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
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.
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
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.
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
It’s Vancouver Fringe Festival season again and even though Assaulted Fish is not in the Fringe this year, we’ll be at the Fringe, laughing, crying and pondering our existence along with hundreds of other theatre-goers. We’ll be posting some our reviews of some of the more entertaining shows as we go so keep watching this space!