Fringe Reviews You Can’t Refuse (Part 3)
Eight days and 22 reviews into the 2009 Fringe Festival, our intrepid reviewer is now teetering on the edge of a complete nervous breakdown. Good Lord, the poor man has deteriorated to the point where he has the audacity to pan a critically-acclaimed touring production (see ‘The Seven Lives of Louis Riel” below). Behold his latest six reviews, listed alphabetically by last letter in the title:
In the funniest solo show at this year’s Fringe, “Master of Ignorance” Vaguen exhorts you to unlock the power of your ignorance, stop thinking and start living. A relentlessly brilliant send-up of motivational speaking and pop psychology, this show is guaranteed to delight. And delight again. And delight yet again. Don’t be so ignorant as to miss this one!
Until September 20 at Performance Works on Granville Island (Fringe venue 6)
The first of the three monologues in this show, the story of a cold-hearted midwife’s murderous mission to conceive a child in 1930’s Appalachia, is the best monologue from a female performer I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. The second and third chapters—which follow the midwife’s soul through two subsequent reincarnations, the first as a yoga-enthused housewife and the second as a stressed-out film producer—don’t come up to the level of the first but this is still an impressive show. If your Fringe karma isn’t what it ought to be, Afterlife will certainly give it a bump.
Until September 18 at Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island (Fringe venue 3)
Fringe theatre doesn’t get much Fringier than this. Actress Becky Poole’s cousin has an unusual form of epilepsy called Landau-Kleffner syndrome, and her family’s experience with this illness is the jumping-off point for this striking nonlinear show, which combines insights into rare neurological disorders with musical numbers and dreamlike visions of heroes and hope. This is the sort of oddball experimental fare you can only see at the Fringe, and most of it actually works—in my favourite segment Poole dons a Batman costume and accompanies a YouTube clip of an amateur opera singer with a musical saw. An honest, thoughtful, and completely off-the-wall Fringe gem.
Until September 20 at Playwrights Theatre Centre on Granville Island (Fringe venue 3)
A troubled writer moves into an allegedly haunted Vancouver Island house intending to write a biography of its ghost, but ultimately reveals herself to be more haunted than the house itself. A dark, dense and demented journey into the tormented inner world of a woman on the edge, Biographies of the Dead and Dying gets top marks for its brilliantly bleak atmosphere and inventive staging—but in the end, the overwhelming coldness of the production left me, well, cold.
Until September 19 at Havana (1212 Commercial Drive; Fringe venue F)
This facile, tickle-trunk take on Canadian history gets my “Most Overrated Fringe Show of 2009” award. It comes as no surprise that the CBC gave it five stars and called it a “must-see”, because The Seven Lives of Louis Riel is precisely the sort of pandering CanCon drivel you’d expect the CBC to be all over like flies on a pile of horse dung during the Battle of Loon Lake on June 3, 1885. Not so much a good show as a good performance by a magician intent on deceiving you into believing you’ve seen a good show, this hour of formulaic buffoonery will likely leave you gasping with glee if you laugh out loud at the Air Farce and insulted if you don’t. Almost desperately likable performer Ryan Gladstone takes no risks whatsoever, although he certainly pretends to, dropping a few token swears and then gleefully bragging about how “dirty” the show is. There are clever and inventive moments during this production but Gladstone is clearly using his considerable talents for evil in this calculated exercise in safe, ersatz-Fringe blowjobbery.
Until September 18 at Havana (1212 Commercial Drive; Fringe venue F)
Comedic sex and relationship expert Daniel Packard comes off as gayer than famed sex and relationship expert Dan Savage, but not only is he not gay, he also doesn’t have a fraction of Savage’s pansexual knowledge. Which is essential in a town like this, a point made painfully obvious when Packard—who openly admits that his act is based on oversimplified men-and-women-are-different stereotyping—was stumped by a very straightforward question from a lesbian couple. Some free advice from this bisexual reviewer: If you’re going to dispense sex and relationship advice at an alternative theatre festival in Vancouver in the year 2009, I think you need to know something about queers. Especially when you talk up how gay you are.
Until September 19 at Performance Works on Granville Island (Fringe venue 6)