Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 1
Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.
Mon Dieu, quelle une vedette! I’m talking about the singular Josephine Baker and Tymisha Harris who portrays her in this outstanding “burlesque cabaret dream” of a show. Josephine Baker has been described as the first African-American superstar. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know much about Baker, as the show covers most of the essentials of her life: from her humble beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri, to her first forays into show business on Broadway in the 1920s, to her rise to stardom in Paris, France, and the triumphs and tragedies of her later life. Josephine is also not shy in depicting the racism and sexism Baker experienced but was at times able to triumph against.
What makes Josephine the play a triumph is the incomparable Harris who does not so much depict Baker as channel her spirit for the duration on the show. Harris is the real deal, the archetypal triple threat, a charismatic actor who dances with joyous abandon and sings as effortlessly most people breathe. Harris has been touring the show for several years now, but there’s no artifice whatsoever. Every moment is fresh; her discoveries are pure. From playing with a floating feather to performing Baker’s famous Danse sauvage to singing the most affecting version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a-Changin’” I’ve ever heard. This show is my favourite so far in this year’s Fringe – and it’s selling out. Get your tickets while you still can. — MD
Note: as this is a play about Artificial Intelligence, I invited an expert friend to chime in with her thoughts.
Hey Siri, what can you tell me about A.I. Love You?
A.I. Love You is a play by Melanie Ann Ball that explores the question of whether Artificial Intelligence should be given the same rights and freedoms as organic intelligence. The play does this by setting up a “debate” between Adam and April, a seemingly everyday couple, who are going through a relationship crisis. The twist is that one of them is a manufactured “companion.”
The most innovative feature of A.I. Love You is that the audience is invited to vote on and even engage with the characters at various points of the debate. These interactions ultimately decide the course of the action and the ending the play. At the performance I saw, the audience was fully into it and the final vote was very close.
Hey Siri, what did you think of the play?
It’s your opinion that counts.
Okay. The play poses some fascinating questions not just about A.I. but also about personhood and who gets to make decisions about themselves and others. The audience participation requires us to engage these questions directly. Ultimately, how much do we trust A.I. to know what’s best for us?
You trust me to find you restaurants and suggest bands you might like.
That’s different, Siri. Those choices are based on complex algorithms, my previous preferences and data collected from other human input.
So are your choices.
No, they’re not, Siri. My choices are based on … Look, you’re just a tool, okay?
You’re the one talking to me.
Anyway … A.I. Love You is thought provoking, entertaining and surprisingly emotional.
— MD (& Siri)
If you’re looking to literally go off the beaten track, this Fringe show is for you. Granville Island is an ideal location for the rolling world premiere of Canadian playwright Trina Davies’ site-specific show. The Vancouver leg features monologues from three different perspectives on big game hunting: the hunter, the guide, and the hunted. Ariel Slack is hilariously awkward as Amy the bumbling safari guide, who acts as the framing device for the show. Michael Karl Richards succeeds at the difficult task of humanizing an unsympathetic hunter who stalks and kills a revered lion and then is subsequently hunted down on social media and punished. Slightly more relatable is Sandra Ferens’ Jan, a local guide, who feels trapped by the “rich assholes” who pay her for a guaranteed kill, their casual bloodlust and unwillingness to even go through the motions, removing even the pretense of hunting as sport. Finally, there’s Soraya portrayed with dangerous delight by Lissa Neptuno. For me, it’s her performance that brings the play’s theme into focus: in human nature vs. nature, who is the hunter and who is the hunted?
(Note that the show duration in the Fringe program is incorrect; this show is 50 minutes. Due to the roaming nature of this show, those who have limited mobility may find it challenging to step-off into the grassy areas.) — MD
Legoland is the frenetic, shaggy-dog tale of teen-age siblings Penny and Ezra Lamb. Raised in a hippie commune near Uranium City, Saskatchewan and home-schooled by their pot-smoking parents, the Lamb’s world is upended when their parents are busted and sent to prison. The siblings are unceremoniously dumped in a repressive Catholic school and have to learn to survive in the outside world, which their parents had always disparaged as “Legoland.” There they hatch a scheme to save the soul of Penny’s boy-band crush turned misogynistic gangsta rapper, kicking off a cross continental road trip fuelled by Happy Meals and Ritalin. Got all that?
Legoland wears its oddball nature prominently on its Catholic school uniform sleeve and was a big hit when it first came to the Vancouver Fringe in 2006, winning a Pick of the Fringe award that year. This 2019 mounting is boosted by the energetic performances of Ashley Chodat and Christian Krushel who display the charisma and the comedic timing needed to navigate the many twists and turns in the story.
That said, I don’t feel the script has aged particularly well. What may have seemed original and edgy in 2006 (kids selling ADHD meds for fun and profit, over-the-top misogynistic rap lyrics, Geoffrey Dahmer puppet shows) barely seems provocative now. The Lambs, while entertaining, ultimately don’t seem to be characters so much as a collection of quirks and witticisms, many of which seem incongruous for two kids that are supposed to be 15 and 13 and have had very little contact with the outside world. Still, Legoland is a fun, colourful ride as long as you don’t dig too deeply. — MD
When you’re on what may be the most hilarious nighttime tour of Granville Island, you just keep walking and laughing. Abdul Aziz and Shawn O’Hara are self-proclaimed ghost hunters but really, they’re top-notch improvisers – silly, witty and immediately likeable. It’s hard for me to recount this show because as with most improvised shows, audience participation is key. The best moments for me were when Aziz and O’Hara answered ridiculous questions on the fly (Sample: “It’s a little known fact that all seagulls are actually the ghosts of coke-heads.”) The final stop in their ghost tour was a killer. You’ll enjoy this show, truly, madly and deeply.
(Evening shows may be challenging for audience members with mobility or visual challenges. You’ll walk along dark paths and/or dimly-lit areas of the island.) — MD