticket has sold already. There’s a reason Fringers devour Delamont’s seats like this: Delamont’s a funny, funny man. 

God, it seems, is always listening and always cracking wise. Delamont eagerly seizes on things the audience likes (Amy Winehouse, where Mormons sit in heaven) and riffs them to their wildest conclusions. Most of the show is improvised—Delamont openly laments how much he deviates from his script—but the laughs are always professional quality. He’s a wizard with hecklers, too: “If you want to talk to me, try silent prayer.”

Unfortunately, Delamont pulls overtime in the worst possible venue. Fort Street Cafe is a hot, claustrophobic place to see a show—even moreso when the show is curtained off into the back third of it. Add in Delamont’s habit of constantly going off on tangents and, after 80 minutes, I was done. Glad I was lucky enough to get in, but still feeling wiped.

 —Chris Felling

Find more info about God is a Scottish Drag Queen HERE.

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Grim & Fischer

Subtitled “a deathly comedy in full-face mask,” Grim & Fischer is like watching life-size versions of the Old Trout puppets in action, as deathly Grim engages in a witty duel of all sorts with aging Mrs. Fischer. Like the best physical theatre, Andrew Phoenix and former Victorian Kate Braidwood use the vocabulary of body language instead of a script and there’s nary a wrong word here; equal parts funny and touching, surreal and bawdy, every gesture tells a story for the audience to interpret—and you’ll swear those masks are changing their expression (they’re not). Simple lighting changes and clever sound cues punctuate the movement as Fischer does her clever best to resist Grim’s “special delivery” . . . and that’s all I’ll say, not wanting to give anything away. Intriguing, flawless and utterly brilliant, Grim & Fischer is (ahem) living proof of why we need the Fringe.

—John Threlfall

Read more about Grim & Fischer HERE.

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H

Hip.Bang! Improv

This Vancouver pair asked for a single word from the audience and used it to do a full hour of oft-hilarious improv. The word? Well, it’s interesting . . . a woman in the audience called out “pubes” when prompted, but Devin Mackenzie and Tom Hill heard “cubes,” and proceeded to get to work. Any thoughts of “I wish they were doing pubes, I wish they were doing pubes” were soon diminished by some truly funny and inventive characters; from the schoolyard kids fighting the bullies in a impromptu “cube competition,” to a coffee shop confrontation with author JK Rowling over her theft of ancient Siberian spheres which detailed Harry Potter way before the author’s time. (As an aside, how many improv shows eventually turn to Potter and the gang?) The most impressive part of the two Hip.Bang! kooks is their ability to develop such textured, funny characters on the spot without a lot of the planning pauses seen in some improv. Particularly enjoyable bits featured a city slicker mom and her dense farmer son; a real hoot. Now at the next Hip.Bang! performance someone needs to suggest “pubes” again. Just say it loud and clear and watch the comedy unfold.

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about Hip.Bang! Improv HERE.

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Houdini’s Last Escape

At last, a historically based show that knows when to take itself seriously, and went to pull out the yucks. A clever mix of vaudevillian comedy and legitimate biography, Ryan Gladstone’s Houdini’s Last Escape lets you both laugh and learn, while legitimate magician/comedian/clown Christopher Bange (Houdini) and Tara Travis (his wife, Bess, among others) pull off some clever theatrics and applause-worthy magic. Yep, in addition to the 5Qs about Houdini, you actually get to see some of his famous tricks in action (the straightjacket, the locked box); add in some fun sleight of hand and intentionally corny patter—not to mention a solid rapport with the crowd and a good dramatic subtext—and we’ve got a winner here, folks. Not to let the rabbit out of the hat, but this one’s magic.    

 —John Threlfall

Find more info about Houdini’s Last Escape HERE.

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I

I Guess You Weren’t Expecting Me

All remaining shows of this production have been cancelled.

Find more info about I Guess You Weren’t Expecting Me HERE.

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It’s Been Taken

The effort of the two actors in It’s Been Taken is quite evident by the huge pit stains under the arms of their comic-book-themed T-shirts. Sweat-soaked by the final scene, Nathan Howe and Morgan Murray make an hour whiz by with a rambunctious bro-down teeming with funny dialogue about videogames, comic books and invisible roommates who don’t pay their share of the rent. The script is clever and the comedic timing is spot-on, especially from a hyperactive Howe, but the best belly laughs come from the duo’s made-up vocabulary. “We’re bonered” has to be the best euphemism for “we’re fucked” we’ve heard in a long time. Adding to the appeal of It’s Been Taken are perfectly synched sound and lighting, even during a goofy drinking buddy montage (set to Randy Newman’s Toy Story tune “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”) and a hilarious Mortal Kombat fight scene. The show also has a simple but multipurpose set with a basement suite gaming couch that easily transforms into the comic shop the pair work at. It’s Been Taken is a funny, energetic romp that will especially please the nerds among us. Only drawback is a bit too much yelling and volume in general. (Migraine alert!)

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about It’s Been Takes HERE.

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J

Jalopies

When a megacorp takes over a small-time retirement home, things change quickly for its offbeat-but-mostly-content residents. This solo show by Washington State’s Mark Cherniack has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t have enough panache to really wow the crowd. Too much narration, a slow-moving, heavy-handed script and character acting that’s decent but not great bog this piece down. And while these folks struggle to stand up for their rights as they’re slowly eroded by the new management, I couldn’t help but wonder: wouldn’t there at least be a few of their children or other family members stepping in? While the topic of placing our aging population in privatized, for-profit care that’s more concerned with the almighty dollar than ensuring people enjoy a high quality of life is an important one worthy of debate (and a Fringe play or two), Jalopies is, well, a bit of a clunker.

—Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about Jalopies HERE.

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Jem Rolls is PISSED OFF

“I’m in Canada, and everyone is so goddamn pleasant,” laments performance poet jem rolls as he recounts his last few months, a journey of getting as pissed off as possible. He’s just rattled the Ten Demandments—which include “It Will Happen Anyway”—and declared that, “We don’t deserve to be saved by anyone classy.” rolls stomps and stalks from grinning cynicism to musing on what it takes to write so cynically: drinking too much coffee, hating yourself for writing iambic pentameter and forcing yourself to watch TV just so you can convince yourself the world is a bad place full of worse people. Unlike last year’s Fringe tale of the London Tax Riots, rolls rolls back to town with a return to bombastic form. I’ve been looking forward to this all year (seriously) and wasn’t disappointed in the least. See it. See it.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about Jem Rolls is Pissed Off HERE.

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K

L

Limbo

Limbo is an appropriate name for this play; not only is it the middle piece in a trilogy of plays by Victoria expat Andrew Bailey (the other two being Scrupulosity and Putz), but it’s also a story about time spent in-between—in this case, the time between deciding to be alive and figuring out how to really live. This monologue’s brutally honest content paired with Bailey’s subtle performance make for a life-affirming hour of theatre that’s as dark as it is light, as funny as it is disturbing, as normal as it is strange. Sure, Bailey might reveal the answer to an age-old philosophical quandary in the play’s opening minutes, but he still keeps his audience engaged, entertained and inspired for the duration of his performance. Bailey really is a master of the monologue.

—Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about Limbo HERE.

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Little Orange Man

Visually stunning, superbly performed and incredibly inventive, Little Orange Man stands out from the Fringe pack. Kitt, our gawky and spastic star, acts out the tragic fairy tales she has heard from her beloved grandfather and regales her guests with snippets from her life. This intriguing outcast uses puppetry and projection to tell her stories, to extraordinary effect. Ingrid Hansen proves herself to be a dexterous artist who can sing, act and move beautifully; she incorporates her audience into the action divinely and performs with precision. At once haunting and hilarious, Little Orange Man offers both heart and thought. An enchanting, fantastical theatre dream.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Little Orange Man HERE.

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Love Letters for Georgia

While watching Love Letters for Georgia, audiences can’t be distracted even for one second. Ellen McGinn’s script is brilliant, sharp and very quick—so should you stare too long at the half-naked man or laugh too long at one of the many brilliantly delivered one-liners, you risk missing the occasional snappy line. Danda Humphreys is impeccable as Georgia, with comedic timing that never falters and a consistently charming performance throughout. As Georgia’s daughter Amy, Rhonda Hemstreet has less to work with but does an excellent job of articulating the daughter’s side of dealing with a mother’s old age and eccentricities. Elizabeth Brimacombe and Linda O’Connor, who play Saints Mary and Elizabeth respectively, have some hilariously very non-saintly scenes that joke at the expense of baby Jesus.

The nearly naked Baroque man on stage and the sassy cast from Raving Beauty Production leads me to believe Love Letters for Georgia is intended for middle-aged women, and for that audience I’d say the show is absolutely unmissable. For the rest of us, the show is a treat.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about Love Letters for Georgia HERE.

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M

MUDDY FOOTPRINTS a living nightmare

Imagine you come home from a long day of work and, there, on your kitchen floor, are a bunch of muddy footprints. It seems like you’ve been the victim of a home invasion. Some personal things are missing, but not your TV, DVD player, etc. Maybe the work of a stalker. Now, most people would call the cops, file an insurance claim and get on with life. Maybe they’d feel slightly violated for a few days, put an extra lock on the door and windows, and then resume their daily routine. But very few of us would go and write a play about it, with the main character descending into madness. Even fewer of us would score the play with a Marilyn Manson song. 

Calgary’s Cherie Dianne Caslyn did all of these things though, and poor Armina Borruel is the moderately talented actress who has to be up on stage for 50 minutes, down on all fours examining the muddy footprints, even simulating a sex dream with the intruder. Man, it’s a tough gig, and no one should have to do it. What turns out to be a form of therapy for those behind this production also turns out to be a form of torture for the audience. Good thing only five of us had to sit through it. Dreadful.

—Jason Schreurs

Music on the Orient Express

Ten great names in Western music defibrillated with Latin rhythms and blues scales. Imagine Muddy Waters doing Beethoven and that’s Godbout at his guitar: an intense musician with sophisticated taste and original sense of dynamics. Between songs, however, Godbout himself comes across as shy and awkward—and not stage-shy or stage-awkward—which is disappointing, given the commanding power of his music.

Don’t let the program mislead you. The music moves eastward from Paris, composer by composer—it’s a shift you can feel, and it’s a very neat touch—but there’s no whodunit here. There’s a little survey you’re supposed to do, pencilling in favourites as you hear them, but it feels forced and can’t substitute for genuine rapport with the audience. While Godbout is no doubt the most talented musician I’ve seen in Victoria, he still fits uncomfortably in a Fringe program.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about Music on the Orient Express HERE.

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My First Time

Remember your first time having sex? You probably do, especially if you weren’t too drunk—or if you posted it on myfirsttime.com, the website of personal sexual reminiscences upon which this show based. Yet another entry in the current trend of verbatim theatre (like reality TV, but on stage), the two men and two women performing My First Time offer a hodgepodge of apparently true deflowering details, loosely stitched together by theme (place, age, level of inebriation), with occasional longer segments expanding upon individual stories. For a personalized twist, the audience is asked to fill out brief surveys which are then incorporated into the presentation, with mixed results. Interesting, funny. mildly titillating yet inherently repetitive, more defined characterizations and fewer—or, better yet, no—projections would make this a stronger show.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about My First Time HERE.

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One Man’s Trash

The Victoria Event Centre is dank, dark and has a bar. I love it. It’s also the perfect venue for Andrew Barber’s One Man’s Trash. Barber lets loose with a series of character monologues—from an awkward stand-up comic to a pompous entertainer for the elderly who has nothing but contempt for his target audience of octogenarians. Video segments playing between costume changes to keep the audience’s attention; they’re hit and miss (warning: scatological content), and have a YouTube feel with a couple of twists. Despite some reincorporation, it’s too bad the show lacked an overall theme to link the everything together, as it would’ve added an extra layer to the experience. But the live characters are the real stars here and the packed house howled with laughter. If you can belittle and swear at your audience and they love you for it, you’ve got a good thing going.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Read more info about One Man’s Trash HERE.

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Out of My Head 

Don’t worry, they’ll fix it in post. That sums up Out of My Head, a sketch comedy variety show by Random Samples Theatre. Conceived as a pilot for an Internet-based TV series, audience members are brought onstage to perform adance number on camera; it’s chaotic, but it warms up the crowd. Alas, the show couldn’t maintain that energy level, and the audience settled down to polite smiles. Led by comedy veteran Jim Leard, the cast here is quite good—but the sketches tend to resemble old Bizarre reruns (minus Super Dave) and need refinement. Video inserts don’t add much to the experience, while the improv numbers are silly and fun. Still, the focus is on the pilot, and it takes priority. With too many balls to juggle, not enough effort goes into making Out of My Head succeed on stage. It’s an ambitious project; maybe it’ll look better in a web browser.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Find more info about Out of My Head HERE.

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People Know What You Tell Them

Three people escaped from the theatre halfway through this show; I wished I was one of them. Billed as satirical sketch comedy, Chris Wakaluk’s first foray at the Fringe is rough—very rough. Targets include faceless multinational corporations, religious shysters and greedy sports stars. The writing is generic and desperately needs to get specific. It’s like watching an outline of a sketch; I know where the jokes are, but they don’t land.

Oddly, Wakaluk jumps back and forth on stage to play each character in a sketch. It gets confusing and doesn’t work. A series of monologues would work better (he sports agent had good delivery, so there is potential). The big payoff came at the end, when Wakaluk spoke to us about taking the plunge to do his first show; it was the most honest and truthful moment I’ve seen on stage in a long time. May not have been funny, but at least it was real.  

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Find out more info about People Know What You Tell Them HERE.

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Peter ’n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel

If you like your comedy campy and self-referential, with (un)healthy doses of repetition and mime, then Peter ’n’ Chris is a good bet. Billed as sketch comedy, The Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel is actually more like one long, 60-minute sketch with all the roles played by Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson. Back again after last year’s Save the World! show, they clearly understand the Fringe and turn the lack of sets and low production values into strengths.

The duo turn in some good character work (Peter’s existential artist was a particular crowd-pleaser) and the jokes are fun on the surface—but sadly, there’s little beyond that. I want deeper moments in my comedy. Like any form of theatre, I want the actors to really hit and affect each other and generate something real and honest. Breaking the fourth wall as a punch line can only be used so many times before it becomes irritating, and it’s a problem when most of your jokes rely on it.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Find more info about Peter ‘n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel HERE.

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Phone Whore (a one-act play with frequent interruptions)

Let’s start by saying that Phone Whore isn’t a particularly visceral piece of live theatre. It’s essentially a series of staged sex calls with some measured observations in-between from an actual phone sex operator. The stories are interesting and reveal some interesting quirks about human sexuality (the abundance of “big, black cock” and “mommy and daddy fucker” calls, we find out, are alarming), but the show is heavy on sex talk and light on drama. For anyone curious about phone sex work and the kind of fantasy scenarios that go on between consenting adults, it could very well be a fascinating and somewhat titillating show (depending on your kink). But those hoping Phone Whore will be a revelatory experience might be somewhat disappointed. Solo performer Cameryn Moore is outspoken, funny, charming and brave, and performing one side of a phone conversation for the bulk of an hour mustn’t be easy, but Phone Whore doesn’t match up against some of the Fringe’s premier monologues.

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about Phone Whore (a one-act play with frequent interruptions) HERE.

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Photo Booth

In Photo Booth, local improv veteran Dave Morris tells a series of stories based on input from his audience. The show balances its laughs with bits of sadness, philosophy and satire. Given the nature of improvisation, every rendition will be an all-new surprise, but Morris is an experienced and reliable performer; he engages his audience, both anticipating and responding to their reactions, and knows how to take a tale in an unexpected direction. Morris has fun with his act as well as himself, pausing in the middle of a scene to make fun of his own acting and criticizing his narrative decisions as the characters he’s created. Improv always carries a bit of unpredictability, but because of its inherently hit-or-miss nature, it’s one of the more exciting things to see live. Morris and Photo Booth are worth taking a chance on.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Photo Booth HERE.

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Pickin n’ Schtick 

How can you not love a banjo? Veteran performer Tony Molesworth brings his latest one-man show to the Victoria Fringe, chalk full of one-liners, zingers and groaners. (“Do chickens in hell lay devilled eggs?”) It’s the kind of show you’d find at corporate gigs or on cruise ships, and feels dated and inoffensive. Jabs at Stephen Harper is about as confrontational as the show gets, so not very. Molesworth’s been doing this for a long time and his smooth, rapid-fire delivery is top-notch. His act is a throwback to old vaudeville days, and there aren’t many of these guys left. Some of his parody songs, like Puff the Magic Mushroom are cute, whereas an ode to greasy spoons falls flat, but the incredibly random juggling finale is the highlight of the show. Need a safe bet for out-of-town visitors you don’t really know? Pickn n’ Schtick is it.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Find more info about Pickin n’ Schtick HERE

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Rambo: The Missing Years

Howard Petrick performs the story of Howard Petrick, an anti-war screwdriver-assembler drafted against his will into the Vietnam War. As a mess cook he befouls food and in his off-hours he imports peace-movement pamphlets. The officers go ballistic. Hilarity (sort of) ensues. Think the first act of Full Metal Jacket with the violent parts cut right out replaced with bits of Catch-22The Missing Years is sort of like that.

Director Mark Kenward’s hand seems to let up as the show goes on. The pace feels too brisk and the monologue occasionally too much like an answer to an interview question; it’s as though scene breaks are missing. Petrick’s at his best when he takes his time and lets other characters come to the surface—especially the fat, despondent mess sergeant who always seems to be on the brink of death. Overall? Unpolished, but relevant and real.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about Rambo: The Missing Years HERE.

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Ratfish Comedy Show 

Victoria’s Fringe always seems to find space for a stand-up show and Ratfish takes to the mic as the best in recent memory. On Tuesday night’s show, host Mark Robertson played things a bit too dryly to warm the audience up but the rest of the bill more than made up for it. Guest comic Jayson McDonald stepped in to set the mood with field observations of Canada’s subspecies of douchebags, and Sooke native Kevin Banner kept it going with juicier thoughts about pot, sex and his friends’ standards. Katie-Ellen Humphries headlined; if you haven’t heard her yet, she’s almost unique in stand-up for playing immature instead of jaded, serving up adorkable jokes about lost cats, gym clothes and queefs. D’aww . . . 

If you’ve stopped by Underground Comedy Fort then you’ll recognize—and like—the lineup. Kevin Banner headlines on Friday and Wes Lord finishes the show’s run on Sunday.

—Chris Felling 

Find more info about Ratfish Comedy Show HERE.

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Red

Sebastian Samur’s one-man production cleverly draws the audience in by giving them the opportunity to take control of portions of his show by ringing bells handed out during a witty and plot-free prologue. A ring of a bell will cause Samur to shift personalities either from Red to the Wolf or from the Wolf to Red. Several rings will causes multiple shifts quickly back and forth. And many rings will cause madness, hilarity, and laughter. Samur does a brilliant job of acting out these transitions while trading barbs with his bossy narrator. A schizophrenic retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood may not be on your list of Fringe “must-sees”—and likely isn’t since Red is a replacement for the cancelled Lizardman—but it definitely should be.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about Red HERE.

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Rerentless

It’s a scenario many a stoner flick, buddy comedy or coming-of-age story has explored: two lovable-yet-lazy doofuses find themselves having to concoct harebrained schemes in order to pay the rent. And while Rerentless definitely embodies all three of these genres—and treading on this very well-worn territory—this surprisingly difficult-to-pronounce play by local comedian Wes Borg is thoroughly entertaining. Rerentless stars Borg himself alongside fellow Atomic Vaudeville regular Morgan Cranny, and it’s very apparent that these two actors have shared the stage many times. Their chemistry paired with crisp direction from J. McLaughlin and a funny, adult-oriented script makes this hour-and-a-bit of theatre fly by. Still, there’s something a bit off-putting about watching two 40-year-old man-children living off pizza, bong hoots and rounds of Modern Warfare. Hey, this play probably won’t change your life, but if you are into dick jokes and references to ’80s and ’90s cinema (including a very clever Koyaanisqatsi-inspired sequence), then turn off your brain and have a few laughs.

—Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about Rerentless HERE.

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Shadows in Bloom

In this comedy/drama, a woman finds herself struggling to figure out where her life is headed. A complex story emerges as solo performer Gemma Wilcox portrays a wild range of characters—some of them inanimate—with grace and spirit. The chameleon-like Wilcox is remarkable, equally believable as a sultry songstress and a gruff father. The show isn’t afraid to step out of the box and doesn’t limit its action to what’s happening on a literal level. It contains corny comedy, haunting nightmares and a no-hold-barred catharsis yet this very different elements work cohesively and the transitions between them feel natural. Both creative and clear, Shadows in Bloom offers an interesting and humanistic look at life. An invigorating and innovative blend of sweetness and substance.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Shadows in Bloom HERE.

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ShLong Form Improv

I was expecting Koreans. Victoria Fringe newcomers ShLong Form Improv bill themselves as a troupe from Seoul, but that’s where these five Americans and one South African met. Too bad, as I was looking forward to see an Asian take on a genre popularized by the likes of Second City and Loose Moose Theatre; another Fringe, perhaps.

What we get instead are six pleasant and energetic performers who really need a big, boisterous crowd to participate. That’s the problem with improv—no matter how good you are, if the audience is small, silent and offer uninspired suggestions (Charlie Sheen?! Really?), even short scenes get real old, real fast. To their credit, the troupe tried to work with what they were given, but if the scene drags, cut it. If the audience doesn’t contribute, change your strategy. No one should have to make a meal out of terrible-suggestion pie. Or watch it.

—Ryan Harper-Brown

Read more about ShLong Form Improv HERE.

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Sizzle

Imagine a Broadway casino act as performed by up-and-coming musical theatre talent and you’ve got Sizzle in a nutshell. Featuring six female and two male CCPA students, this is an all-singin’, all-dancin’, some-tappin’ revue of recent (Sister Act) and lesser-known (Closer Than Ever) show tunes—which is exactly what it’s intended to be. Directed and choreographed by CCPA honchos Ron Schuster and Darold Roles, the cute cast (they seem to young to be sexy) are at their best when offering original interpretations rather than just belting songs out; numbers from Wicked and Billy Elliot stand out from the pack because they’re given a twist. If you need a non-narrative Broadway fix, drop a nickel in this jukebox and try not to tap your toes.  

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Sizzle HERE.

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SmartArse

Like an optimistic counterpoint to jem rolls, Rob Gee returns! Three threads get woven into SmartArse, his newest show: his weird childhood, his dad’s weird childhood and the eagerly weird school children he now teaches sketch comedy and slam poetry to. The show opens with a surprisingly innocent list of things to do with an invisibility cloak and evolves into equally lighthearted vignettes on doing mushrooms, vomiting on humorless aunts, evading orphanage pedophiles and trying to keep the playfulness of childhood alive. It wanders, sure, but in the same way friendly conversation does. Back when I was tagging reviews with star ratings I had a simple rule: no five stars without a standing ovation. Mr. Gee and SmartArse will be taking home five gold stars this year. He can put them on his fridge, I guess, so his psychotic aunt can finally be satisfied that he’s made something of himself.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about SmartArse HERE.

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Sonnets for an Old Century

Seven actors present a series of characters, each giving their final thoughts on life The language ranges from colloquial to poetic as the recently deceased try to share their stories and view of the world. What distinguishes this show from other dramas are its moments of terrifying intensity, as well as its more abstract approach. Though there are a few glimmers of comedy, Sonnets prefers to stay on the darker side of things. With an array of characters and an eclectic cast, maintaining a consistent level of performance and tension is close to impossible, with some segments subtle and others brutally taut. However, Sonnets succeeds much more often than not, and offers some spectacularly powerful monologues. Sonnets for an Old Century is a hard, haunting and challenging drama with some outstanding actors.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Sonnets for an Old Century HERE.

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Spitting in the Face of the Devil

I was waiting for that one show to come along this year that knocked me right out of my seat. Spitting in the Face of the Devil, a solo show by the energy ball known as Bob Brader, is that show. Detailing a very painful childhood dominated by a terrorizing father (“The Devil”), this performance has a script that sinks into you like a meat-hook and doesn’t let go for 80 minutes. New York resident Brader has mounted this show at Fringes all over the world and won accolades for it—and no wonder: this is a polished, expertly written piece of theatre. And while the story of child abuse by a closeted gay man—and the rage that kept boiling over on his family—is absolutely enthralling, it’s Brader’s performance that makes this show so brilliant. He has an endless arsenal of facial expressions and character switches, complete with different voices and accents. Definitely the performance of this year’s Fringe, and my vote so far for Pick of the Fringe, Spitting in the Face of the Devil is a triumph. And I never say shit like that.   

—Jason Schreurs

For more info about Spitting in the Face of the Devil HERE.

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Stalemate

Stalemate moves in loops as two proud intellectuals engage in a battle of wits. Both actors give realistic performances as pretentious, posturing chess players; their snide criticisms of each other’s grammar, logic and even their shared history garner a few laughs, but not many. Unfortunately, Stalemate suffers from static staging and a confusing transition halfway through the show. The mental antics of the leading men also occasionally become hard to follow and the play seems to lose momentum and direction. Stalemate has more potential than results, but it remains a competent comedy for those who enjoy live philosophical debates.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Stalemate HERE.

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Struwwelpeter

While packing up their playroom to move, two kids find a book of German children’s stories with a note taped to it: “Do not read.” They do, of course, and what ensues is like an episode of Storybook Theatre as written by Edward Gorey. As they read each story, the talented cast of five act out these cautionary tales of negligence, racism, cruelty, abduction, dismemberment and death. Darkly comic and ultimately spooky, we’re deep in Tim Burton territory here—a region for which director Darcy Stoop clearly has a map—so believe the program note when it says it’s not to bring kids under 10. But you don’t have to be wee to enjoy this fast-moving show with a sinister edge; like a sideshow haunted house, just let your imagination run wild.

—John Threlfall

Read more about Struwwelpeter HERE.

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Tara Firm and the Lunar War Chronicles

Tara Firm, a daring pilot, has just been deployed to the moon to fight the lunar invaders. But what seems like a simple mission quickly becomes a mystery when Tara makes some interesting discoveries. A seasoned ensemble cast heads up this adventurous tale, which is more comedy than action-packed adventure. Tara Firm winks at old-fashioned sexism and brings some real social commentary to its invented history. A bit of multimedia heightens the production without overwhelming it and the low-tech staging works well for the retro concept. Campy and occasionally corny, Tara Firm and the Lunar War chronicles feels like a live-action B movie, one that becomes a cult classic beloved by a hoard of die-hard fans. A playful and entertaining piece of theatre.

—E.G. Anderson

Read more about Tara Firm and the Lunar War Chronicles HERE.

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The Animal Show

What do you do if you find a pair of hawks tangled in a playground or a dying dog on the side of the road? Call an animal rescue officer, of course. But what if you’re the person holding the blanket while the injured animals tug on your heartstrings? That’s the hook behind The Animal Show, written and performed by Victoria expat Katie Hood, making a welcome return to local stages here. A lightning-paced, frenetically funny and often sincerely emotional look at the reality of animal welfare—from regurgitated seagull barf and economic cutbacks to the impact of cat pee on personal relationships—Hood offers a multi-character slice of the lives of the people inside the shelters, and what our relationship with animals says about humanity. Reminiscent of the work of TJ Dawe, Hood fills the stage with her movements and characterizations and director Paul Hutcheson leaves nary a dead spot to slow her down. (Shows with pacing issues should study this one.) No dog, this one; Hood has a unique story to tell and talent to spare.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about The Animal Show HERE.

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The Birdmann

Are you looking for something out of the ordinary this Fringe? The Birdmann may be for you. Part stand-up comedy and part circus act, this oddball show draws laughs out of awkward situations, puns and stunts. As a performer, The Birdmann is a vaudevillian blend of Mitch Hedberg and Tim Minchin. He mixes deceptively simple jokes with outlandish adages and legitimate facts. His confidence and charisma carry the act, in which he proves himself a risk-taking and crowd-pleasing artist. His magic tricks may not always amaze, but his showmanship never fails to. Currently in the midst of his Canadian debut, The Birdmann has been earning standing ovations and it’s not surprising. The Birdman is a wonderfully ridiculous and spectacularly strange act.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about The Birdmann HERE.

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The Disinhibition Effect

Three geeks from different corners of the English-speaking world chat about sweaty testes, girl troubles and drug trips online; one pretends to be a woman and seduces the other two. Hilarity ensues. Writer Brian Wrigley’s dialogue feels authentically goon without going /b/tarded with memes and in-jokes. The show is crass, but not disgusting. I like it.

In execution, The Disinhibition Effect ultimately winds up in that family of Fringe shows that deserve another round of rehearsals to tidy things up. Actors glitch lines; scene breaks occur too often, filled by mishandled music and unwanted beats of dead air. There’s a plot-indifferent cardboard stormtrooper and a dream sequence, both amusing but strange from nowhere, meant to offer relief from laptop jockeying despite the cast, who made laptop jockeying expressive and fun. A debugged remount could be a hit. For now, well, call it a functional beta.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about The Disinhibition Effect HERE.

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The Donnelly Sideshow

Hiding under a bed might not seem like a realistic way of evading danger, but back in 1880 the young Johnny O’Connor did and managed to survive the infamous Donnelly Massacre. Now he’s here to tell audiences the true story of what happened, from his point of view and using both story and song with The Donnelly Sideshow. The best thing about this show is the original music performed by writer and star Jeff Culbert—but that isn’t because the show itself is bad (it’s excellent), it’s because the songs are fantastic. The story itself is no slouch either, and Culbert does a fine job of fitting a large, complicated history into a 60 minute show. The Donnelly Sideshow doesn’t just entertain, it educates.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about The Donnely Sideshow HERE.

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The Fabulous Miss Rosie Bitts

Given the outrageous costumes, sassy attitude and naughty by nature sexuality, you’d think burlesque would be a natural for the Fringe circuit—but I’ve seen a few burlesque shows over the past couple of Fringes and have yet to find one that completely clicks. And while there are indeed some fabulously saucy routines in The Fabulous Miss Rosie Bitts, the wraparound story about the all-too-human cost of censorship fails to match the simple pleasure of watching Ms. Bitts in action. Indeed, with her Mae West sexuality and bluesy singing voice, it’s impossible not to like Bitts, but even the sassiest tassel-twirling and fluffiest feather boa can’t cover up acting that sags and a story that lags. Better to have replaced the recurring projected character and silent on-stage assistant with one stronger actor, and let Bitts focus on what she does best: wowing the audience with her bodacious bon mots and, uh, best bits. Call this one a delicious tease that never quite reaches its climax.

—John Threlfall

Read more about The Fabulous Miss Rosie Bitts HERE.

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The Human Body Project

Better known as the show starring the naked lady (mother/artist/educator Tasha Diamant), The Human Body Project isn’t so much live theatre as it is unscripted discussion group. And it certainly isn’t all about nudity, although that topic naturally comes up, and some audience members end up undressing themselves. What makes the discussion so productive and engaging, centering around our connections to each other and our basic need to feel vulnerable, is the shedding of our protective layers in the presence of a fully nude woman who allows us to just . . . be. It all sounds a little, well, hippy, but the result is the kind of dialogue that rarely happens between a mixed crowd of strangers and friends. The show also tends to draw a lot of other Fringe performers who end up dominating the discussion. They’re performers; it’s natural for them. The really powerful parts are when other members of the audience speak up and show their true selves, or when Diamant simply closes her eyes, breathes deep, and lets the silence envelope us. Everyone should attend a session of The Human Body Project at least once. And if the 90-minute running time seems too lengthy, trust me, it isn’t nearly long enough. 

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about The Human Body Project HERE.

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The Hysteric

Sometimes Fringe shows are strange and good, and sometimes they’re just strange; The Hysteric is definitely the latter. It all starts out promisingly enough with a healthy dose of inspired Victorian weirdness —a sort of Turn of the Screw meets Irma Vepp by way of Monty Python—but it quickly becomes clear that this tale of a serial husband who marries for money before jettisoning his wives into a nearby asylum due to their “hysteric” nature really doesn’t know where it’s going. There’s a point trying to be made here about male suppression of female emancipation by way of medical diagnoses leading to insanity, but it gets totally lost in a flurry of spinning sets, costume changes, sound effects, repetitive scenes and characters who exist only to make ridiculous puns. Best thing about this show is its imaginative staging, but even that gets lost in all the long-winded weirdness.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about The Hysteric HERE.

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The Last Gig of Lenny Breau 

While he stumbles during tune-ups and other adjustments, Godbout keeps the between-songs fluff to a minimum. Instead, the strings keep ringing while Breau’s beatnicky, stream-of-consciousness rhymes and rambles bridge—or rather blend—one tune with another. The music itself? Top-notch. The plenitude of techniques and dynamics from the Express stretch even broader here and there’s a rhythm that classical music—even with a Latin infusion—just doesn’t quite have.

When compared to Godbout’s other show, Music on the Orient Express, it’s obvious that Breau’s skin is where Godbout belongs. There’s costume and scene-setting sounds to help out, too. It’s too bad Godbout couldn’t get a Fringe venue like the Fort Cafe for maximum jazz club verisimilitude. 

Basically, The Last Gig of Lenny Breau (mostly) delivers what I asked for in my review of Music on the Orient Express. I was looking forward to the music anyway. Seeing the awkward fluff trimmed out of this one was strictly a bonus for me.

—Chris Felling 

Find more info about The Last Gig of Lenny Breau HERE.

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The Magic Soup Stone

The Magic Soup Stone is about a minstrel that has been traveling, and he hasn’t found somewhere to eat for awhile. As he was walking, he noticed a pretty stone at the side of the road, then he saw a cottage and decided to knock on the door. When the woman of the house came out and asked what he wanted, the minstrel said, “I am very hungry. Can you spare a tiny bit of food?” The woman said no, they barely had enough for themselves, and slammed the door right in his face. After trying again, and again, he decided to offer the pretty stone, which he said would make them soup if they added some water and something for flavour. Soon, there was enough to eat for everyone. 

This show was very funny, and I liked it a lot. I specifically liked when the old man and woman asked the audience what yummy things they should put in the soup. And it made me feel happy in the end when they made the soup. I learned that you should always be nice and always give someone a little bit of what they ask for. It has good sound effects, and a nice fast hand-clapping game. 

This is the third time I have seen this play by Story Theatre, and I liked it more this time because I knew what was coming. I can’t decide which of the three actors (Samantha, David and Jeff) I like the best, but I really enjoyed Jeff because he is the funniest. This show is good for people five and up, and the adults liked the show as much as the kids. The audience laughed a lot.  

You should go see this show because it’s very funny and Story Theatre is a good theatre company for kids. 

—Grace Threlfall ( age 8 )

Find more info about The Magic Soup Stone HERE.

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The Pink Shoelaces

This local play drags us back to high school, where teen angst and conflict thrive. A fair amount of originality rises out of this often-used locale, particularly the inspired dialogue and layered characterization. Plenty of interesting elements perk up the more over-done aspects, as does a healthy dose of levity; a capable, talented cast conveys the depth and complexity found in the solid script and delivers a balanced, relatable and compelling performance. The Pink Shoelaces is not without its tiny flaws, including a few bits of forced dialogue, but it’s a well-structured drama that doesn’t moralize and leaves you with a little bit of light. A quick, quirky and satisfying drama.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about The Pink Shoelaces HERE.

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The Return of Love

The first 15 minutes of The Return of Love felt as dry as the university lecture it was enacting. But when two female professors interrupt Professor Dipuc (Mitch Barnes) during his lecture to argue the case against love in a futuristic society overridden by sexually transmitted diseases, that’s when things start to get interesting. Dipuc is a hopeless romantic, but he’s stuck in the year 2072 where human touch is forbidden and intercourse is relegated to solo missions with sex robots. His argument that humanity is lost without human contact slowly wins over Dr. Spencer, who clearly shares a mutual attraction to Dipuc (she even admits to sleeping with his doppleganger robot regularly). The chemistry between the two gives off a few electrical charges during the second half of the play, but ultimately The Return of Love slips back into professor mode. It will be a little much for anyone who ever dreaded the university lecture hall. Luckily, all of the house lights were kept on in the venue, so none of us “students” nodded off.

—Jason Schreurs

Find more info about The Return of Love HERE.

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The Seminar

Remember that rubbery woman they poured out of her coffin in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”? Her remains have apparently recongealed into this show and I could not be happier. Like more and more Fringe shows these days, The Seminar is flashy and slick. The choreography is hypnotically polished, the film looks professional, and the butts? Expertly stuffed. Sure, the idea of a fake motivational seminar is nothing new and plastic surgery is still an easy target, but the when so much is put into the spectacle of it all you’ll quickly choose to change your mind. Host 1 (Candace Fiorentino) deserves special mention for getting the audience chanting and chatting effortlessly. Don’t think it’s cheeky, though. The Seminar is dark. Really dark. Masks, makeup and—what else?— power tools always make things disturbing. Gooey sound effects help too. Poiema Productions goes wonderfully off the deep end here, and you should go see.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about The Seminar HERE.

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The Service

Experiencing The Service brings back memories of that first job: when a naive youngster full of hopeful optimism becomes employed at the local Total Coffee, she doesn’t realize that she is quickly sinking into a coffee conspiracy, and that the strange customers who make up her daily grind are symptoms of something far more sinister.

The Service succeeds because it’s sharply funny and darkly clever, and the few misfires really only come from the sheer obscurity of some of the references—a Lovecraftian line about Elder Gods came and went so quickly that some audience members likely didn’t catch it at all. If coffee is your master, The Service could be too.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about The Service HERE.

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The Smell of the Kill

In this fresh, farcical play, three very different women find themselves commiserating about their lives and marriages. Secrets emerge as they discuss infidelity, finances, careers and babies. It’s not long before some of them start to wonder if they want to be wives at all. The main action unfolds when an unexpected event leaves them with a big decision to make. Plenty of physical antics and black humour give the show a bit of a British feel. This energetic and captivating cast will draw you in and keep you guessing until the very end. Great suspense, unexpected turns and wacky characters make for an exciting and exhilarating dose of comedy. A cute, charming and delightfully dark show.

—E.G. Anderson

Read more about The Smell of the Kill HERE..

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The Sparrow and the Mouse

This account of the life of French singer Édith Piaf, as told from the perspective of her lifelong companion, Simone Berteaut, is a mixture of story and song sure to please fans of Piaf’s music—or anyone who enjoys listening to a powerful soprano show her chops. Melanie Gall does indeed have a beautiful voice, and her renditions of Piaf’s music, including songs like “L’Accordeoniste” and “La Vie en Rose” (yes, most of the singing is in French), don’t aim to emulate her signature style, but to offer a different interpretation. While telling us the story from Simone’s perspective means the audience hears sordid details of Piaf’s early life on the streets of Paris that one can’t imagine the singer herself admitting (such as just how she earned the last few dollars she needed to bury her two-year-old daughter), Gall doesn’t go very deeply into Simone herself; a shame, considering the rich potential of such a character. True, Gall won’t be winning any awards for her acting, but her passion for the story is apparent and her singing—particularly a very emotional rendition of “Mon Dieu”—makes this a Fringe play that Piaf fans will enjoy . . . even if, like me, your French is rusty.

 —Amanda Farrell-Low

Find more info about The Sparrow and the Mouse HERE.

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The Suckerpunch

This stage-sparse one-man show deals with regret and the tantalizing idea that we could be able to delete our mistakes. The charismatic Brent Hirose captures an array of characters—a nervous poet, arrogant doctor, womanizing douchebag—and brings a terrific humanism to all of them. These players are united by their experiences of regret. Hirose is a strong performer, skilled in physically embodying his characters, and his intricate portrayals highlight the insightful nature of his script. The show has a great momentum and takes some unexpected turns. Funny, touching and sharp, The Suckerpunch will catch you off guard.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about The Suckerpunch HERE.

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The Tirades of Love

I was more than pleasantly surprised by The Tirades of Love. Given the very young cast and director, what could they possibly teach me about love at their age? It’s also a “physical theatre” piece, which I read as “dance theatre”—of which I’ve seen my fair share, and know how hard it is to do well. But Tirades isn’t trying to teach us anything about love; it’s about us watching the performers discover, explore, demonstrate and revel in love. A speechless but sonic tribe of infants, siblings, lovers and deities, the cast push our buttons, move us to feel love—and then ask us to see where it takes us. (In many ways, it reminded me of SNAFU Dance Theatre’s 2010 WHoS piece Chalk, which is saying something indeed.) Considering that many of the cast are making their Fringe debut with this show, they all did an outstanding job. In his director’s note, Andrew Barrett encourages us to let ourselves go, and I agree; let yourself go . . . to this show.

—Phil Pierce

Find more info about The Tirades of Love HERE.

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The Troubles

Resounding Scream Theatre’s Stephanie Henderson may have bit off more than she can chew with The Troubles, as she plays five distinct characters trying to articulate the conflicts in Northern Ireland. Henderson is quite charismatic (despite a questionable Irish accent) and she engages the audience with loads of attitude that never quite rubs you the wrong way. None of the five characters are named, so the audience is left with subtle (and not-so-subtle) wardrobe changes and Henderson’s shifting performance to let us know when she makes the transitions. Still, they all hit their marks for the most part, and this stands as an insightful and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about The Troubles HERE...

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The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter

Like that other famous wedding-based immigrant story (you know, the Greek one), Seattle writer-performer Yana Kesala uses her grandmother’s unexpected three-hour wait at the altar to explore her family’s own cross-cultural history through the eyes of, you guessed it, a Ukrainian dentist’s daughter. While not exactly a fresh idea, solo shows based on a performer’s lineage are still a good way to chip away at our collective cultural mosaic—but this one, clocking in at just 45 minutes, still feels half-formed; conflicts and potentially dire situations are floated but never quite explored, and the ending is exactly what we expect. Still, it’s her first solo show, and Kesala’s exuberant performance is easy to like. A bit more filling, a bit more polish and a bit more bite would help these teeth really shine.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter HERE.

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[title of show]

Mounting a 90-minute hit musical may seem a bit daunting for a Fringe show, but you can’t help but lift a jazz hand to relatively new local company Urban Arts for tackling this project. A lesser-known but much-loved 2004 show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, this overtly po-mo package continues to evolve as it continues its journey from festival idea to off-, then on-, Broadway hit. Granted, you’ll definitely enjoy this more—and get more of the jokes—if you know and love the genre, but it’s still a zesty romp by some strong local talent; Sarah Carle easily steals the spotlight as belter Heidi and Izad Etemadi (both of last year’s hit Fringe musical Smalltown) is charming as needy composer Jeff. But the cast loses momentum toward the end, and director Tara Britt would do well to trim and tighten overall. With a narrative that’s far from cohesive but is consistently meta-theatrically funny, [title] may not be for the grandparent set but it’s a good laugh for any musical motherfuckahs out there.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about [title of show] HERE.

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Urinetown

Urinetown comes courtesy of the SMUS Theatre Intensive. It’s an unauditioned high school cast who, while still green, shows a lot of promise. The script is a mix of Broadway cheese and the bleakest, darkest, snarkiest political satire imaginable; the corrupt battle the naive until everyone dies of thirst. And thankfully, pee puns are kept to a tasteful minimum.

The extremely short rehearsal time shows mostly in blocking and choreography. Let’s be honest, though: memorizing 80 minutes of Broadway in under two weeks is work enough. Whether you’d be more impressed by expertly polished movements than by the ambitious choice of script is your call. Think of Urinetown like punk rock: carried first and foremost by enthusiasm, from both audience and cast. When these kids nail it, they nail it. For me, it’s interesting enough to see art—and artists—in progress. I bet Fringe performers could get a good nostalgic kick out of Urinetown. Oh, and this seems to be as good a place as any to say that Cormac O’Brian has a future in theatre.

—Chris Felling

Find more info about Urinetown HERE.

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Whiskey Bars

Every Fringe, there’s at least one show that takes you by surprise and becomes a dark-horse favourite; for me this year, it’s already Bremner Duthie’s Whiskey Bars. A dramedic monologue by an aging Joel Grey/Cabaret-style singer on the eve of a comeback may seem an unlikely hit, but Duthie’s deft performance of (mostly) lesser-known tunes of Kurt Weill and his charmingly frank portrayal of this cabaret queen on the verge of a nervous breakdown makes this a must-see. Not only does it pay homage to one of the 20th century’s most significant composers, but Duthie’s mature turn as the faded, jaded star gives “coming out” a whole new meaning. The trick to this kind of show is making the narrative as compelling as the songs, but that’s something this writer-performer has clearly—and intelligently— mastered. And the acoustics in Wood Hall are perfectly suited to the nine songs in this production; it’d make a nice pairing with the Edith Piaf show, The Sparrow and the Mouse. Unlike countless Fringe shows that have already slipped my mind, I’ll remember Whiskey Bars for years to come.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Whiskey Bars HERE

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William Vs. The World

When a java-fed cactus is your best friend, there’s something wrong. When a java-fed cactus is the most likeable character in a one-man show, well, that’s William Vs. The World.

Andrew Wade plays the narcissistic titular character extremely well (possibly a bit too well). The problem is that when an entire show revolves around an unlikeable narcissist, it can be very hard for audiences to feel any kind of sympathy for his plight. Granted, the gags and jokes in William Vs. The World are funny, they just fail to offset the seemingly endless rants and ramblings. Even sympathetic narcissists should avoid this show.

—Dylan Wilks

Find more info about William Vs. The World HERE.

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Wonderbar

Drama is meant to be dark, but it is also meant to go deep. Wonderbar brings us plenty of darkness—unavoidable tragedy and unforeseen economic calamity—yet there seems to be something missing. The performer herself captivates, makes excellent use of the stage and shows remarkable ability in altering her voice and accent; however, Wonderbar falters on an inconsistent, unlikeable protagonist The hardships she suffers are far from slight, but her pervasive materialism, self-absorption and ignorance make her difficult to relate to or care about. What the show lacks is a hint of retrospection and the wisdom that we would hope to come from a wealth of experience. capably acted, but a depressing drama without tension or depth.

—E.G. Anderson

Find more info about Wonderbar HERE.

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Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl

Funny and charming comedic singer-songwriter Zack Adams clearly has what it takes to woo a crowd, given the enthusiastic standing-O his batch of quirky romantic reminiscences received at St. Ann’s on Sunday night. Coming off a bad Australian tour and an even worse dumping by the girl of his dreams, this Perth-based master of geek chic seeks group solace by poking fun at himself and his often hilarious attempts to find love. Like the “top-10 breakup list” from High Fidelity (all the girls are even called Laura), this clever and likeable performer uses his acoustic guitar skills and surprising potty mouth to look back at what could have been in his life. Sure, it’s fluffy—but it’s also a whole lot of fun. We’ve all been in the relationship gutter, but Zack Adams has a way of making us feel good about it and knows how to strike just the right chord in all of our hearts.

—John Threlfall

Find more info about Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl HERE.

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