The Vancouver Fringe Festival in review

Solo shows, comedians, improv, and circus: the Fringe had it all

(Image courtesy of Vancouver Fringe Festival)

By: Tessa Perkins

Scientist Turned Comedian
False Creek Gym

Armed with a PhD in ecology and evolution, Tim Lee infuses his comedy with scientific concepts while applying them to everyday life. Both educational and hilarious, Lee’s dry brand of comedy was refreshing. Using a PowerPoint presentation with graphs, flow charts, and images to illustrate his points, his show is reminiscent of a university lecture, although much more fun. Not all of his material is science-based. There were a couple of interludes of family jokes about his relationship with his wife and kids, but I think the most effective material was that based in scientific concepts such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, inverse relationships, and self-reporting bias. He briefly explained the concepts and then gave creative real life examples. While I think his show was accessible for everyone, it would be especially enjoyable for anyone with an interest in science.

Teaching Shakespeare
Waterfront Theatre

For anyone who enjoys Shakespeare, this play would be a delight. Keir Cutler is a passionate yet frustrated professor who can barely get through one lecture without having an emotional breakdown. He rants about his teaching evaluations, how he could have been a famous actor, and the demise of his marriage. He is contradictory, melodramatic, and has the air of a brilliant genius who can’t help but go off on tangents. We never do get to that scene that he’s supposed to cover in class, but along the way are wonderful explanations of poetic meter, the difference between prose and poetry, and both Shakespeare’s brilliance and flaws. “Remember,” he tells his students, “whatever we don’t like, we don’t understand.” For him, Shakespeare is the centre of the universe and his words are magical. As he pumps his fist to the rhythm of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, he gradually but brilliantly descends into madness.   

Katharine Ferns is in Stitches
Performance Works

Although billed as a comedy show, Katharine Ferns’ personal story of domestic abuse, back pain, and pedophiles isn’t funny material on the surface. Ferns inserts darkly humourous commentary into her story, but most of it made me want to cringe and cry as opposed to laugh out loud. That isn’t to say Ferns isn’t a good comedian — she can find the humour in any situation, but I think this material might be better served in a wry memoir or something of that nature. She told us about her boyfriend, Ninja Mike (yes, that’s what he called himself), who physically abused her and likely raped her after putting roofies in her drinks, what finally put him in jail (pedophilia), and her years of struggling with back pain due to Ninja Mike’s abuse and a botched surgery. I’m not sure if this was a comedy show, but it was definitely a moving personal story that left us with plenty to think about.   

Hip.Bang! Presents Fin
Improv Centre

Comedy duo Tom Hill and Devin Mackenzie have created an improv show about Bridgewood, a fictional town with political rivalries, water shortages, and impending sea monsters. They began the show with Hill handing out Campino candies as Mackenzie sat in the audience and led a protest about unfair treatment of “the people by the door.” Amidst chants of “yes, we campino,” Mackenzie stands up and says, “We’re losing track of the issues” and lists off a bunch of conspiracy theories. Another highlight was their commentary on water usage: one of them explains that the greenness of his grass is a direct reflection of his status in society. Another character waters his driveway. This fast-paced, interactive show was full of laughs and intelligent satire.

Figmentally
Revue Stage

Circus duo Drea Lusion and Eric Parthum created this show to feature the power of writing and imagination. Lusion is a writer who struggles to sit down to write — because her chair seems to be alive and keeps moving whenever she tries to sit down. As she writes, her character comes to life and is controlled by her pen. She rips a page out of the book and folds it as the character crumples to the floor. Their manipulation sequence using the book was very cool, as it seemed to control Lusion, pulling her to and fro. Then came the audience participation segment as they threw imaginary cookies back and forth to us followed by an impressive juggling segment from Parthum. The narrative was finally picked back up by the end as Lusion sat back in her chair and juggling balls fell out of the book.

Pint of Life
Studio 1398

A pint of ice cream, two spoons, and one willing audience member is all Michael Yichao needs to create a musical on the spot. After talking to audience member Shaun and learning all about his life, he used the information to create a musical version of Shaun’s life story. It reminded me of those tourist caricatures on a whole new level. I’m sure it was a very cool experience for Shaun to see his story come to life in song. Along with his guitarist stage left, Yichao sang his heart out, creating a heartwarming love story full of future possibilities. I was skeptical of this show during the ice cream and conversation portion, but the second half made up for that with the clever songs and impressive on-the-spot musical improv.

Executing Justice
Revue Stage

Every so often the death penalty debate comes up in Canada. It was officially abolished in 1976, but many polls show that a majority of Canadians would support its reinstatement. If they saw Bill Pats’ one-man show, I think they would reconsider. Set in 2030, this is the story of Daryl Kane who will be the first person executed in Canada since 1962. With one hour to live, he recounts his life story as an orphaned foster kid who fell on hard times, ended up in jail, developed mental illness while in solitary confinement, and was released with little to no support. When he first addresses us, telling us about how he killed a cop, explaining, “It’s fun to kill someone,” the mood in the room is one of contempt. His paranoia got the better of him one day in a Wal-Mart checkout line, and he ended up killing a police officer with a can of corn. The story is rounded out by hearing from a few other characters including the wife of the murdered cop and a psychiatric prison doctor who offers disturbing statistics about the lack of mental health care in prisons. As Daryl leaves the stage saying, “It’s fun to kill someone, isn’t it?” we’re fully aware of the hypocrisy of killing those who have killed.

Help! I’m American
False Creek Gym

DK Reinemer’s sketch comedy show is not as political as expected, but there are many references to his desire to become a Canadian due to the political climate of his own country. He hints that he’s single, and talks about Canada as being a magical place where everyone gets a unicorn. There was plenty of audience interaction as we were encouraged to yell out things like “ki-yaa” and “yee-haw” during the sketches. Nicole, a reluctant audience member, joined him onstage a few times, and one audience member got a free banana. Reinemer’s sketches were wide-ranging, from a wacky car salesman to the captain of the Titanic, to a divorced karate instructor, to a magician who accidentally ends up stripping at a bachelorette party. The musical sketches such as “Canada’s Got Talent” (he heard the prize this year was citizenship) got the most laughs. Although there could have been a stronger narrative running through the sketches, that didn’t hinder the comic effect of this collection of sketches.