Fringe Reviews You Can’t Refuse (Part 2)

By Glen Callender

Five days into the 2009 Vancouver Fringe Festival, UQEvents’ intrepid reviewer is already showing signs of mental and physical strain—but luckily for us all, his ability to write extremely high-quality Fringe reviews remains unimpaired. Behold his seven latest passings of judgment, listed in reverse-alphabetical order:

UNCALLED FOR PRESENTS: TODAY IS ALL YOUR BIRTHDAYS

Comedy physics meets physical comedy as Montreal Improv-sketch powerhouse Uncalled For transforms the theatre into a comedy supercollider where offbeat concepts smash into each other and spin off in unpredictable directions. Similar in tone and execution to other frenetic two-man conceptual comedies of recent years, the form isn’t wholly original but the content is a delight for lovers of smart and imaginative comedy. Relentless, hilarious and frequently brilliant, Today Is All Your Birthdays is guaranteed to scratch your alternative sketch-com itch.

Until September 20 at Performance Works on Granville Island (Fringe venue #6)

PORNSTAR

Small-town librarian Esther doesn’t realize she’s a mechanic in the sack until she learns that her ex’s secret videotapes of their trysts have been nominated for an amateur porn award. Meanwhile, in the underworld, Esther’s dead 14-year-old sister tries to find her way out of Hell. The wickedly witty script is packed with quirky surprises, and adorable actress Anne Wyman has just the right geeky-sexy vibe to bring her libidinous librarian to lusty life. Primo Fringe fare that should not be missed.

Until September 19 at Performance Works on Granville Island (Fringe venue #6)

NGGRFG

There aren’t many queer-themed shows at this year’s VanFringe, but nggrfg’s quality more than makes up for the lack of quantity. Actor and playwright Berend McKenzie elicits laughs and tears in the autobiographical role of Buddy, a half-black gay kid facing the trials and tribulations of growing up in a small Canadian town. Rejected by his birth father but loved unconditionally by his adopted father, the naïve, wide-eyed Buddy tries to fit in and ultimately learns to love—and stand up for—himself. Bring the Kleenex, because the scene where Buddy’s father helps him face down a bully had much of the audience in tears. If you’re looking for a show with a real heart, you’ll find it here.

Until September 20 at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island (Fringe venue #2)

LITTLE WHITE LIES

Vivacious young thespian Amy J. Lester convincingly inhabits the role of Gerry, a shallow, attention-seeking 18-year-old girl with a naughty habit of making up false identities for herself. A good premise, but unfortunately the script turns out to be just as shallow as the main character. Gerry’s motivations for lying are never properly explored, an attempted seduction by her literary idol forsakes depth and complexity for drunken belligerence, and her ultimate estrangement from her father feels forced and implausible. A solid performance, but in the end Little White Lies doesn’t offer nearly enough truth to satisfy.

Until September 20 at Origins Organic Coffee on Granville Island (Fringe venue #5)

THE HEFNER MONOLOGUES

Sheesh, talk about being sold a bill of goods! Turns out that performer John Hefner’s connection to his dad’s famous cousin Hugh Hefner is so slight that he has absolutely nothing interesting to say about it. In a nutshell, he met Hugh Hefner only once, during a visit to the Playboy mansion when his age was still a single digit. The big, hilarious payoff: Hugh Hefner gave him his first Diet Pepsi, and he didn’t like it. Seriously. That’s the most interesting and entertaining angle he could come up with.

And it only goes downhill from there. Hefner fills out the bulk of the hour attempting to contrast himself with ladies-man Hugh by regaling us with sophomoric stories about how lame he is with the ladies—but the tales he tells, such as the time he popped an embarrassing woody while dancing with a girl, and the time he went to a party and drank so much, are epically boring and unoriginal. Hefner tries way too hard to sell this tragically thin gruel, and the result is a grueling hour of some guy with a famous last name telling lame stories we’ve all heard a million times before. All in all, John Hefner has potential as a performer but he should stick to fiction until he’s had some life experiences that actually bear repeating.

Until September 20 at Origins Organic Coffee on Granville Island (Fringe venue #5)

CABERLESQUE!

Bouncing (and jiggling) from ’30s Berlin to ’60s Amsterdam to contemporary New York, Caberlesque! is a saucy and entertaining romp through a century of cabaret and burlesque classics. Boasting strong performances, sexy costumes and evocative set pieces, the only thing this show really needed was a hot crowd—the oldsters who showed up at 5:15 p.m. on Monday evening needed a serious dose of cocaine and Viagra, and didn’t give the performers a fraction of the hoots and hollers they deserved. See a late show if you can, and for titties’ sake, make some noise!

Until September 18 at Performance Works on Granville Island (Fringe venue #6)

THE ACCIDENT

Antipodean madman Jonno Katz is a true Fringe original and his work is almost a genre unto itself. This time around Katz has concocted a comedy-dance-drama hybrid about two eccentric brothers, spiced with his trademark flashes of jaw-dropping comic inventiveness. A somewhat mundane story about secrets and adultery keeps The Accident from matching the offbeat brilliance of previous Katz efforts such as Uber Alice, The Spy, and Cactus: The Seduction, but it’s still a cracker of a performance that is well worth seeing for the inspired dance sequences alone.

Until September 20 at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island (Fringe venue #2)

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