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.
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
Some of the cast of Cry-Baby: The Musical
Thanks to the fine folks at District Local, Marlene and Kuan have been invited once again to share their preview picks for this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. Visit the District Local website for the original article, and remember to check back here or visit our Facebook page during the 11-day festival to read mini-reviews of the shows we’re catching. See you at the Fringe!
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You’re in for a treat at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. When we were sticky-noting, internet deep-diving and YouTube-ing our preview picks, we realized many performers were new to us. Because the Vancouver Fringe operates on a lottery system, this year’s Fringe is wide-open, and that’s exactly how we’re going to experience the festival this year: with our minds and all our senses wide open to discover new stories.
Remember our pro tips: ask a Fringe volunteer or performer for show recommendations, try to support great performances at Bring Your Own Venues (BYOVs) across the city, and make space to hear performers giving their pitches in the line-up. It can pass the time, they’re often entertaining, and you might discover a Fringe gem!
– MD & KF
Top 12 Picks for Fringe Fest 2017
5-Step Guide to Being German (Paco Erhard, 18+)
Erhard is a stand-up comedian who swears he “can make you German.” One year’s worth of study at university didn’t work on me, but maybe Erhard’s well-reviewed show will. – MD
7 Ways to Die, A Love Story (K.I.A. Productions, 14+)
If you’re like me and marvel at mask and mime work, this “romantic comedy about suicide…in full mask without a single line of dialogue” might be the ticket. – MD
A David Lynch Wet Dream (Acherontia Productions, 18+)
A 45-minute movement piece involving dance, projections and sound effects. Like most things Lynchean, be prepared for surreal kitschiness, disturbing sexual imagery and endless debates afterwards. – KF
Bombay Black (Raghupriya Society, 14+)
My introduction to Anosh Irani was his debut novel, The Cripple and His Talismans, but he’s also an acclaimed playwright. The Matka King was part of the Arts Club Theatre’s 2003 season, while multiple Dora Award winning Bombay Black graced the Granville Island Stage back in 2008. This Fringe production is helmed by Diwali Fest producer Rohit Chokhani who brought the delightful Elephant Wrestler to The Cultch in 2016. – MD
Bondage (West Moon Theatre, 18+)
Director Chris Lam returns to the Fringe with this restaging of David Henry Hwang’s provocative play about race and racial stereotypes. Lam’s excellent direction of The Nether at last year’s festival made it a favourite of many Fringe goers. (Full disclosure: Chris is a former member of Assaulted Fish) – MD
Bushel and Peck (Alastair Knowles, All Ages)
Alastair Knowles is best known to regular Fringers as one half of the crowd-pleasing comedic duo James and Jamesy (I believe he is Jamesy). This time, he’s performing sans James with choreographer Stephanie Morin-Robert. Expect physical comedy, mime and dance with a child-like sense of wonder. – KF
Cry-Baby: The Musical (Awkward Stage Productions, 14+)
If you’re looking for a musical, make it this one. Not only is it based on an ‘80s film by John Waters, but you’ll be supporting a long-time Fringe BYOV and a talented emerging musical performer, Ali Watson. We’ve been tracking Ali’s work since we first saw her in the musical theatre program at Capilano University, and she was an outstanding Mimi in URP’s 2016 production of Rent. – MD
Gigantic Lying Mouth (Rhyming Optional, 18+)
This line in the show description cracked me up: “After perishing in a tragic yoga accident, Kevin finds himself trapped in the afterlife…” Who knew yoga could be so perilous? Let’s find out in Scotsman Kevin P. Gilday’s spoken word play. – MD
Gruesome Playground Injuries (Island Productions, 18+)
A blackly comedic premise – two childhood friends and potential soul mates repeatedly meet over 30 years due to experiencing terrible, sometimes self-inflicted injuries – morphs into a moving exploration of human frailty and why people hurt themselves in this early play by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph. I loved this play when I read it a few years back and am curious to see how it translates to stage. – KF
Interstellar Elder (SNAFU Dance Theatre, All Ages)
Little Orange Man by Ingrid Hansen and SNAFU Dance Theatre was easily one of my favourite shows of the 2011 Fringe. Since then, Hansen has produced several more critically acclaimed Fringe shows filled with her playful energy, physical comedy and tremendous heart. My must-see for this year – KF
Katharine Ferns is in Stitches (Katharine Ferns, 18+)
Ferns is a Canadian stand-up comedian now living in Manchester, England. Going by interviews and online videos, her brand of comedy is modern, irreverent and honest. In Stitches deals with some very dark autobiographical subject matter, including child and domestic abuse, mental illness and drug addiction with “some feminism thrown on for comic relief.” – MD
Soul Samurai (Affair of Honor, 14+)
Qui Nguyen is very much the playwright of the moment with his Off Broadway hit Vietgone and one of his earlier plays She Kills Monsters being staged as part of the UBC’s 2017/2018 season. If you like your theatre witty, geeky and filled with pop-cultural reference points, this may be for you. – KF
About Vancouver Fringe Festival
The Vancouver Fringe is a celebration of all kinds of theatre. Produced annually by the Vancouver Fringe Theatre Society over 11 days in September, with over 500 volunteers supporting 700+ performances and attracting over 40,000 attendees, the Fringe strives to break down traditional boundaries and encourage open dialogue between audiences and artists by presenting live un-juried, uncensored theatre in an accessible and informal environment.
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.”
“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)
“…Bang, a magnetic and assured performer, inhabits Esther Jin with charismatic ease.” (B+)
Don’t miss out!
Ticket details here.
Give It Up – Inspiring words from Morgan Brayton
It’s September, so once again it’s time to enact the yearly ritual of opening up the Vancouver Fringe Festival Guide and yelling, “So many puppet shows! How do I choose?!”
Fear not, the taller half of Assaulted Fish (Marlene and Kuan) has put together a Fringe preview with something for every type of Fringer. The first two shows we consider sure bets. The rest is stuff that looks intriguing or is buzzworthy or has puppets. Three suggestions: take a moment to hear artist pitches when you’re waiting in line, make the effort to support great performances at BYOVs across the city, and ask a Fringe volunteer for show recommendations if you’re stuck for options. Don’t be afraid to try something new. That’s what the Fringe is all about! (A shorter, slightly more polite, version of this preview was published at District Local.)
Give It Up (Morgan Brayton, 14+)
The last time I caught the magnificent Morgan Brayton on stage was in 2010 at her Vancouver Fringe solo show, “Raccoonery”. That’s way too long between hits of comedy gold like hers, but truth be told, I needed that much time to heal my busted gut. I don’t expect “Give It Up” to be any less than funny or brilliant. Ms. Brayton is an outstanding comedienne who has been a champion of sketch comedy and budding sketch comedians in Vancouver for well over a decade. You don’t get to be the god-lady of comedy without knowing a thing or two about constructing an award-winning show. Expect memorable, well-drawn characters; sharp, witty commentary; and stories that’ll make you laugh, cry, or go WTF? (I’ll be asking her about her “husband Scott Baio”.) Go see her show; you’ll have a gut-busting good time. – MD
Love is a Battlefield (Martin Dockery, 14+)
My first experience with Martin Dockery was at the 2013 Fringe and oddly enough not at his own show. That year, I went down to support a friend who was doing a show that involved getting audience volunteers to represent the planets in the solar system. A thin, caffeinated man bounded onto stage, grabbed the golf ball that was representing Mercury, took a split second to register just how tiny it was, then with perfect comic defiance brandished it aloft as though it were Excalibur. This was my first taste of Martin Dockery the performer: hilarious, charismatic and just a little hyperactive. I’ve subsequently seen three of his shows – two comedic monologues, “Up In Flames” and “The Exclusion Zone”, and the exquisite romantic two-hander “Moonlight After Midnight” (my favourite Fringe show of 2014) – and can attest that Martin Dockery the writer is no slouch either, creating multi-layered, sneakily-smart theatre pieces that can be nose-snortingly funny, but also surprisingly emotional. This year, he returns with “Love is a Battlefield”, another two-hander performed with his artistic and life partner Vanessa Quesnelle. My personal must-see show this year. – KF
Bella Culpa (A Little Bit Off, All Ages)
At a time when “clowns” are associated with traumatic birthday parties and “slapstick” means YouTube videos of men getting hit in the penis, it hard to remember that clowning, acrobatics and physical comedy were once the staples of entertainment and were practiced creatively and artistically. That tradition is alive and well with A Little Bit Off, an award-winning physical theatre troupe from Portland, Oregon, whose latest show “Bella Culpa” follows two servants as they bumble about an Edwardian manor house attempting to do their chores. How much you enjoy this will likely depend on how much you like physical comedy but personally I think that the last few seasons of Downton Abbey would have profited from a few more pratfalls. Warning: The online previews hinted at audience participation so don’t sit too close if you’re a massive introvert like our neighbour Ann, who spent one show with her head almost in her lap trying to avoid the performer seeking a volunteer. – KF
Curious Contagious (Mind of a Snail Puppet Co., All Ages)
Remember the days when every class had an overhead projector and if you were bored and the teacher wasn’t looking, you used do shadow puppet shows? Well, apparently it is possible to pursue an artistic career doing this, although I’m pretty sure what Mind of a Snail does is a little more creative than the shadow bunny-ears I used to cast in grade 12 Algebra. Critics have called their shows “fantastical” and “unique”. I personally have not had the opportunity to see them yet, but they approached me during a Fringe line-up a few years back and gave a really charming and inventive show pitch involving miniature shadow puppets, which made me very curious (but not contagious). – KF
Fat Sex (Steve Larkin, 14+)
Steve Larkin is a British slam poet, musician and educator, who has taught poetry in venues as diverse as Oxford Brookes University and a high security prison. I caught Larkin the last time he was in Vancouver with N.O.N.C.E., a show based on his experiences teaching poetry to lifers. N.O.N.C.E. was intense, witty, political, acerbic and, considering the subject matter, strangely uplifting. “Fat Sex” promises more of the same, serving up a retrospective of Larkin’s poems and songs over the last 20 years. – KF
Hip, Bang! Improv (Hip, Bang!, 14+)
Very polished local sketch and improv duo. I’ve only had the chance to see them once or twice, but was impressed with the wit and complexity of their sketches. Super funny, too! – KF
New Works by Women (Playwrights: Carmen Aguirre, Jenn Griffin, Janet Hinton, Frances Koncan, Quelemia Sparrow, Directors: Kim Harvey, Laura McLean, Christine Quintana, Anita Rochon, Heidi Taylor, 14+)
In partnership with Ruby Slippers Theatre and Equity in Theatre, the Fringe is presenting a showcase of dramatic readings by five Canadian women playwrights, directed by five diverse Canadian women. The readings take place midday, but if you can, go support women doing interesting, meaningful, important work in theatre. – MD
Space Hippo (The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company, 14+)
“Space Hippo” has been wowing audiences on the Fringe circuit this year and just won “Pick of the Fringe” at the Victoria Fringe. The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company is a trans-Pacific collaboration between Canadian Daniel Wishes and Japanese puppeteer Seri Yanai and they employ a blend of shadow puppetry, marionettes, rod puppets and glove puppets to tell the story of a hippo who has to venture into space to save the earth. Warning: Despite its whimsical premise, this show is rated 14+ and does have a violence warning, and if violent shadow puppet hippos trigger you, consider yourself forewarned. – KF
The Old Woman (John Grady, 14+)
There’s a plethora of puppet-based Fringe shows this year, so if you’re looking for something different, how about drama and dance? John Grady is a former Ballet BC dancer who has performed Off-Broadway and garnered awards from across the Fringe circuit. I’ve never seen John Grady in action before, but the show description for “The Old Woman” spoke to me. I’ve lost loved ones in recent years and examined what it means to live, age, and die. I anticipate a heart-rending story told through the beauty of movement and dance. – MD
The Nether (Redcurrant Collective, 18+)
When I visited London in 2015, I just missed this Jennifer Haley play, which enjoyed a 12-week remount at the Duke of York’s Theatre after a sold-out run at the renowned Royal Court Theatre. It was billed as a sci-fi crime thriller, a kind of cautionary tale about the internet and digital world. Imagine my delight when I learned that there would be a Vancouver premiere, directed by actor/playwright Chris Lam and featuring a diverse cast and crew, including Lissa Neptuno. (Full disclosure: Chris and Lissa are former members of Assaulted Fish.) – MD
Zeppelin Was a Cover Band (Stadium Tour, 14+)
I know very little about Led Zeppelin – except that Canadian figure skater, Kurt Browning, performed a riveting short program to Bonzo’s Montreux in 1993. Random? Yes. Which is why I’m looking to be edumacated by playwrights, Stefan Cedilot and Ben Kalman, as they trace the origin story of the blues through the music of Led Zeppelin. Trippy! – MD
Love is a Battlefield – Martin Dockery desperately tries to avoid thinking of Pat Benatar