Reviews

Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 4 (Time for One More?)

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.

Russian Play

The Russian Play

“I see what you are thinking. You are thinking this is Russian play, you are thinking Chekhov, Tolstoy, so boring. And Russia. Shitty country.” So begins The Russian Play, a satire of a tragic love story that somehow also manages to be a tragic love story. A young flower girl named Sonya falls in love with a gravedigger named Piotr and they are happy for approximately 10 minutes of the play’s short 45 minute runtime. Then things go wrong. Extremely wrong. The Russian Play explores how love can destroy women while leaving the men around them relatively unscathed. All this would be extraordinarily depressing but for the central character of Sonya, who also serves as the narrator. At first cynical and wise-cracking and later, when the boundary between story and story-teller starts to break down, vulnerable and heart-breaking, she never entirely loses her defiant spirit and grim self-awareness no matter what is thrown at her.

Sonya is a tour-de-force role and Bronwyn Henderson is more than up to the task. Her open and expressive face captures all of Sonya’s conflicting emotions as she is inexorably dragged from subject to object in her own story. Dennis Virshillas and Nathen Cottell do fine supporting work as the two men in Sonya’s life. The staging is simple but effective with a single gravesite the only set piece on stage. The three actors are always on stage and move in and out of scenes with waltz-like precision. In fact, the play often feels like a stately dance, aided by the live music performed by violinist Ellen Smith and percussionist (and co-producer) Demi Pedersen.

The Russian Play may not end happily but what Russian play ever did? Because, as Sonya might say, in Russia, love is like vodka, it starts out smoothly but burns you from the inside out. — Marlene Dong


Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 3

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.

Amelie

Amelie

Amelie the musical hews pretty closely to the plot of the popular film that it’s based on. As a young girl, Amelie Poulain is overly sheltered by her parents to the point where she has almost no contact with other people. As a result she develops a rich and imaginative inner life (as well as what appears to be quite severe social anxiety). Amelie grows into an eccentric young woman and moves to Paris to work as a waitress. A discovery of lost childhood mementoes and their subsequent return to their owner leads Amelie to devote herself to anonymously doing good deeds for the people around her. However, in doing so is she disregarding her own life and her own need for human connection and love?

West Moon Theatre has mounted a charming production that is as light and whimsical as its source material. This Amelie is bursting with colour and movement. Whereas the movie used CGI, the musical relies on songs and the clever use of the ensemble cast -sometimes as a kind of living set – to represent Amelie’s imagination (the Firehall Theatre has quite a deep stage and the production takes full advantage of that). There is not a weak link in the ensemble, although special mention must be made of Georgia Acken and Tessa Trach, who play the young and adult Amelie respectively, and Cathy Wilmot, who does a fine comic turn as Suzanne the owner of the Café where Amelie works. Even though it clocks in at a full 90 minutes, I was enraptured from beginning to end. — Marlene Dong

(Full disclosure: Amelie’s director, Chris Lam, is a friend and a former member of Assaulted Fish.)

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Dandelion

Aaron Malkin has an easy, natural presence on stage that works well for the themes he covers in Dandelion. This is a much more personal show than I’m used to seeing from Malkin. As one-half of the comedic clowning duo James & Jamesy, Malkin is often cast in the “white face” role next to the “red nose” antics of his partner. In Dandelion, Malkin reveals a vulnerable side when he talks about his insecurities – and his desire to uphold a standard – as a father to his five-year old son Oliver. He admits to being an anxious person and making mistakes that affect him deeply. Threaded between the more serious reflections are moments of whimsy. When Malkin reads from a notebook where he’s recorded questions that Oliver asks him, he’s conspiratorial in his delivery which endears himself to the audience.

There isn’t a strong structure to the show; it’s more of a series of scenes and Malkin moves between them with lighting changes or video vignettes. The highlight of the show involves a brick of butter and I won’t say anything more except that it allows Malkin’s clowning skills to be on full display. Dandelion may be too quiet a show for some audiences, but if you’re in the mood for something lighter, let Malkin’s performance take you there. — MD

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You Belong Here

How does he remember all those words? This is Martin Dockery’s second show at the Fringe this year and, like Inescapable (reviewed here), the semi-autobiographical You Belong Here is filled with text, this time delivered solo in Dockery’s trademark, hyperactive manner. Dockery is a master performer who may not have invented the shaggy dog story, but has certainly raised it to the level of art. Trading in his usual flannel shirt for a dapper suit and tie, he initially bounds onto the stage like a demented talk show host only to stop and restart the show multiple times for increasingly spurious (and hilarious) reasons. Gradually, we realize that the form of the show reflects the content as You Belong Here is all about beginnings and restarts (in fact a more accurate title might be You Begin Here). Dockery is good at beginnings, he tells us with tongue firmly in cheek, less good with endings and terrible at middles. This is ironic because sometimes You Belong Here feels like it is all middle, stuffed with endless imaginative digressions (including an extended riff on how not to visit the Forbidden City) and witty asides with few hints as to where the narrative will go next. Where it does finally end up is with the best beginning of all, an event that literally begins a new phase in Dockery’s life. The final irony of You Belong Here is I was so taken with this tale of beginnings I almost didn’t want it to end. — MD

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Lift

Over the years, I have enjoyed several musicals from Awkward Stage Productions (their 2017 production of Cry Baby was a personal favourite and was a Pick of the Fringe that year) but unfortunately their production of Lift is a misfire. Lift is simply not a very good musical. Lift looks intriguing on paper: every day a group of eight strangers spend 54 seconds together riding a lift at the Convent Garden train station. Among them is a busker who imagines what is going on in each characters lives and projects his own stories of heartache and loss on them. In practice, the stories that spring from the busker’s imagination are cliched, sexist and stereotyped: the executive assistant who is secretly in love with her boss, the ballerina who moonlights as a lap dancer, the businessman who is unknowingly sexting with a gay man. None of the characters are developed in any meaningful way. The story and songs are meted out in the most rudimentary fashion; there’s no artistry in the scene or song transitions. The songs themselves are unmemorable and sound like variations on the same tune. At the show I attended, there were technical sound issues that created a harsh din instead of clear melodies and harmonies which unfortunately made many of the lyrics unintelligible (I actually had to look up a synopsis online after the fact to understand what I had seen). The cast tries hard and I applaud Awkward Stage Productions for selecting an obscure musical, but perhaps there’s a reason why it’s an obscure musical. This experience won’t stop me from seeing future productions from this company, but Lift definitely left me deflated. –MD

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Dissection of a Indian Aboriginal First Nation Indigenous Native Full-Blood Status Non-Status Halfbreed Métis Rez Urban Mixed Heritage Woman

Nyla Carpentier is, by her own tally, half French, one quarter Indigenous (Tahltan/Kaska) and one quarter Scottish, which has made her tall, high-cheek-boned, curly haired and racially ambiguous – in other words “the Ultimate Canadian!” In Dissection … of a Mixed Heritage Woman, Carpentier explores her mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage(s) in story, song, poetry and dance. She speculates, humorously, where she gets various body parts from (her cheekbones are clearly Indigenous, her button nose, French), as well what these labels do and don’t mean to herself as a whole. She shares stories of her forbears on both sides of the Atlantic and traces her lineage through spoken word poetry. Carpentier is an incredibly warm and natural performer blessed with a playful wit (a cleansing movement after a particularly harrowing revelation morphs into “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”) and somehow is able to create intimacy with an entire theatre of strangers. And oh, how she can dance. Carpentier has participated in Pow Wow dancing since she was a little girl and the absolute highlight of the show is when she performs a shawl dance, a sequence of such arresting power, beauty and catharsis that it took my breath away.

Structurally, Dissection … of a Mixed Heritage Woman still feels a bit like a work in progress. There is a great deal of raw (sometimes emotionally raw) material for Carpentier to draw from, but I’m not sure it is organized in a fashion that best serves her purposes. The shawl dance, for example, falls somewhere in the middle of the show, which makes what happens immediately after it seem almost anticlimactic by comparison. Still, like Carpentier herself, the show is greater than the sum of the individual parts and I am very interested in what she does with it next. — MD

 

 


Fringe 2019 Reviews, Part 2

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.

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Fool Muun Komming!

In the words of Sam Kruger, the creator/performer of Fool Muun Komming!, his show is “a bit difficult to describe,” but I’ll give it a shot. First, you need to know that the full title is actually Fool Muun Komming! [BeBgWunderful/YEsyes/4sure.Hi5.TruLuv; Spank Spank :SOfun_Grate_Times], which, in some ways, tells you more about the show than I may be able to. Second, it’s a one-man performance piece made up of a series of vignettes centred around an unnamed alien (Kruger) trying to make an emotional connection with humanity before the Earth is annihilated by a sentient asteroid that the alien is also a passenger on (whew!). Finally, it’s weird. Really weird. And when I say “weird,” I don’t mean “look at me, I’m wearing two different socks” weird. I mean full-on “psychedelic lava-lamp, I levitate in my basement and my best friend is an orange” weird.

What ties Fool Muun Komming! together is Kruger, whose goofy wordplay and manically precise physicality are the beating alien heart of the piece. His whiplash timing and pliable body create moments of hilarity and menace but also beauty and even the sought after emotional connection. Some of the vignettes work better than others and there are a few times where Kruger goes for the obvious joke rather than the creative one, which is only a shame because it breaks the spell a bit. That said, it is well-worth seeing on the strength of Kruger’s performance alone and is certainly the quirkiest and most original show I have seen so far. — Marlene Dong

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Inescapable

Fans of Martin Dockery are not going to be disappointed by Inescapable, the latest offering by the critically acclaimed Fringe regular. This two-hander pairs Dockery with Jon Paterson as old friends who have retired to a back room during a Christmas party and appear to be locked in some kind of endless and very personal argument. It is hard to say more without giving away the play’s secrets.

Those familiar with Dockery’s writing will know that he often uses repetition and circular structures, with each loop adding information and creating new connections with the previous loops. This is the case with Inescapable as a lifetime of secrets, lies and betrayals are gradually revealed over the course of the play’s 55 minutes. Another thing that Dockery fans will be familiar with is that he talks really, really fast. Inescapable spins by at a furious rate and it is a testament to Dockery’s skill as a writer and the duo’s skill as performers that I never felt lost despite the rapid-fire dialogue and complicated structure of the play. The characters in Inescapable may not be having a good time, but the audience definitely will. — MD

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Guards at the Taj

Director Paneet Singh and featured actors Adele Noronha and Andy Kalirai have produced a jewel of a play. Written by Pulitzer-nominated playwright Rajiv Joseph and set in 1648 Mughal, India, Guards at the Taj is a dark, comedic meditation on the themes of power and beauty, duty and honour, and love and friendship. The Taj Mahal has recently been completed after a 16-year labour by 20,000 artists and artisans. Whether history or myth, the story goes that to prevent the labourers from creating another architectural marvel like the Taj, the emperor decreed that all their hands be cut off. It’s a horrific command, impossible to comprehend let alone action. Yet that’s the position Humayun and Babur finds themselves in as imperial guards of the Taj Mahal. Just as beauty is juxtaposed with brutality, Huma and Babur exist according to opposing ideals: the former’s world is defined by duty and structure, while the latter’s is one of dreams and imagination.

Kalirai plays Babur with tremendous heart: he’s charming and poetic, and hilarious and horrified when he needs to be. I think Noronha has the more difficult task of portraying the masculine Huma, but not to worry, Noronha excels at playing up the character’s ridiculous rule-bound rigidity and then the fallout of Huma’s actions later. The final scene was deeply affecting, a testament to the talented actors, excellent direction and set pieces.

If I have any quibbles they are with the script not the production. The second act dragged and had too many digressions. If it focused on the discussions about beauty, the final act and scene would resonate even more. — MD


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.

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Josephine

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

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A.I. Love You

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.

I cried.

— MD (& Siri)

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The Trophy Hunt

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

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Legoland

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

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Fake Ghost Tours 2: Journey to the Other Side (of Granville Island)

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

 


Capsule Review: Bombay Black

By Marlene Dong in partnership with District Local

Bombay Black

Anosh Irani’s award-winning play is a sensory experience. There’s the light sandalwood aroma that envelopes you when you enter the theatre. The din of Indian street life assails your ears, punctuated occasionally by a voice that invites you to imagine yourself as a blind person in Bombay. There are black blindfolds draped over each seat to help you journey into the world of Bombay Black.

Set in present-day Bombay, the play is the story of Apsara (Arshdeep Purba) who lives with her mother Padma (Nimet Kanji). They eke out a living through Apsara’s erotic dances for wealthy men. One day, a mysterious blind man named Kamal (Munish Sharma) comes calling, raising the spectre of a past that has great repercussions in the present.

On the surface, Apsara and Kamal seem to be the main focus of the play, but really, it’s the relationship between Apsara and Padma that make up the heart of Bombay Black. Their power dynamics are riveting and horrifying, and as performed with ferocity and cutting humour by Kanji, Padma is a force to be reckoned with.

If the play is unflinching in its portrayal of vengeance and betrayal, the language is by contrast lush and beautiful. Kamal doesn’t have sight, but he woos Apsara with words that sing and dance in their imagery. During the play’s magical realism scenes, the lighting and sound designs add the perfect elements of poetry and mystery.

In this time of #metoo, the trauma that the two women are revealed to have suffered doesn’t come as a surprise. As sad as that reality is, you’ll emerge from this play reminded of the strength and resilience of women.

Bombay Black

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Rohit Chokhani

Featuring Nimet Kanji, Arshdeep Purba and Munish Sharma

Bombay Black plays at the Firehall Arts Centre December 5-15. For tickets and info, click here.


Please note that this review is the completely subjective opinion of the specific writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.


Fringe Wrap-up or “More Thank You Than You Can Fit in a Tweet”

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SELF-ish’s run at the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival is now officially over and we could not have asked for a better ending than winning a Public Market Pick of the Fringe Award! While we were the ones who got to go up on stage to receive the award, there are many other people who contributed to SELF-ish’s success and we would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge them.

First, a big thank you to our fabulous SELF-ish team: Dawn Milman, our incredible director, whose vision, guidance and dramaturgical skills were instrumental in making SELF-ish what it is; Ashley Vucko, our intrepid stage manager, who kept the show running every night; Pearl Lam, our resourceful publicist whose social media savvy enabled this group of aging Gen-Xers to connect with a whole other generation of potential fans; Dan Jackson, long-time Assaulted Fish friend and photographer, who designed and photographed the striking image you see on the poster.

Thank you to our friends and family who helped spread the word about the play, in particular fellow Assaulted Fish member Marlene Dong who organized large posses from both her current and previous workplaces to come out and see the show. Also thank you to the other artists we met at the Fringe whose work inspired us and who also took the time to see our show.

Thank you to the fabulous Fringe Festival staff and volunteers who do everything necessary to keep a huge independent theatre festival running smoothly and affordably. The artists get all the glory but it is the staff and volunteers who do the majority of the heavy lifting, whether it is organizing and promoting the festival, liaising with the artists, running the box offices, running tech at the venues, or explaining patiently for the umpteenth time that yes, you do have to buy a membership on top of the tickets in order to see the shows. We who have Fringed salute you!

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who came to see SELF-ish, particularly those who took the time to tweet or Instagram about it afterwards. We love you all (as a group and individually). Without you, SELF-ish would have essentially been Diana shouting into an empty theatre. It has been a fantastic experience for us to be able to show you something a little different than what you have come to expect from Assaulted Fish in the past and we are so glad you came along for the ride!

Kuan and Diana


Holy smokes, the Fringe went by quickly and with a show to promote we didn’t get around to reviewing as many shows as we had hoped. Here’s a few last minute mini-reviews of some things that we saw that are worth checking out if they ever come back:

Poly Queer Love Ballad

This show really does not need us to hype it as it won the Volunteer Choice Award, the Georgia Straight Critics’ Pick Award and a Public Market Pick of the Fringe Award as well as being the previous recipient of the Fringe New Play Prize. But you know what? It really is that good. While the play has a definite agenda (as suggested by the title), the execution is so delightful, the performances so effortlessly charming, that you are simply swept along in the beauty of it. My personal favourite show that I saw this year. If you missed it at the Fringe, it will be playing at the Queer Arts Festival in March 2019 — KF

Ruby Rocket Returns

Portland improvisor Stacey Hallal is hilarious as soft-boiled detective Ruby Rocket in this fun noir parody. Hallal and the rest of the cast (a rotating group of some of the best improvisors in town) take some initial suggestions from the audience to create a different mystery each performance. Tying it all together is Ruby Rocket herself with her boozy Chandler-esque asides and flagrant disregard for gun safety. Hilarious and fun (if not always coherent). — KF

Angels & Aliens

Roommates Jeff Leard and Sydney Hayduk have slept together in fit of inebriation and are now dealing with the awkward aftermath, while passive-aggressively playing an online game involving, you guessed it, angels and aliens. Part social satire and part screwball rom-com, Angels & Aliens is held together by tight and witty performances from Leard and Hayduk who navigate the whiplash transitions between the game and real-life with impressive ease. — KF

Hip.Bang! presents Surveil

Hilarious and unsettling in the best possible way. To tell you too much about this show would be to give away its secrets but it will really make you think about how much of our privacy we have given away in the name of convenience. Those who do not like audience participation be forewarned, the cookies are a trap! — KF

 

 

 


Fringe 2018 Reviews, Part 2

Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the specific writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.

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Magical Mystery Detour

At its heart, Magical Mystery Detour is a fairly simple story of a woman named Sandra coming to terms with her mother’s death and a sudden split with her long-term boyfriend by embarking on road trip from London to Land’s End, Cornwall to view the Transit of Venus, a trip she had planned to do with her mother, which has now become her mother’s legacy gift to her. The play follows Sandra’s struggles to navigate the road (and her life) as it takes her down a series of unplanned and sometimes mysterious detours. The magic comes from Gemma Wilcox and her amazing ability to build and populate worlds. Armed only with a piano bench, sound effects and her prodigious talent, Wilcox plays Sandra and 22 other characters, some of which are animals (e.g., Sandra’s dog Solar, a fly and an owl) and inanimate objects (e.g., a neti pot, Sandra’s car and, strangest of all, a lisping, lusty tree). Wilcox achieves all this with lightning-fast alterations in voice, posture and movement, which allow her to play two (or more) sides of a conversation without losing the rhythm of the dialogue. She is a master of maintaining eye line and locating her characters in space so there is never any doubt who is speaking or moving at any time, even when she is cutting back and forth between two different scenes like Sandra receiving some kind of bizarre erotic spa treatment in a roadside “pub and spa” (?!) and Solar simultaneously having enthusiastic sex outside in the parking lot. As can be gleaned from that last example, Wilcox leavens the pathos of Sandra’s journey with many humorous interludes as well as the judicious use of music (including, as the title suggests, a few cuts by the Fab Four). A dazzling and virtuosic performance with tremendous heart. — KF


Fringe 2018 Reviews, Part 1

Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the specific writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.

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Martin Dockery: Delirium

If the offstage Martin Dockery were anything like the onstage Martin Dockery, you’d wonder how he could tie his shoes in the morning without entering into a reverie about the history of knot-tying; digressing into a philosophical inquiry as to why we choose to interpose shoe leather between our feet and the earth; creating a hilarious, fantasy world where the shoeless and shoed are engaged in a perpetual war; and somehow relating all of the above to a developmental, life crisis he was having at that moment. In Delirium, Dockery’s hyperactive imagination turns toward the existential in three autobiographical stories – Dockery’s Canadian girlfriend being held up at the border, a chance encounter at the Burning Man festival, and his grandfather’s book about the life-cycle of the Monarch Butterfly – tied together by recurring themes of passion, loss and transience. These serve as the launching pad for a cascade of frequent and frequently hilarious digressions on among other things, the joy of moving sidewalks, a restaurant that serves nothing but strawberry sandwiches, and a passive-aggressive airplane encounter. While Dockery initially draws you in with his charismatic, rapid-fire, floppy-limbed stage persona, it is the times where he slows down his mind and opens his heart that will linger long after the show is over. In those moments, Delirium resonates with the poignancy of a man who has tasted true happiness, but with it, the absolute knowledge of how fragile and evanescent it is.  –– KF

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The Lady Show

Okay. Let me say right off the top, anything I say about The Lady Show is going to be seriously biased because, quite frankly, I love these ladies. Morgan Brayton has been a friend and a mentor for over a decade and Diana Bang has been my artistic partner-in-crime for fifteen years in the sketch comedy troupe, Assaulted Fish. An excerpt of my own play, Self-ish debuted at a Lady Show last year. I am even wearing a Lady Show hat as I type this. Honestly, I have about as much objectivity as a hockey dad on this one.

So with that in mind, I am going to abandon any pretence of writing a conventional review. I will simply tell you what I like about The Lady Show and let you make up your own mind (which, come to think about it, is pretty much a conventional review).

For the uninitiated, The Lady Show has been putting on regular shows since 2015 and has been a fantastic vehicle for female comedy practitioners in Vancouver, particularly those who exist outside the mainstream. The current line-up is a collective of four individual comedians (Diana Bang, Morgan Brayton, Fatima Dhowre and Katie-Ellen Humphries) who have very different vibes and styles of comedy. The end result is kind of like one of those old time variety shows, where different acts get to strut their stuff before coming together for the big finish. While all four cast members present material that is decidedly progressive – proudly feminist, multicultural and LGBTQ positive – their approaches and comedic sensibilities are very diverse. The personal and intimate stand-up comedy of Dhowre sits side by side with the character-based, conceptual monologues of Brayton; the sharp, pointedly topical Humphries leads into the surreal, absurdist Bang. And are they funny? God, yes.

So to summarize, I like my comedy diverse, progressive and laugh-until-you-lose-braincells funny. If you do too, chances are you’ll like The Lady Show. –– KF

And in other news…

There are still four more showings of Self-ish, starting today at 5:00 PM. If you haven’t gone, we would love to see you there. If you have gone and liked it, there are still plenty of tickets available so tell your friends!

Here’s what the Georgia Straight had to say about Self-ish.

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Victoria Premiere of “SELF-ish” at UNO Fest

self-ish-1008-3Slowly but surely, SELF-ish is getting closer and closer to Vancouver. If you’re in the BC capital this weekend, check out Diana Bang in her show at UNO Fest, Intrepid Theatre’s 11-day celebration of solo performance (May 9-19). Written by Kuan Foo and directed by Assaulted Fish alum director Dawn Milman, SELF-ish tells the story of Esther Jin, a 30-something Korean-Canadian navigating her relationship with her family in the aftermath of a recent tragedy. Don’t worry: there are laughs to be had too!

Visit the Intrepid Theatre/UNO Fest website for all the ticket details.

Yeah, but when do we get SELF-ish in Vancouver?!

In September, Fish Fans, in September. Look for the play at the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival (September 6-16). Show times will be available later in August. Stay tuned!

About the play:

SELF-ish had its Canadian debut at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival. Here are some reviews from opening night:

“Kuan Foo’s script resonates especially for Asian-Canadian audience members. When Esther’s tears finally come, Bang has no trouble digging deep, and…it’s hard not to feel those same emotions.” — Now: Toronto

“Movement is important here, as are expressions, because they help carry the emotional range and complexity of Esther’s story and character. Bang’s performance is dynamic and delivered everything that this part demanded.

The writing too carried its own force in the most understated way. Written by Kuan Foo, SELF-ish gives us Esther’s voice and the voices of those who we don’t even see on stage (her father, mother, brother, and her boss Daryll) through the impact of storytelling.” — Mooney on Theatre

 

 


Fringe 2017 Reviews, Part 1

Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the specific writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.

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Gina Leon & Michael Germant in Gruesome Playground Injuries

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Playwright Rajiv Joseph was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” an epic, phantasmagorical investigation into the Iraq War. “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” which came out after “Bengal Tiger,” seems to get a lot of stick from reviewers for basically not being as ambitious as “Bengal Tiger.” While it is true that “Injuries” is more of a string quartet compared to the symphonic sweep of “Bengal Tiger,” it is a no less sophisticated and affecting play. This becomes manifestly clear when it is blessed with strong performances, as it is in this mounting by Island Productions. “Injuries” tracks best friends Doug and Kayleen as their lives intersect over 30-year period, usually because one or both of them have sustained some kind of horrendous wound. The physical damage suffered by Doug and Kayleen corresponds to the emotional damage inflicted on them, sometimes by the outside world, sometimes by each other. Daredevil Doug’s injuries tend to be physically disfiguring, while the introverted Kayleen bears the more invisible scars of child abuse, eating disorders and self-harm. The play jumps around in time and makes great demands on the actors, who may have to play anywhere from ages 8 to 38 and varying levels of physical and emotional pain from scene to scene. Fortunately, Michael Germant and Gina Leon dig deep and are more than able to meet the challenge. Germant in particular invests Doug with an open sincerity that keeps him grounded and likeable even as his motivations and injuries become increasingly operatic and implausible. Emotionally intense, blackly comic and profoundly moving. – KF

Cry-Baby: The Musical

You’ll have a (ahem) wail of a time at “Cry-Baby: The Musical”. It’s a fun and witty takedown of 1950s tropes: innocent upper class good girl meets wrong-side-of-the-tracks bad boy with a heart of gold. This high-energy production features a talented, diverse cast anchored by some stand-out performances, particularly Victor Hunter who plays the titular lead Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker and Synthia Yusuf who plays the loopy Lenora Frigid. There’s potential to play Cry-Baby Walker strictly for laughs, but Hunter imbues the character with heart and nuance. Similarly, Yusuf transcends what would typically be a “crazy lady” role by giving a committed, pitch-perfect comedic performance. In dialogue or song, every performer nails the comedy and choreography. It was a sell-out crowd on Monday evening, so make the trek to the Firehall Arts Centre and see this solid production before it’s too late. – MD

5-Step Guide to Being German

Paco Erhard has a problem. All his life he has been taught to be ashamed of being German to the point where he is terrified of offending Jews and sometimes introduces himself as half-Spanish to “take the edge off of being German.” Suddenly, recent events in the US and UK have thrust Germany from being the reprehensible “runner-up” in two World Wars into the unfamiliar role of being the guardians of European and world democracy. What is a self-respecting, guilt-ridden German to do?

Well, make hilarious stand-up comedy apparently. Although the “5-Step” conceit gets dropped fairly early, the majority of the show is a self-deprecating exploration of the quirks and contradictions of being German. Erhard’s show makes you realize how much we North Americans have bought into the stereotype of Germans as homogenous, humourless, efficiency robots. Instead, Erhard portrays a Germany that is filled with local and regional diversity and suggests that the German love of order comes from a long history of trying to hold those fighting regions together. Erhard also does not shy away from talking about the Germany’s dark past and how it has shaped his own self-image as a German on the World stage.

While Erhard is merciless in lampooning German culture (a particularly funny bit involves driving habits on the Autobahn) he takes equal aim at other European cultures (he compares the British claim of “ending slavery” to saving someone from being punched in the face by not punching them anymore) and even throws in a few barbs at the US and Canada. But ultimately his goal is to point out how silly and dangerous national chauvinism can be and how it is better to laugh at our differences than fight over them. Erhard is an energetic performer who is both intelligent and funny, which may not make him a good German (in his view, Germans tend to compartmentalize these two qualities), but makes him well worth seeing. – KF

7 Ways to Die, A Love Story

Alexander Forsyth and Joylyn Secunda are charming performers who propel this “romantic comedy about suicide” through their excellent movement, mask and mime work with nary a word being spoken. Their characters, Irving and Rachel, are strangers and neighbours: they live in the same building across the hall from each other. There’s chemistry between the two, but neither of them act on it, preferring instead to retreat behind well-secured doors. It’s never made clear why Rachel wants to kill herself, but she attempts to do so in stylized, prop-heavy fashion — and is thwarted each time by Irving’s increasing concern for her welfare, which starts off as neighbourly but develops into much more. One caveat: although Rachel and Irving [Spoiler Alert] ultimately overcome their isolation and loneliness by finding each other, suicide is a serious, complex topic and I had difficulty reconciling the idea of romance being a way to save someone from self-harm. – MD

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Some of the cast of Cry-Baby: The Musical


Only two shows left!

Hey Torontonians,

Tonight and tomorrow are the last two chances to the see the debut of “Self-ish” at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Starring Diana Bang  and written by Kuan Foo (both of Assaulted Fish Sketch Comedy) and directed by Dawn Milman (Assaulted Fish Alumnus director).

Here’s what the reviewers say:

“Bang’s performance is dynamic and delivered everything that this part demanded.”

Mooney on Theatre

“Kuan Foo’s script resonates especially for Asian-Canadian audience members. When Esther’s tears finally come, Bang has no trouble digging deep, and in the intimate BMO Incubator, it’s hard not to feel those same emotions.” (4 out 5)

Now Magazine: Toronto

“…Bang, a magnetic and assured performer, inhabits Esther Jin with charismatic ease.” (B+)

My Entertainment World

Don’t miss out!

Ticket details here.

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“Self-ish” at the Toronto Fringe

Hey Fish Fans,

If you are in Toronto be sure to catch Diana debuting her solo show “Self-ish” at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Written by Kuan and directed by Fish alumni director Dawn Milman, Self-ish tells the story of Esther Jin, a 30-something Korean-Canadian, navigating her relationship with her family in the aftermath of a recent tragedy. It’s funny too! Honest!

Here are some opening night reviews!

Now: Toronto

Mooney on Theatre

Seven shows left! Don’t miss out!

Rated 14A, for coarse language and violence against cardboard boxes.

Ticket details here.

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Fringe Reviews, Part 2

The following reviews are the completely subjective (and possibly ill-informed) opinions of the specific writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish. Once again, today’s reviewer is Kuan Foo.

tumblr_noxr8tqBfc1uwdr7co1_1280“In space, no one can see you stink-eye…”

Mars – A few years ago, I walked into a show called Giant Invisible Robot not knowing anything about it and experienced one of those fantastic Fringe moments where you immediately want to tell everyone you know to go see the show. Since then I have seen two other shows by Jayson McDonald and been equally blown away by both the easy virtuosity of his performances and his literate, thought-provoking but accessible writing. So I was very curious to see what a Jayson McDonald play would be like without Jayson MacDonald actually in it. Well, the answer is: “pretty darn good!” Like much of McDonald’s other work, what seems at first like a series of high concept comedy sketches (“Temperamentally mismatched Astronauts are trapped together in space” “Chipper father and irritated daughter go on a loooong road trip”), gradually knits together into a coherent narrative of surprising poignancy and power. This, of course, would not work without the deft and truthful performances of Valerie Cotic and Mark Nocent to navigate the tonal twists and turns and to ground this space mission in down-to-earth human emotion. So please, everyone, go and see this show! 4.5/5

Edgar Allan – 11-year-old Edgar Allan (Katie Hartman) is so extravagantly, over-the-top, diabolical that if he could grow a moustache he would likely spend most of his time twirling it. His ambition to be the most outstanding boy at his boarding school appears to be proceeding without a hitch until he runs into his nemesis, also called Edgar Allan (Nick Ryan), a shy classmate who cannot speak above a whisper. (You know how when you have a really flamboyant character and a really deadpan character, how the deadpan character often ends up stealing the show? Well it sort of happens here.) What transpires next is part Gothic horror, part absurdist comedy and part ukulele opera (seriously) that draws from several of the stories of that other famous Edgar Allan. A solid, enjoyable production but not surprisingly will likely appeal most to fans of quirky musicals, Edward Gorey cartoons and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe. 3/5

Nashville Hurricane – One day we may discover that Chase Padgett is a lousy plumber or that he doesn’t know how to convert a 7-10 split. Until that day, we can simply stew in the unfairness that so much talent was placed into one person. I mean, it is apparently not enough that he is a gifted actor with a flair for vocal mimicry, that he can sing like an aging blues man, play guitar like a virtuoso in a variety of styles, and has the comedic timing of … well … a comedian; he also creates fantastic shows that feature all of these aforementioned abilities in their best light. In Nashville Hurricane, as in his previous Fringe hit 6 Guitars, he plays multiple characters: Henry, an introverted, synesthetic guitar prodigy; Henry’s foul-mouthed, irresponsible mother; his charismatic, unscrupulous manager; and a disillusioned, elderly musician who takes Henry under his wing. In lesser hands, some of the characters he inhabits could be caricatures, but Padgett has such an obvious affection for his creations that he never condescends and he manages to find the heart in even the most despicable of them. And did I mention he is a kick-ass guitar player? At some point you just have to surrender to the Nashville Hurricane, let the virtuosity of the performance wash over you and let this force of nature propel you up to your feet in rapturous applause. 5/5


Fringe Reviews, Part 1

Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the specific writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish. Today’s featured reviewer is Kuan Foo.

In writing reviews, I hope to be able to give you an idea of what the show is like so that you have some additional information on how best to spend your time and money on the over 700 performances at this year’s Fringe. My completely subjective rating system is as follows:

5/5 Transcendent. I will likely be talking about this show for years to come and steal from it shamelessly.

4/5 Excellent. A top-notch production that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

3/5 Good. A solid production that may not necessarily be my thing but is still enjoyable particularly if you are a fan of the artist or the genre.

2/5 Fair. Has some good points but needs a bit more work. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

1/5 Disappointing. Friends and family only.

0/5 Uhhhh. Would not recommend unless you can get in free and then only to analyze what went wrong.

Martin DockeryThe Exclusion Zone with Martin Dockery

The Exclusion Zone – This is the third Martin Dockery show I’ve seen at the Fringe and if there is such a thing as a sure thing at the festival, he is it. His two-hander, Moonlight After Midnight, was probably my favourite show at the 2014 Fringe. This year, he’s back in his more familiar guise as a solo storyteller. The Exclusion Zone is a hyperactive travelogue through the irradiated zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but it is also an exploration of one of Dockery’s favourite authors, Geoff Dyer, and Dyer’s book about one of his favourite movies, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and how that movie can be a metaphor for Chernobyl as well as for both Dyer and Dockery’s creative processes. If that sounds convoluted, then you are starting to get an idea of Dockery’s circular and multilayered storytelling. Charismatic, thought provoking and frequently very, very funny. 4/5

The Birdmann in Momentous Timing – Part stand-up comedy, part deliberately-inept vaudeville act and part poignant observation on love and the passage of time, The Birdmann in Momentous Timing is somewhat hampered by a meandering structure and a weak through-line so it never quite lives up the surreal promise of its title. Still, Trent Baumann (the titular Birdmann) is an appealing performer who lobs his one-liners with such a relaxed, amiable smile that it sometimes takes a second or two to register how witty and well-crafted they are. The audience we saw it with was roaring with laughter by the end. 2.5/5