Review: Berlin Waltz (Vancouver Fringe)

I loved Devon More’s preview to her one-woman show, Berlin Waltz, at the Fringe Opening Night, so I decided to see it.

I enjoyed many aspects of this work: the archival film playing in the background (particularly when I saw familiar frames), the xylophone, More’s energy, the sock puppets. Some parts were fascinating, like the conversations with Angelica, a native of the old East Germany, as reported and interpreted by More, who became a bartender when she went to Berlin a few years ago.

More conveys her fascination with the city, but most of the play is essentially a documentary about the Wall, and her bicycle trip along its old path. I’ve been to Berlin a couple times, have read lots about this subject, and was alive when the Wall came down, so not much of the documentary was new to me. On the other hand, speaking to a younger person, she was unaware of much of the history of the Wall, and she did learn from the play, but would have actually preferred a straight documentary rather than this impressionistic version.

Berlin itself as a decadent, dangerous, and intoxicating character is well-known from works like Cabaret, although that long precedes the Wall. More describes her fascination and intoxication with Berlin, which is what I would have liked to hear more about, rather than about the Wall itself.

It isn’t fair, but I couldn’t help but think about what wasn’t mentioned. For example, the Berlin airlifts when the Soviet Union blockaded the city, and David Bowie’s 1987 concert a the Wall. But there’s no way to mention everything about this complex subject. The attempts to link the Wall to contemporary current events were brief and facile; another play might be built with a more careful examination of that subject.

If you haven’t been to Berlin, maybe this play will encourage you to go.

Until September 18, at the Cultch Historic Theatre: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/berlin%20waltz/events

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Review: Space Hippo (Vancouver Fringe)

I love the trend towards shadow puppetry. When combined with actual human actors, as is the case here, I like it all the more.

In Space Hippo, by the Mochinosha & The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company, the charming Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai are narrators, characters, and puppet masters. Yanai speaks only in Japanese, but don’t worry–you’ll understand everything you need to know. I have a soft spot for multilingual theatre. Very few of us live in a monolingual world where we understand everything we hear around us, so it only makes sense that theatre might duplicate that experience.

The premise of the play is, as is par for the Fringe, whimsical and absurd, and I’ll let you learn it when you see it. But let’s assume for now that a hippo has been shot into space, and that the hippo has numerous adventures, and the hippo is highly significant and symbolic vis-a-vis life on earth.

This might be seen as a children’s production, but in fact is is 14+ due to violence.  The play has plenty to keep adults interested. The absurdity and cuteness might be too much for you, but I found it perfect for a Fringe production. Enjoying a 45-minute play that is radically different from any you have seen before is always worthwhile.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/space%20hippo/events

Review: The Ballad of Frank Allen

The Fringe, whatever city you are in, is exactly the place to bring theatre productions that are wacky, zany, and perhaps incomprehensible. If you can make them witty and funny, all the better.

The Ballad of Frank Allen, by Weeping Spoon Productions, features two Australians, and although I have not worked out the equation, I have found that the odds of a production being wacky rise exponentially when the performers originate from the Antipodes. If you have seen “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, or read about Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels, then you might see some parallels to the story of an unfortunately and involuntarily shrunk janitor who now spends his life entangled in the beard of an erratically employed young man who loves to drink. Lots of comedic dialogue, physical comedy, and musical performances enliven the action.

Some plays can start to seem all the same. This will never be the case with The Ballad of Frank Allen. Never will you confuse it with another play. I admit that in the last third or so of the play, I started to lose track of what was happening. There’s a viral video, some science gone wrong, some threats. Pay closer attention than I did.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/the%20ballad%20of%20frank%20allen/events

Review– Widow: A Comedy

Many Fringe productions, understandably hampered by a low budget as well as the need to have an easily packable traveling kit, often skimp on the sets. I noticed immediately that Widow: A Comedy, by Instant Theatre Productions, has a reasonably convincing bar set up, complete with neon sign (Owen’s), and this setup adds significantly to the ambiance of the play.

Have you ever told a really stupid lie, and not known how to get out of it? Have you done anything embarrassingly wrong, and gotten caught? Even if you haven’t, you undoubtedly know someone who has. This play really gets to the inherent awkwardness of human relationships, and how easily they can go wrong.

The play relies on the old standard of a neighborhood bar full of regulars, a watchful and observant owner who doubles as bartender, and an intriguing visit from a stranger. The characters have good chemistry, and you can both cheer for them and wince at the same time.

Describing the plot would be too much of a spoiler, so just see for yourself, at the Havana.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/widow-%20a%20comedy/events

Want a teaser? Watch this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O7jcybcG3U

Review: Nerdf***er (Vancouver Fringe)

Cameryn Moore has a bold reputation as a Fringe artist. Five years ago, she brought Phone Whore to the Vancouver Fringe, and I’m still recovering from that.

Cameryn Moore is bold, large, and seems fearless. The other works I have seen from her, Phone Whore and Slut Revolution, seemed significantly autobiographical, so I was expecting Nerdf***er to be also. In the preview during Fringe opening night, she did an excerpt describing her love for nerdy or geeky boys which had started back in 7th grade, with a boy who enjoyed listening to Rush, reading Ayn Rand, and discussing that God was dead.

But Nerdf***er is not particularly a celebration of nerdy men, nor is it autobiographical in the same sense as Moore’s other works. When the play opens, her character is preparing to be a human chessboard, in anticipation of a game where two world-ranked players will move their pieces on a board painted on to her broad back.

Ultimately, this one-woman show is about how women are crushed both by the outside world and by their acquiescence to disrespectful and abusive behavior. Teenage girls have to give up on chess at the park when players start making crude sexual remarks. Women of a certain size are encouraged to be pathetically grateful for sexual attention, despite the unpleasant strings attached. Women are encouraged to support men who are creating, and doing, and orchestrating, but their abilities and talents are underrated and discarded.

I appreciate that Moore has moved into a vulnerable space with this work, compared to her others. I think women in particular will find it extremely relatable, and I hope others who attend will find it instructional and empathy-inducing.

Yes, there is nudity, so keep in mind the age limits.

At the Fringe until September 17:  https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/nerdfucker/events

Review: Charlatan! (at Vancouver Fringe until Sept. 18)

I heard one audience member say to another: “I’m going to attend this again as many times as I can”. She has the right idea.

This show plays with the idea of cold reading and mediumship. “I sense there’s someone in this room who has …” “I’m getting impressions of …”. Many intelligent, generally skeptical people are hooked by mediums and cold readers who claim to have psychic intuition or a direct connection to the dead. In this performance (it’s not a play), Travis Bernhardt leads the audience through a game. He is just as clever as any performer doing this “for real”, but even though he keeps the audience in on the game he’s playing, it’s still almost easy to start to fall for it. He uses techniques of suggestion and even hypnotism to make us susceptible.

Bernhardt has done many shows at the Fringe that rely on traditional magic techniques. He is also an accordionist (although I’ve never seen magic and accordion in the same show). This show is about neither. It’s a fascinating exploration into the mind of a potential charlatan, and into your own ability to fool yourself and respond to suggestions.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/charlatan!/events

Vancouver Fringe Festival is happening! (Sept. 8-18)

I will be reviewing the plays I’ve seen so far in a short while. But let me just encourage you to start attending.

On September 8, I attended the very fun opening evening where several dozen lucky winners get to provide the audience a 2-minute preview of their shows. The pressure is on to be entertaining, poignant, dynamic, and beautiful. These actors succeeded handily.

My reviews for the shows that I have seen so far:

Now for shows I have not seen ….

It should go without saying that you must see any show featuring Jacques Lalonde. This year, he is doing the clearly original Trump: the Musical! And when he’s not performing, you can see the always affable Jacques running around Fringe venues, wearing a very distinctive wig. Jacques often sells out, so consider booking ahead.

Are you overwhelmed by the choices? That’s understandable. Consider not making any choices at all, except by location. For example, go hang out on Commercial Drive, and decide to hit the plays that work out most conveniently, at The Cultch or Havana or the Portuguese Club. Or head to the Firehall Arts Centre. Or, of course, head to Granville Island for a stunning set of choices. Speaking of the Portuguese Club, Festa! allows you to partake of the club’s excellent food while you are watching the performance. Portuguese buns are delicious, as is the wine, the cheese, the … everything.
See http://portuguesebuns.wixsite.com/festa

You have many, many options. Be sure to peruse them at http://www.vancouverfringe.com/.