A half hyena and a deadpan egg: early Fringe hits
> BY KATHLEEN OLIVER
Isaw nine of the dozen shows that are headed to Vancouver from the Victoria Fringe, and I urge you in the strongest possible terms to see the first two reviewed here. If you have kids, or just a healthy inner child, you should also check out Beaver Dreams and The Birdmann: Birdhouse, which have plenty to offer to both kids and adults.
SIX FINE LINES This show is a gift. Mack Gordon reinvents the lyric essay—a literary form that packs a depth charge by juxtaposing fragments of different types of meaning—as an experience of communion. This is all the more poignant given that the play has loneliness and loss at its centre. Gordon’s descriptions are vivid: his friend Sarah has “a smile like a broken-down picket fence”, the highway rushing under her beat-up car is an “animated grey-scale flipbook”, and his writing is equally informed by ideas (Anne Carson, Renata Adler) and ideals (he gradually enumerates new rules for living). In his generous, unpretentious, and intimate performance, Gordon keeps peeling back the skin of his structure to reveal the play’s (and his/our) heart, and its desire to connect and to beat faster. Beautiful. At Carousel Theatre on September 8 (10:45 p.m.), 9 (3 p.m.), 10 (7:45 p.m.), 11 (6 p.m.), 13 (10:45 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 16 (10:30 p.m.), and 17 (4 p.m.)
HYENA SUBPOENA Cat Kidd is a force of nature. Ha, I wrote that first and then read it in the press release for this show. Well, it’s true. We first encounter her smooth, dusky voice singing a verse about being half hyena, then Kidd’s lithe, sinewy body emerges from a tent to prowl about the stage as her words take us from the hyena’s unique biological status, its shapeshifting powers, its hermaphroditism, and its curious laugh to memories of squatting in East Van with anarchists and making secret illegal donations of discarded hotel food. And that’s just the first poem! Kidd holds the audience spellbound for the full hour with the power of her voice and her movement as her tales of African fauna give way to those of other predators, human ones from her youth. Jacky Murda’s excellent music underscores Kidd’s irresistible rhythms. Prepare to be blown away. At Studio 1398 on September 8 (5 p.m.), 10 (8:15 p.m.), 11 (10:15 p.m.), 14 (6:55 p.m.), 15 (8:45 p.m.), and 16 (3 p.m.)
BEAVER DREAMS Fringe shows don’t get any more Canadian than this: it’s bilingual, it’s set on a lake with a cabin, and the stars are our country’s most industrious rodents. Combining animation, interviews, live action, and puppets, Maggie Winston and Mika Laulainen tell the story of a multigenerational battle between beavers and humans at Winston’s family cabin in Quebec. The play manages to be both deeply personal and deeply wacky as the beavers repeatedly rebuild their dam; the range of puppet techniques and physical playfulness never stops surprising. The performers are clearly having a blast, and it’s infectious: this is a family-friendly show (my 10-year-old son loved it) full of fun you can sink your teeth into. At Havana Theatre on September 8 (8 p.m.), 9 (9:30 p.m.), 10 (1 p.m.), 12 (9:30 p.m.), 14 (6 p.m.), 16 (5 p.m.), and 17 (2:15 p.m.)
THE BIRDMANN: BIRDHOUSE Fans of Trent Baumann’s Birdmann will be thrilled to meet his companion, the delightfully deadpan Egg (Sachie Mikawa). When their birdhouse is threatened by the Regurgitator, a nature-killing phenomenon, Egg starts running back and forth across the stage. When Birdmann asks what she’s doing, she replies, “Panicking.” Later, attesting to her vegan status, she says, “I don’t even look at the Milky Way.” The world-saving fun in this show includes music, juggling, and a convention of stuffed toys. Successfully silly for an allages audience. At Railspur Park on September 9 (7:15 p.m.), 10 (4:15 and 7:15 p.m.), 13 (7:15 p.m.), 14 (7:15 p.m.), 15 (7:15 p.m.), 16 (7:15 p.m.), and 17 (3:15 and 7:15 p.m.)
’TWEEN EARTH AND SKY How often do you see a show that could have been done the same way hundreds of years ago? Storyteller Mark Lyon, clad in breeches, a green vest, and a tam-o’-shanter, uses nothing but his words and a simple short cane to weave a captivating spell with his tales of fairy folk and enchantment in Ireland. The stories and Lyon’s delivery are masterfully crafted; I hung on his every word for the full hour. Simple and magical. At Studio 16 on September 8 (10:30 p.m.), 9 (4:30 p.m.), 10 (1 p.m.), 11 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 16 (8:15 p.m.)
INTERSTELLAR ELDER The premise is brilliant: it’s the future, and an agricultural catastrophe (I won’t spoil the hilarious specifics) has rendered Earth uninhabitable, so all the humans are being subjected to “therapeutic hypothermia” and blasted into orbit until the planet recovers. Fringers familiar with SNAFU’S earlier shows will recognize Ingrid Hansen’s Kitt, who’s a couple hundred years old when she’s selected for “early defrost” and given the job of “sleep custodian”. Kitt gradually settles into zero-gravity routines like peeing into a funnel and taking a few puffs of “nutrient spray” for her meals, but she’s bored, and her attempts to amuse herself lead to some witty business, expertly synced to a knockout score. Hansen’s physical precision is impressive, and though the middle stretch doesn’t sustain the energy of the show’s opening moments, in which Hansen plays a robot whose lip movements never quite sync with her computerized voice, the ending is a lovely surprise. At the Waterfront Theatre on September 7 (7 p.m), 13 (5 p.m.), 15 (6:40 p.m.), 16 (12:30 p.m.), and 17 (5:15 p.m.)
LOVELY LADY LUMP “Spoiler alert: I survived!” announces Lana Schwarcz near the top of this comedic account of her experience with breast cancer. Schwarcz uses standup, video projections, and straight-up storytelling to explore both the medical (a biopsy so difficult that the sonographer broke
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The Birdmann: Birdhouse Lovely Lady Lump
a sweat) and cultural contours of her diagnosis: “I hate it when people refer to cancer as a journey,” she says; “I prefer the term ‘hostage experience’.” Her goal in sharing her story is cathartic, celebratory (and she does tend to laugh at her own jokes), and perhaps most importantly, educational. A show that gets laughs and might also save lives. At Studio 1398 on September 7 (6:45 p.m.), 9 (8:30 p.m.), 13 (5 p.m.), 14 (10:20 p.m.), 15 (6:45 p.m.), and 17 (1 p.m.)
THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS Fringe staple Jem Rolls, best-known for his spoken-word poetry, does something different with this show, which tells the story of Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, a key architect of the atomic bomb who was also one of the strongest opponents of its deployment. Rolls fires a lot of facts at us in this recounting of Szilard’s life and discoveries, and many of them are fascinating. (Szilard cured his own cancer by inventing radiation therapy; he once quipped that the Manhattan Project’s best invention was the SECRET stamp.) But Rolls hasn’t adjusted his delivery to suit his material: it’s still shouty and sweaty, and it feels more like a barrage of information than the story of a life. At Carousel Theatre on September 8 (8 p.m.), 9 (5:45 p.m.), 10 (3 p.m.), 11 (10:45 p.m.), 13 (8 p.m.), 14 (6 p.m.), 15 (10:45 p.m.), and 16 (1 p.m.)
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD David Ortolando has the beginning of an idea that will resonate deeply with audiences—about the disorientation and despair of living in a posttruth America—but this solo show struggles to give it coherent theatrical expression. Ortolando spends a long time asking the audience questions before launching into a story, then an interminable stretch of voice-over narration, a dream sequence, and pop songs. Ortolando’s good intentions are palpable, but his execution makes for an agonizingly long hour. At the Revue Stage on September 8 (10:20 p.m.), 9 (4:35 p.m.), 10 (noon), 13 (6:45 p.m.), 14 (8:30 p.m.), and 16 (7:30 p.m.) - Granny’s space suit is a neon-pink ’80s ski suit Hansen nabbed at a Montreal thrift store. (“It’s a sweat machine. I carry electrolyte packets.”) In Edmonton, due to challenging sightlines, she’s added six-inch-platform Moonboots to the ensemble. Much like a smart scientist or interstellar traveller, this artist has learned to modify and adapt on the fly.
FOR HER PART, CAROLINE Sniatynski, the playwright behind Acceleration at this year’s Fringe, came to a healthy artistic compromise with the daunting physics at the heart of her drama. Her work is, after all, set in the Swiss lab where, in 2012, the world’s elite physicists are searching for the elusive Higgs boson particle— a sort of mysterious missing link in quantum physics. One of them is Elise, a scientist whose sister disappeared a year ago, meaning she is caught up in two obsessive searches—one professional and one deeply personal.
“I embarked on the piece without really knowing how I was going to handle that [the physics],” Sniatynski tells the Straight from her Vancouver home, pointing out that she was always fascinated by how science connects with the rest of the world. “It soon became clear that I am not a physicist, but then that actually became an advantage. I had to constantly approach the material as a nonexpert.…the result is that the search for the Higgs boson and questions about science are present and inform the world, but what I was really interested in was the human element.”
Accelerator turned out to be about some very human questions. “What do we know?” Sniatynski asks. “And when we don’t understand something, how can we go forward anyway?
“I’m interested in scale: the world of particle physics is huge, vast, and incomprehensible to a certain extent,” she continues. “The protagonist here, with her sister missing, is sort of the narrowest focus possible—grief and loss. So there’s a world that’s very big and very small. And there’s the idea that size alone doesn’t make things more or less comprehensible.”
Looking at her work alongside all the other plays at the Fringe this year that feature women and scientific themes, Sniatynski notes that the combo couldn’t be more timely.
“Women and science are both under attack right now,” she comments. “It’s interesting how things have become more topical now that I’ve written
Five more Fringe shows that blind you with science
Science and art are often seen as opposites, but they seem to be intermingling like never before at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival.
Experimental cancer treatments, zoology lectures, cryogenically frozen heads: they’re just some of the topics inspiring theatrical outings.
Here are a few of the shows to look for if you have a thing for lab coats, petri dishes, test tubes, and intergalactic travelling.
Savanna Harvey’s play tells the nonlinear story of a scientist diagnosed with the same breast cancer that killed her mother. Finding that traditional treatment has little effect, the scientist launches her own experimental biomedical treatments, as she’s visited by the ghost of her mother in the dark laboratory.
THE INVENTOR OF ALL THINGS U.K. Fringe favourite Jem Rolls is back with the story of Leo Szilard, the Jewish Hungarian physicist who fled Nazi Germany, but not before recognizing the dangers of it developing the atomic bomb. In his inimitable performance poetry, Rolls hails him as a “bloody hero”. The just wrote of the show: “Animated, energetic and flamboyant, this is how history should be taught because I can tell you one thing, no one in that crowd will ever forget the name of Leo Szilard.”
LET ME FREEZE YOUR HEAD Join this provocative sales presentation if you’ve ever considered having your head cryonically frozen so that you can return to life again in the future. The show gets its smarts from its writer and solo performer: Neil Mcarthur, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.
FIELD ZOOLOGY, 101 Shawn O’hara plays hilarious animal-hating field zoologist Brad Gooseberry. His straight-faced but silly “lecture” was voted favourite comedy and runner-up for best new work at the 2016 Victoria Fringe.
GO, NO GO Part of the Advance Theatre program of play readings by women, Natalie Frijia’s work tells the story of the Mercury 13, barrier-breaking pilots who petitioned NASA to be considered as female astronauts. Here’s the twist: reimagines their battles with sexism within a circus setting. The choice isn’t random: NASA once theorized that aerialists, acrobats, and other circus types might best adapt to extreme conditions.
Waterfront Theatre) (September 8 to 11 at the (September 12 at the False Creek Gym) Let Me Freeze Your Head (September 8 to 11 and 13 to 16 at Carousel Theatre) Edmonton Journal (September 8 to 10, 13, 15, and 16 at the Waterfront Theatre) (September 8 to 10, 13, 15, and 16 at the False Creek Gym) Go, No Go