Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Tremors Festival proves difficult to fault

by Glen Callender

Hold onto your arm rests, theatre-goers, because the Tremors Festival is shaking the Cultch like a screaming Italian woman in the jaws of an epileptic Tyrannosaurus Rex. In a totally good way.

The fest kicked off Tuesday with Why Not Theatre’s I’m So Close…, an ambitious hour that poses one of the Big Questions: “How did we get here?”

So Close...
“Here” variously refers to everything from our co-ordinates in the cosmos to the states of our relationships, but it is the latter meaning that dominates the narrative, as we follow the seriocomic story of a workaholic electrical engineer whose busy travel schedule places increasing strain on his marriage.

The three cast members are all excellent physical performers, and frequently use the device of speeding up repetitive actions to create impressively frenetic scenes depicting the bustle of the business world and the gradual decay of a marriage impoverished by too much time apart.

But this is also a thoroughly digital show, as multimedia elements are employed to excellent effect; the performers dart in and out from behind a large translucent screen that glows with elegant video projections illustrating how digital technology mediates their characters’ lives. Yet in spite of this high-tech backdrop, the image that appears most often on the screen predates digital technology by thousands of years—the eternally embracing pair of neolithic skeletons recently unearthed in Italy—a haunting counterpoint to the increasing separation and isolation of the living husband and wife on the stage.
eternal_embrace
A thoughtful and frequently delightful exploration of how technology designed to connect us can paradoxically push us further apart, I’m So Close… is marred only by a somewhat awkward opening monologue, which offers a facile introduction to the Big Bang and particle physics, and over-extends the question “How did we get here?” by tritely asking members of the audience what modes of transport they used to travel to the theatre. I suppose the temptation to interpret the question in every possible sense was irresistible, but I found it a mildly patronizing start to an otherwise beautiful piece of theatre.

If you’re looking for a hilariously ugly piece of theatre, on the other hand, get thee to Theatre Melee’s Cozy Catastrophe. In a derelict urban basement, four not-very-smart strangers and a rotting ham uneasily co-exist as the outside world comes to a violent demise in some kind of fiendish Godzilla-Cloverfield-zombie apocalypse. Expanded from a 15-minute playlet at Hive 2 (2008), Cozy Catastrophe now clocks in at 75 minutes—65 minutes of which is comedy gold.
Cozy Catastrophe
The show’s wide-open, killing-time-in-an-empty-room format gives the ensemble carte blanche to cut loose and play—and they work it to the hilt, alternating bursts of slapstick violence with moments of calm where the characters lapse into poignant monologues that invariably culminate in stupid and irrelevant conclusions.

It’s great, gross, gory fun, and as impressed as I am with the show in its current form, I am excited by the thought that Cozy Catastrophe has yet to reach its outer limits, and will surely mutate again into something even bigger and better. Having grown from a short piece to a solid one-act, Cozy Catastrophe now begs to be developed into an ultra-low budget sci-fi film—I say we lock this anarchic crew in a basement with a camcorder, no food and no water, and not let them out until it’s in the can.

I’m So Close… closes April 10; Cozy Catastrophe closes April 17. Full Tremors Festival details here.

Where’s Charley? is a giddy delight

by Glen Callender

Studio 58’s production of Where’s Charley? opened on World Theatre Day, that sacred time when the thoughts of all good people turn to those two Ancient Greek masks—one laughing, one crying—that symbolize the faces actors make when they read their reviews.

I have no idea where the crying mask was that night, but Where’s Charley? certainly wears the laughing mask with an aplomb that Aristophanes himself would have admired. Yes, I assure you that if Aristophanes were alive today, aside from being approximately 2455 years old, he would have guffawed heartily at the giddy musical spectacle of a pratfall-prone young man running about in a full-length Victorian dress, affecting a ludicrous British falsetto and hopelessly entangling himself in an-ever-more complex web of comic intrigue.

Benjamin Elliott stars as the titular Charley, a young Oxford man who is forced to impersonate his aunt—for the usual farcical reasons—and delivers a tour de force performance in a challenging quick-change role that requires him to continuously fall down, get back up, pull faces and wield his matronly hand-fan with the deftness of a comic cardsharp.

These cross-dressing antics are ably supported by a beaming, fresh-faced young cast whose obvious love of theatre makes this show impossible to dislike. The sets and costumes are bright and cheerful, the direction solid and the live music consistently on the mark. And the sly updates to this classic musical, such as the tasteful homoerotic innuendos among the ensemble, nicely bring the 1940s book forward into the 21st century.

All in all, Where’s Charley? is a top-notch student production and one of the best comedies of the season.

Now, this wouldn’t be a respectable review if I didn’t point out one or two niggling flaws, so it is with the most cursory nod to critical detachment that I note one or two of the slapstick sequences didn’t quite gel, and shaky spotlights were sometimes an unwelcome distraction.

And that’s all the token negativity towards Where’s Charlie? I can muster. If I must be negative, I’d rather direct my negativity toward you. Yes, you. Because the statistical probability is that you, dear reader, committed the grave sin of not going to the theatre on World Theatre Day.

And if so, Studio 58 will help you correct that dreadful karmic oversight, because Where’s Charley?’s iron grip on that laughing Greek mask will effectively extend World Theatre Day all the way out to the final curtain on April 18. Don’t miss it.

At Studio 58 (100 West 49th Avenue) until April 18. Tickets at TicketsTonight.com.

HIVE 3 vibrates like a cell in your mental crotch-pocket

By Glen Callender

HIVE 3, the latest edition of Vancouver’s notorious biannual alt-theatre extravaganza, is a midget Fringe festival stuffed into a dodgy pressure cooker that could explode at any moment. In a totally good way.

This time around, 14 local theatre companies have transformed the Centre for Digital Media into a cacophonous colony of intimate performance cells, each containing a strange and delicious morsel of over-the-top experimental theatre. Some productions are viewed in relative safety from behind an alleged fourth wall; others are interactive adventures where you are part of the show.

Further complicating matters, you can’t simply line up to get into most of these shows. Instead, you must earn your seat by tracking down a person or item in the crowded concourse area—a teddy bear, a photograph, a prescription, and a key, among other things, are your tickets to certain performances.

Some of these items are easy to find. Others are frustratingly elusive. Sometimes you choose a show. Sometimes a show chooses you. And thanks to a network of cameras and microphones concealed in the common areas, you may end up performing in at least one of the shows without your knowledge.

Intrigued? Of course you are.

Performances are short and snappy at 15 minutes max, but with 14 shows running continuously on independent schedules, it’s impossible to see everything in one night. But don’t sweat what you don’t see—the place is buzzing and there’s plenty of honey to go around.

In the end I managed to see five of the 14 shows—but I won’t attempt to influence your trajectory by reviewing any of them. With one exception.

Whatever you do, try not to miss a clever little truffle called Frisk. When you see people wearing large headphones wandering around the common area, look approachable. If you are approached (which is by no means guaranteed) you’re in for an amusingly invasive interactive experience. See it with a complete stranger. You probably will.

Make a beeline to HIVE 3. Be there when the doors open at 7 p.m. to maximize your show-going potential. And have fun, my beloved little theatre drones.

At the Centre for Digital Media (577 Great Northern Way) until March 20. Tickets @ http://www.vancouvertix.com/

An Interview with the Team Canada DJs

by Johnny K

Aaron Waisglass (aka Grandtheft) and D.R. One (aka Raph Kerwin), collectively known as Team Canada DJs, have been on one hell of a journey since combining forces back in 2004. Their quick cuts and genre-blending mash-ups have taken them to Asia, Europe and even to Paris Hilton’s birthday party, and this sounds like just be the beginning. Booked solid for the majority of the 2010 Winter Olympics on the medal stage in Whistler, Aaron recently took a little time out of his hectic schedule to talk about what the two have been up to lately.

UQ: So, first up, how did you guys come up with the name “Team Canada DJs”?

GT: Well, we came up with it 6 or 7 years ago. We’re big hockey fans and, also, we’re English Montrealers and nationalists. You know, we’re real pro-Canada dudes… it has had to do with the hockey and we kinda dreamed at the time when we were local DJs to have a whole plan to blow up in Canada and then be TEAM CANADA. When we went to the States and no DJs of our time were really doing that, it kinda worked.

UQ: How did the two of you cross paths?

GT: How did we start off? Well I started off as a musician as a kid and I started DJing when I was about 17. Raph started off as a scratch DJ when he was really young and then became a battle DJ. We both kinda met in the middle by DJing at clubs and met in Montreal through the hip-hop scene. We both had a similar style of club DJing that was energetic, quick mixing – kinda NY hip-hop style but we’d be playing all kinds of music.

UQ: Going back even further, what kind of music did you grow up listening to?

GT: Everything – both of us listened to everything but DR1’s like a hip-hop encyclopedia. I listened to hip-hop for sure but I listened to dance music and rock. I played in punk bands when I was younger as well and I was still making rap beats. I’ve always been into every kind of music and both of us appreciate every kind of music so what we do hinges on that.

UQ: I can totally relate. I think a lot of people these days are getting into a whole bunch of different genres as opposed to before where everyone’s kind of stuck on one thing.

GT: Yeah, I think that’s kinda the par for the course now but when we started doing it around 2003, 2004, it was really an unpopular thing to do. You’d go to the club and you’d hear either house music or rap or RnB or you’d go to a rock bar but there was no way of hearing everything at a club, you know? It was either like Sean Paul and Beyonce or house music or techno. There’s a huge division there and we were going into mainstream RnB hiphop clubs and playing Nirvana and house music with rap. That was really a crazy thing to do then but now it’s a very standard thing to do. It’s a mainstream thing almost in a way.

UQ: Big time. It’s great that you guys were there at the beginning for that. Why do you think diversity and genre-blending is so appealing to people these days in general?

GT: I think that while we were doing it here, DJ AM and Hollertronix were doing it in the states as well and this whole style blew up. As I said, it was really some original shit back 6 years ago but it’s a natural thing and people liked it right away. We started playing really big mainstream clubs and people were taking a real chance on us because we were known as these crazy guys who played all kinds of music, so you really didn’t know what we were going to do. But we always played songs people knew and there’s an accessibility there – the whole style hinges on doing stuff that people recognize.

UQ: Got it. Was music something you always thought you’d be doing for a living?

GT: I always wanted to do music, and both of us have university degrees and both of us came out giving this a full shot and were struggling for years to make it. I think it’s worked out really way better than either of us ever expected. So is this something we’ve always wanted? Yeah but I mean to be out here playing the Olympics and doing some of the things we’ve done and seeing the places in the world we’ve seen… Man I always say, even to my folks, if it ended tomorrow I wouldn’t have a single regret. I would not say I wouldn’t be bummed but I really wouldn’t even be bummed. We’re so blessed, man, and the places this has taken us, we’re well aware as well as appreciate a lot of it. So I hope to be doing it for a long time. We own a club now, we have a management company and a crew called the A-Team and I started a little record label as well so we got our feet in a whole bunch of stuff but it’s tough to say, man. This is a very tough industry so will we always be doing it I don’t know but we’re definitely happy to be doing it right now.

UQ: Okay, last question: any final words of wisdom for other DJs and artists who are trying to get ahead in this business?

GT: Well, I always say the same thing: you gotta work hard and be smart in the business but I also think that the key, key, key thing that always helped us was just being original. Don’t try to look at us or anyone else and do what they’re doing and use that as a model for success because you got to do your own thing and you got to do something different. Do something really creative when you’re making music or doing your shows because, otherwise, who cares if you’re doing the same thing as someone else?

Nevermore: The end of the attitude that musicals are crap!

by Johnny K

As the actors of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe dove into the first song of the night, the hushed – yet surprised nonetheless – words “oh no! This is going to be a musical?!” fell out from between my lips. Put bluntly, musicals have just never been my cup of tea. Filled with bad over-acting, endless dancing and hokey tunes that I’d never listen to in any other context, musicals have usually felt somewhat forced and contrived to me. Call me a realist but honestly, when tragedy strikes, who the hell actually sings and dances about it? Nevertheless, since the lighting, costumes, and general ambience had already captured my interest, I figured I should at least give it a chance.

… and thank Poe I did.

Scott Shpeley in Nevermore —The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Photo by Sean McLennan.

What followed over the course of the next two hours was a phantasmagorical foray into the twisted macabre that, apparently, was Edgar Allen Poe’s life. With tragedy on top of cruelness on top of heartbreak on top of misfortune, it’s no wonder his works were as demented as they were. Here, however, it is his real life story (or at least a very exaggerated re-write of it) that is played out for all of us to see, with Poe himself depicted as the kind of madman that he otherwise usually wrote about.

Part musical, part narration, it is obvious that the writing of Nevermore takes its cue from the style and writing of Poe himself – with many direct quotes from the actual works thrown in for good measure. The entire drama unfolds on an extremely basic stage with eight sliding screen doors and a minimalist approach to props and set design; ironically, this made it one of the most captivating visual experiences I’ve seen in a theatre. Through the intricate use of lighting and shadows, all attention becomes focused on the actors, dressed in abstract Gothic clothing that may as well have come directly from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Enormous, wire-framed hoop skirts, knee-high leather boots, angular hats preposterously stretched out in opposing directions – the synergy of all these, along with the haunting music, myriad of sound effects and our very own imaginations – served to create a degree of atmosphere that no static set would ever come close to matching.

The cast of Nevermore —The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Photo by Sean McLennan.

As for the actors, every single one of them brings something fresh, exciting and often just plain odd to this stylized, technically gifted production. With Scott Shpeley in the gloomy title role effectively looking very much like a deer caught in headlights, we get the feeling that Poe is just as much a shocked observer as we are of the disturbing “dream within a dream” that is his life. The other talented cast members, with their own often hilariously exaggerated movements, powerful singing voices, and personal brands of eccentricity, also keep the audience sucked in. As there is very little direct dialogue between the characters here, we follow along through the songs and, especially, through the larger-than-life choreographed miming that is always filling the stage. The effect is such that at times it feels as though we are watching marionettes, rather than actual people, twisting and swinging on stage. Add to all this the songs of Jonathon Christenson – who, by the way, also happens to take credits for writer and director – often building into intense climaxes as choruses of harmonies seamlessly blend together with the action on stage, and you’ve got one hell of a warped, weird and, ultimately, wonderful production.

Perhaps I just might give musicals another chance…

Arts Club’s Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is playing at the Granville Island Stage until February 6th.

Look who’s evil now! Evil Dead: The Musical, rocks!

by Laura Melvin

It’s Evil Dead, the cult-classic Sam Raimi 80s demon-zombie movie… but with singing! Evil Dead: The Musical is a bloody hilarious theatre adaptation of the famous flick brought to us by the lovely people at Ground Zero Theatre, Hit & Myth Productions, and Keystone.

The run down: five college students take a vacation in an abandoned cabin in the woods where they discover a mysterious book in the cellar that just happens to unleash angry spirits that turn people into zombies. The cabin belongs to the professor who found the book in an old castle in Europe with his daughter. The professor is missing and the daughter comes to see him only to find a weird guy with a chainsaw in her father’s cabin. You know, standard horror movie stuff. What’s great about Evil Dead: The Musical are the pointed references to typical horror movie stereotypes. There’s the vulgar party guy, the big-breasted blonde, the book nerd, the strange local, and the random guy who rarely speaks. The hero, of course, is protected by the perfect love he shares with his girlfriend that prevents him from becoming a zombie. And it wouldn’t be a horror movie without that convenient character who just so happens to have the knowledge to banish the zombies for good just in the knick of time. Hurray!

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL VANCOUVER 1

The entire cast does a stand up job in this production: Tyler Rive (hero “Ash”), Jamie Tognazzini (book nerd little sister “Cheryl”), Lynley Hall (hero’s girlfriend “Linda), Kevin Corey (party guy “Scotty”), Cailin Stadnyk (big-breasted “Shelly” and professor’s daughter “Annie”), Guilly Urra (silent guy “Ed”) and Bruce Horak (strange local “Jake”) all manage to sing, dance, and act while smothered in fake blood. Evil Dead: The Musical does a great job of making fun of itself and all the horror-movie stereotypes we know and love. This play is so entertaining it may even reach the cult-status of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But, beware! If you sit in the first few rows you WILL be covered in blood spatter!

Evil Dead: The Musical is playing at the Vogue Theatre until November 14.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed is full of laughs

by Laura Melvin

Moms will completely relate to the “Moms” in Arts Club Theatre Company’s Mom’s the Word: Remixed. For the rest of you who aren’t Moms but have one, Susan Bertoia, Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Barbara Pollard, and Deborah Williams will have you laughing until you cry.

Third in the Mom’s the Word collection, Mom’s the Word: Remixed is an amalgamation of the first two plays, Mom’s the Word and Mom’s the Word 2: Unhinged. When the play was first conceived by the original six Moms, their children were all under six.  But, as their darling sons and daughters entered their teen years, the women found they had a whole new batch of material to entertain audiences with, and Mom’s the Word 2: Unhinged was born.  Mom’s the Word: Remixed takes the best of both plays and divides them into two acts, covering the life-stages from newborn to teenager.

The first act discusses those precious childhood years, complete with the lack of sleep and lack of sex the early years are known to bring. If you have young children of your own, you’ll empathize with the performers’ tales of child rearing.  Even if you don’t, you’ll still recognize the screaming, crying, chasing, bartering and bribing mommy-behaviours you see in grocery stores, malls and parks, everywhere.  You’ll even recognize those behaviours from stories your own mother tells you, like that time you stripped down naked, streaking through The Bay as your mother chased you… Oh come on, everyone has a story like that!  After seeing this play, you may just be a little more sympathetic to women trying to deal with a wailing child in a public place.

The second act illustrates the tumultuous teen years, complete with the sarcastic attitudes and typical-teen behaviour.  It’s an eye-opener to see teenage exploits from the point of view of a mother.  We all have tales from our teen years about staying out all night, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and doing things we would never do now.  We look back at those memories with fondness, evidence of a time when we felt invincible.  But, for many mothers, and parents in general, those memories are filled with tension, worry, and the image of you lying in a ditch somewhere.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed balances its humour with darker stories of hospital visits and police incidents, as well as other issues such as breast cancer and extramarital affairs.  If anything, the play dispels any notion that being a mom is easy, but emphasizes that it is a job worth doing.  After watching Mom’s the Word: Remixed, you’ll definitely feel like giving your mom an enormous “Thank You” cake… or an “Apology” cake, depending on how much of a little brat you were.

Mom’s the Word: Remixed is playing at the Arts Club Theatre until November 7, 2009.

Fun in the dark with Black Comedy

By Bob Pember

The Vancouver Arts Club is kicking off its forty-sixth season with the Peter Shaffer play Black Comedy. Set in the mid-sixties, the play follows a struggling artist as he tries to keep things together in his London apartment, despite being hopelessly clothed in lies and having to cover his tracks in the dark lest he lose the attention of a potential patron and the approval of his fiancée’s father. Anton Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal, set in 1892 and with a similar, farcical approach to marriage, is serving as the curtain warmer to precede Black Comedy. The two shows play well off each other and work together to maintain levity and laughter in the theatre, setting the Arts Club’s season off to a great start.

The Marriage Proposal is a brief story about one farm owner wishing to propose to his neighbour’s daughter, if he could only stop arguing over the property line. A sample of the cast from Black Comedy gets to warm up with this physical and endearing one-act comedy that serves as a preview of the talent in store for the evening. The lead character Ivan (played by Jeff Meadows who later appears as Harold Gorringe in Black Comedy) gets the audience to a laughing start with an expert portrayal of the over-anxious and physically awkward suitor whose frightened attempts to propose to Natalia (played by Sasa Brown, the female lead Clea in Black Comedy) get put aside for an argument over who has the rights to a certain small piece of land. Though quaint and lower brow, The Marriage Proposal is well-acted and a fitting start to the evening.

Black Comedy is led by Charlie Gallant who plays the well-intentioned but sadly dim-witted Brindsley Miller. What makes the play an incredibly unique effort is its use of lighting in the development of the plot. The title acts as a pun, alluding to the unlit set as the characters navigate through the play entirely in the dark. This is where the play becomes cunningly physical and tightly married to the lighting technician; whenever the characters are set in the dark, the audience can see them in plain light. But, whenever a match is lit or a flashlight is found, the house lights are turned off and the audience is subjected to the dark. The play opens with a five minute scene consisting of the lead characters arranging the set without any light in the theatre until “a fuse is blown” and the lights come on in the theatre. Even though the stage is lit, the actors begin stumbling around as if in total darkness in an acting challenge that’s well-met by the veteran Vancouver players.

Any physical comedy runs the risk of being campy and running into “Benny Hill” slapstick territory, but the strength of the acting carries the play and it works seamlessly. The expert lighting creates a rare effect, expanding the capacity of live theatre—a welcome change from another night at the playhouse. Black Comedy brings refreshment for those in the theatre who love to be kept on their toes.

Black Comedy is playing at Arts Club’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until October 11.

Fringe Reviews You Can’t Refuse (Part 4)

By Glen Callender

The 2009 Vancouver Fringe Festival has come to a glorious end, and alas, our intrepid reviewer has been reduced to a gibbering shell of a man. Behold the final four of an epic 26 reviews, listed in the order in which they are listed:

DAS KABARETT

In a tale inspired by the experiences of performer Heidemarie Muller’s grandmother in Serbia during the fall of the Third Reich, a respectable German woman struggles to protect her children and keep her family together as she is repeatedly forced onstage to perform humiliating satires of her own culture for hostile soldiers and militiamen. This bleak historical monologue is well-performed, but weakened by an ill-conceived dramatic gambit—our unfortunate mutter tells much of her story to a mysterious ghost she sees but can not recognize, a conceit that is ultimately too awkward and implausible to carry the weight of exposition that is heaped upon it.

ARE YOU PRIEST ENOUGH?

This entry from Calgary’s Silent Drum Productions is the musical and sometimes amusing story of a young seminary student facing the trials and tribulations of preparing for a life in the priesthood. As this show is by a Catholic and aimed at a Catholic audience, it isn’t nearly as hard on the church as it could have been—but when the sometimes potty-mouthed lead character shows his unmitigated disgust at the church for protecting child-abusing priests, and ultimately decides that he isn’t “priest enough” to live an unnatural life of celibacy, the message is clear. A decent show, but I hope for sharper claws on future efforts.

STRAIGHT FROM THAT SIDE OF TOWN

A weirdy and a goodie, this one-woman show about mourning and healing teaches us to cope with life’s traumas by unleashing our inner id-child. Boasting countless charming moments including a memorably off-the-wall sex scene, Straight From That Side of Town is a refreshingly raw, honest, funny and feral performance by a genuinely eccentric performer—precisely the sort of thing the Fringe needs more of. Encore!

MISTER KINSKI’S CABARET OF BULLSHIT

This one-off, late-night fundraiser show was spontaneously added to the Fringe schedule just a couple of days before it happened, because the Fringe performers—some of whom have been touring the Canadian Fringe circuit for four or five months—were yearning to stage an epic end-of-season blowout. And blow out they did, delighting the packed house with a night of fast-paced, ribald revelry that sent off Fringe ’09 in style.

Some acts performed onstage while others popped up in and around the audience, performing poetry, songs, sketch comedy, snippets of Shakespeare, and a howlingly hilarious combination of stand-up comedy and modern interpretive dance—all illuminated not by the stage and house lights, but by flashlights brought by the audience and performers. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell (actually Red Bastard star Eric Davis) even made an appearance, during which he endured the Seven Plagues as punishment for his government’s pending cuts to arts funding.

Show organizer Jem Rolls (of Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops fame) promised that the Cabaret of Bullshit would be the sort of show that people talk about for years afterward—and verily, it was. 2009 Fringe artists, I genuflect to thee. See you all next year.

Fringe Reviews You Can’t Refuse (Part 3)

By Glen Callender

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:

THE POWER OF IGNORANCE

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)

AFTERLIFE

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)

MURDER, HOPE

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)

BIOGRAPHIES OF THE DEAD AND DYING

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)

THE SEVEN LIVES OF LOUIS RIEL

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)

DANIEL PACKARD’S LIVE GROUP THERAPY SEX SHOW

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)