2018 Vancouver International Fringe Festival
Reviewers John Jane & Christian Steckler

Magical Mystery Detour

Performance Dates September 8,10,11,13,15,16, 2018 at Studio 1398

Performer Gemma Wilcox

Reviewer John Jane

Performance artist Gemma Wilcox in black yoga pants and matching tee shirt almost blended into the black box stage. Wilcox hardly needs anything more than a bare stage for her extremely physical show. In this one-woman act, Wilcox assumes the character of Sandra; probably someone about her own age who has recently split from her boyfriend Charlie.

At the bequest of her recently deceased mother, she heads of to observe the transit of Venus from a vantage point in Lands End, Cornwall. In the absence of a human travelling companion, she takes along her faithful hound solar and her car – a Hillman Imp with a Scottish accent. Wilcox gives a voice to not only her Aunt Iris with an authentic West Country English accent, but also an owl, a tree, a dog, a car and a fly.

After a reluctant start, Sandra’s road trip, although only covering a few hundred miles, rapidly descends into a total misadventure. Wilcox’s aim of course, is to take the audience on the journey with Sandra. Personally, I found it difficult to empathise with Sandra, even if I was dazzled by Wilcox.

Rachel and Zoe: Uncorked and Uncensored

Performance Dates September 8,10,11,13,15,16, 2018 at Performance Works at Waterfront Theatre

Performers Hannah Gibson-Fraser, Jodi Morden & Mark Ferns

Reviewer John Jane

Rachel and Zoe (Hannah Gibson-Fraser and Jodi Morden) are long-time, straight gal-pals who get together to talk about sex, relationships, more sex and the possibility of sex with each other. On this occasion Rachel is busy planning her wedding to Mark, with whom she is having communication issues. Zoe has just cut and run from a bad date. As they recount their sexploits, they are enacted in pretty graphic fashion on stage in flashbacks with the help of Mark Ferns who assumes the roles of both Rachel’s fiancée and Zoe’s former lover.

As the pair guzzle red wine and dance to Tegan and Sara, they bare their souls (and sometimes their bodies) to the audience. The play’s success lies with a compelling script, excellent direction and Gibson-Fraser and Morden’s commitment to the performance. While Mark Ferns will no doubt draw envy from males in the audience, he deserves praise for his application and professional respect for his co-actors. I could easily see this play, with near equal elements of drama and satire, become a full blown theatrical production – though probably with a more original title.

The Cockwhisperer: A Love Story

Performance Dates September 6,8,11,14,15,16, 2018 at False Creek Gym

Performer Colette Kendall

Reviewer John Jane

It takes balls – oops, courage – to stand on a stage and talk about the male sexual organ. She even starts her show brandishing a dildo as if it were some trophy and getting the audience to yell “cock cock cock!” Colette Kendall certainly doesn’t lack the kind of nerve to base her storytelling on a guy’s pecker. However, in Kendall’s one woman show, the “cock” is more symbolic reference than any physical obsession – actually a similitude for masculinity (in both negative and positive aspects). Kendall recounts the narrative as autobiographical, going back to the late seventies when she was a curious pre-teen, then a meddlesome teenager ready to abnegate her virginity to a boy called Noah. Kendall’s conversational style of delivery ranges from frivolous to dark and exposed. There were likely those in the audience that may have felt uncomfortable at times. But when you come to a show titled ‘Cockwhisperer’ presented by a comedienne as authentic as Colette Kendall, you get what you came for.

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bums Rush

Performance Dates September 7,8,9,10,13 & 15, 2018 at Performance Works

Performer Charlie Petch

Reviewer John Jane

Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush essentially pays homage to old-time vaudeville. But first, to accept the show’s premise and for those who can’t be bothered to goggle it, ‘bum’s rush’ roughly means the ejection of someone from a place where their presence is no longer desired. Performance artist Charlie Petch as an androgynous Mel Malarkey presents the last night at her failing theatre group hours before the stage floor is broken up and the house is converted into a cinema.

Wearing a tuxedo and a ridiculous blonde wig, Petch kicks off her show playing a musical saw (a stressed hand saw played with a violin bow) with dubious musicality. At various points in the show she takes up a ukulele and a mouthorgan with about the same degree of mastery. The show relies almost entirely on Petch’s range as a performer, which at times is energetic, wistful and even poignant. She explores more challenging gamut with an odd, rambling imitation of Dietrich, a monotone poetry recitation as “Girta the flirter” and a medicine show routine for an elixir she regularly sips and occasionally guzzles. The show’s appeal is that Petch’s act always seems to be teetering on the brink of failure. Often it’s the small details that draw the most humour. As in her frequent costume changes when she hangs discarded garments on a non-existent coat stand without noticing them fall to the floor.

One can see that Charlie Petch has invested a lot of herself in this work and puts a lot in her performance – perhaps too much! More consideration towards things that are good and could be better and drop things that are merely okay.

How I Learned to Hug

Performance Dates September 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 2018 at Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Performer Jon Bennett

Reviewer Christian Steckler

It is a treat to stumble upon a gem. This presentation was a replacement for another show that was not able to be presented. Notwithstanding the disappointment in not being able to see a promised powerful presentation as planned, it turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events.

This is a multimedia presentation with Jon Bennett front and centre recounting hilariously the early loves of his life. Some of his experiences seem to have stunted his ability to show love in public, but eventually, he meets a person with an enlightening attitude that changes him (so there is a happy ending, as the title suggests).

Bennett is just plain funny, and seems impervious to embarrassment. His no-holds-barred divulging of sexual and emotional experiences, that most people would never share, kept the audience in stitches the entire time. Judging from overheard comments by people in attendance, Bennett’s reputation precedes him. Perhaps that’s why the audience was so large, and the laughter so loud. You should include this show in your Fringe list, for sure.

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

Performance Dates September 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 2018 at Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Performer Josh Languedoc

Reviewer Christian Steckler

This energetic one-man presentation for anyone interested in learning a bit about indigenous stories and story-telling is about a young boy’s attempt to write and present the greatest story ever told about a superhero. He’s a sickly boy, timid and mostly ostracized by his peers. He is visited by his grandfather who, despite the boy’s reluctance, is determined to help him in ways beyond the writing of his story.

The story is presented in a typical First Nations tradition of layers - some legends, some beliefs, and some lessons meant to be learned. We are shown the legend of Raven’s bringing Light to the world, the belief in animal spirit helpers, and the message that we are never alone, so in moments of weakness, we can always find a way to move forward.

Languedoc has fashioned something valuable for people who want to begin to know more about indigenous world views and perspectives and are serious about reconciliation. I recommend this presentation. It’s suited for all ages. I heard one little boy in the audience ask his mother, “Did it really, really happen?’’ His mother wisely said, “Yes, it happened for him. It happened in him. So it happened.” What a fine result!

10 Tips for a Collapsed Uterus

Performance Dates September 6,8,9,11,15,16, 2018 at Studio 16,

Performer Colleen Brow

Reviewer John Jane

Colleen Brow steps across the stage wearing a dated, polyester “newsroom” pant suit and happily confesses that she is not good with “change.” Since her sartorial effort looked like it might have been purchased at Value Village – 20 years ago – we can take her at her word. Of course, Ms. Brow’s fashion sense is all part of her act. Her one-woman, seventy minute, lo-tech multi-media show is an agreeable mix of a TedTalk about surviving middle-age and a self-effacing comedy club routine. It probably shouldn’t be surprising that women outnumber men in the audience by about ten-to-one, since a liberal part of show deals with sex and health issues that women (and men, really) have to overcome on the way to becoming a senior. Actually, men in the audience might have learnt more about such things as Kegel exercises, how to treat a prolapsed uterus and what Gwyneth Paltrow does with a jade egg than they knew before. Brow switches from edgy comedy to a more sobering note, or perhaps it’s intended as a warning to all of us, as she talks about loneliness and aging.

5 Steps to Being German

Performance Dates September 6,8,12,13,14,16, 2018 at Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Performer Paco Erhard

Reviewer John Jane

Despite what the title may suggest, 5 Steps to Being German is more straight forward stand-up comedy club than TedTalk. But as comedian Paco Erhard suggested early in his 75-minute act, “If you insist on getting all five steps, you’re already more German than what’s good for you.” Paco (a name he acquired while living in Spain) has taken a page from Russell Peters’ playbook in terms of poking fun at cultural stereotypes – especially his own Teutonic heritage. He seems to simultaneously satirize and embrace the German reputation for “order and efficiency.” Aside from deliberate excursions into a German accent for comedic effect, Erhard speaks English with a muted Australian accent. There is a lot of accessible humour in his show, but not enough to sustain it for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Small Town Boys

Performance Dates September 6,8,9,13,15,16, 2018 at Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Performer Sean Casey LeClaire

Reviewer John Jane

Sean Casey LeClaire’s story starts in Châteauguay, a blue-collar suburb on Montreal’s south shore, located both on the Châteauguay River and Lac St-Louis in the Summer of 1973 (just about the same time that I first arrived in Montreal as a landed immigrant). The set is a typical black box with café tables and chairs arranged around the stage to represent a tavern. The chairs are empty, but in LeClaire’s fascinating (and sometimes violent) story-telling, each chair is occupied by one of his real life characters. The central characters are boys who grew up and graduated from a high school together with fanciful names like: Big Willy, Triple D and the Shrewster. LeClaire recounts the story in the first-person that assumes the protagonist as a rough diamond by the name of Eddie. The story follows Eddie as a young boy, a teenager and eventually as a man chronicling his dreams, ambitions and the evolving relationships with childhood friends. LeClaire is a master of Canadiana story-telling. His writing is poignant and thought-provoking. He occasionally had to be prompted on the next line, but considering how dense the writing is and that it is the first public performance, it’s a minor distraction.

© 2018 John Jane