Fabulous Fringe: reviews from the Vancouver Fringe Festival

The Wonderheads' The Middle of Everywhere. Photo courtesy of Design Egg.

The Dudes of My Life

SFU alumna Christina Andreola has had many dudes come and go in her life. Most of them thanks to Tinder.

To start off her one-woman show and get the audience involved, she rapped her version of Montell Jordan’s classic “This is How We Do It,” retitled “This is How I Dude It.” Full of personal, sexual, and hilarious stories about her dating life, Andreola covered the highlights of first dates, second dates, awkward breakups, and her family’s involvement in it all.

As Andreola explained, she’s just looking for her dream man and hasn’t found him yet, but she admits that her mom has set the bar pretty high with her list of criteria. According to her mother, Andreola must find a man who is over six feet tall, has a full head of hair, a full wallet, and a dead mother — or, failing that, an ugly mother.

Her Italian family members love to get involved in her dating life, and although at 26 she’s beginning to feel the pressure to settle down, she explained that she’s enjoying the single life because it lets her do fun things, like watch Netflix alone.

While there was a good amount of movement around the stage, some sections felt a bit bland, such as Andreola’s monologue to the audience while she fiddled with the fake flowers on the table. Anyone who has used Tinder or been on a bad first date will relate to this show, and most everyone will find it entertaining.   

The Traveller

A traveller sees. A traveller knows to listen; a traveller knows to share. It matters less whether their stories are believed, but that they continue to exist through the words.

Follow the traveller in this beautiful and poetic monologue of one man’s tale. Witness the performance filled from the beginning to the end with the rhythmical and lonesome sounds of a guitar and a harmonica.

Daniel Morton, fourth year SFU student is the playwright, and Max Kashetsky is the unnamed traveller who gives an account of the journey into Central America, the story behind the reasons, and the answers that were found. Kashetsky, who changes harmonicas like a sniper changing bullets, is a one man show with a one man band.

The Traveller is presented at the Havana Theatre. The space is intimate, the stage shallow and wide. It is the perfect place for such a personal show. Right from the beginning the environment for the piece was set. The design of the space coloured the scenes beautifully and created an atmosphere that carries through for the rest of the performance.

The stage was laid out in three sections: a ladder with some blankets, a chair by a guitar stand, and a piece of wood laid down like a bench. Among them are a number of other objects and materials — some crows, a cage, a skull, a few candles, a book of some sort, and a polaroid camera.

At first these smaller objects seemed out of place, but it soon became clear that the objects fit, and that death and suffering is a part of everything. “Be careful what you look for, you just might find it,” the traveller warns.

The words speak the truth of what this play is about a journey, life, and death. This is a story that will take you on a voyage while bringing the remnants of the traveller’s to you. Amid the darkness and the flickering candlelight, the music begins and a tale is told by the fireside.

The Traveller is directed by Cecilia Davis and is at the Havana until September 20. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the theatre is a small space tucked behind and beneath the Havana Restaurant on Commercial Drive.

A Quiet Place

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to be confined in a place, where there was no outside light, no door, no way to escape, and no other stimulus except that of your own mind? What do you do when the weather is bad outside and you are forced to be content inside? It’s a simple premise, but has more depth than meets the eye.

Written by Brendan Gall, A Quiet Place is directed by SFU Theatre alumna Kaylin Metchie and stars Tosh Sutherland as Henry and Mark Manning as David.

The stage is set in the black room of the Cultch’s Culture Lab. A lenient space, for the most part, though it soon becomes an unforgiving one for the two entrapped characters. David is a big man who finds himself tied to a chair. At first glance he appears to be frightened, perhaps a bit angry, but otherwise normal. Henry, on the other hand, is something of an oddity. It is often hard to understand his motivations, but he is also very innocent at times.

The story is first presented in short bursts of movement, similar to tableaus. As the characters begin interacting, the perspective of the room shapes itself from their shifting proximity and a new space was created.

To say nothing of the play itself, the acting is believable in a way that it is almost uncomfortable. When the relationship of the characters changes, the actors take on the characters’ shifting states and their physicality continues to morph throughout the performance.

Even in witnessing the events unfold, there is no escape. There are moments of laughter; ridiculous moments; moments of tension and suspense; moments of jokes and games, dancing and singing; but mostly moments where it is hard to know what to feel anymore.

It was like watching someone spiral down a hole, seeing them descend, but being unable to prevent them from falling, being unable to save them from the despair that slowly settles in.

A Quiet Place might appear to be quiet on the surface, but it shows us that things are never truly quiet just notice what happens next time you try to fall asleep.

Mrs. Singh and Me

Sometimes showing how much you love someone requires drastic measures — like kidnapping their mother whom you’ve never met. This probably sounds like a crazy idea, but Raj (Munish Sharma) felt it was the only option he had left to convince Mrs. Singh (Nimet Kanji) to let him marry her daughter, Sonia. You see, Raj is Hindu and Sonia is Sikh, and Mrs. Singh can’t imagine her grandchildren growing up without the same Sikh traditions she had.

The play opens with the sounds of heavy breathing and bumping into the wall as if someone was moving a couch up a tricky flight of stairs. Then the stage lights come up and we see Raj stumble through the door with a woman in his arms, her arms and legs tied up and a gag in her mouth. Not the best first impression to give the woman you hope to be your future mother in law.

After sitting her down, taking the bag off her head and the gag out of her mouth — and explaining that she can’t scream — Raj offers Mrs. Singh some chai and cookies. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, “see, I brought chai and cookies; who does that?” As can be expected, Mrs. Singh isn’t having any of it; she slings threats and insults at Raj so fast his head spins. She begs him to explain why she’s in his dumpy apartment, and he tries to break the news to her that he’s in love with her daughter.

Eventually the two find some common ground and have a heart-to-heart, but not before a few hilarious exchanges that left audience members in stitches. Sharma and Kanji had great chemistry and timing, and I hope there is more of this type of show to come from the South Asian Arts Society.

The Middle of Everywhere

From Portland’s mask masters The Wonderheads comes their latest quirky show about an awkward academic, Winston (Emily Windler), and a little girl, Penny (Kate Braidwood). Winston and Penny find themselves waiting at the same bus stop one morning and awkwardly share a small bench. Under the bench is a portable radio that comes on suddenly, startling them.

With huge, full-head masks, the characters rely solely on gesture to tell their story. A voiceover (Louise Watson) described Winston in a way that reminded me of Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction: he’s a fastidious, obsessive character who uses his handkerchief to wipe down the bench and to throw trash in the bin.

Penny is a young girl who has decided to skip school and bring her beloved teddy bear, which her mother told her to throw away, on an adventure. With the magical radio they find, Winston and Penny travel to different places and times and learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way. They even meet a scary-looking creature named Angus (Andrew Phoenix) who becomes Penny’s new friend.

While the scenes were interesting and humorous, I found the lack of a strong narrative a bit distracting as we watched Winston and Penny randomly travel to different dimensions. I also found that the lengthy voiceover at the beginning and end that discussed ideas of our place in the universe didn’t quite fit with the rest of the show. But overall, the static masks that seem to convey dynamic expressions will be enough to hold your attention.

Titus: The Light and Delightful Comedy of Titus Andronicus

For any Shakespeare fan, this show is truly a delight. Shakespeare (Kazz Leskard) has decided that Titus Andronicus is too bloody and tragic for audiences, which is why it’s rarely staged; he decides to reinvent the play as a musical comedy. It doesn’t go quite as planned, however, and almost all of the characters still end up being violated or brutally murdered before the show is over.

This play is as self-aware as you can get. From Titus himself repeatedly coming onstage too early and being scolded by the Bard to characters repeatedly mentioning the token black character and his lack of lines, the jabs just keep coming. Lavinia, the main female in the play, is raped and has her tongue and hands brutally removed. In this new musical version, she still goes through this, but her subservience is questioned and somehow the events are turned into song and dance.

It doesn’t really sound like a good time, and perhaps it wouldn’t be if you’ve never seen Titus or don’t understand the references, but I thoroughly enjoyed this clever spin-off of one of Shakespeare’s much-maligned plays.  

For more information, visit vancouverfringe.com.

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