Love, death, and S&M: the Fringe has got it all

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

BOM­BAY BLACK This is one of the most har­row­ing, un­set­tling, and mes­mer­iz­ing plays I’ve ever seen. Ten hours af­ter leav­ing the the­atre, I’m still shaken by its uniquely poetic hor­ror, and mar­vel­ling at the com­plex­ity of what ac­claimed play­wright Anosh Irani weaves in Bom­bay Black’s dense 75 min­utes. Padma (Nimet Kanji) and her daugh­ter, Ap­sara (Agam Darshi), live in an apart­ment by the sea where Ap­sara dances for men and Padma is, es­sen­tially, her madam. When the blind Ka­mal (Mu­n­ish Sharma) ar­rives for his ap­point­ment, he up­ends their lives in unimag­in­able ways. The per­for­mances are all stel­lar, but Kanji is un­for­get­table as the di­a­bol­i­cal Padma, who be­longs in the hall of fame of hor­ri­fy­ing fic­tional mothers. At the Vancity Cul­ture Lab at the Cultch on Septem­ber 13 (8:50 p.m.) and 16 (7:05 p.m.) > AN­DREA WARNER

BRAIN MA­CHINE If this show were a Face­book post, it would qual­ify as one of the “click­bait think­pieces” whose on­line prevalence An­drew Bai­ley laments (or maybe just ob­serves) in this mono­logue. That’s not an in­sult: Brain Ma­chine is fas­ci­nat­ing, in­for­ma­tive, per­sonal, and rel­e­vant. Bai­ley sub­tly, skill­fully braids the sto­ries of the In­ter­net’s in­ven­tors with his own ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing vi­ral; both his writ­ing and his de­liv­ery are in­formed by his standup com­edy skills. Ex­am­ple: “I hate things that are noisy and dis­tract­ing, but I moved to Toronto any­way.” Go, learn, laugh, take hope. At Arts Um­brella on Septem­ber 13 (6:15 p.m.), 14 (8 p.m.), 15 (9:45 p.m.), and 17 (6:15 p.m.) > KATH­LEEN OLIVER

YOUR PRINCESS IS IN AN­OTHER CAS­TLE Play­wright-ac­tors Nancy Kenny and Wes Bab­cock have crafted a live-wire satire set in a not-sodis­tant fu­ture wherein all the bees are dead and so­ci­ety’s ob­ses­sion with re­al­ity television has ru­ined the world. Also, half the pop­u­la­tion is just man­nequins. There are so many mo­ments of bril­liance here, and the hi­lar­i­ous di­a­logue is just one fram­able quote af­ter an­other. Kenny is per­fect as Princess Polly, re­al­ity-show fa­mous and a once-prin­ci­pled train wreck, and Bab­cock’s pseudo–prince Charm­ing is de­li­ciously aw­ful at ev­ery turn. The piece tack­les ev­ery­thing from the en­vi­ron­ment and gen­der roles to politics and pop cul­ture, plus count­less other ar­eas, but a sharper fo­cus would make its so­cial com­men­tary even more ef­fec­tive. At Stu­dio 1398 on Septem­ber 14 (8:35 p.m.) and 16 (8:10 p.m.) > AW

FIGMENTALLY This is a won­der­ful and weird lit­tle story about a strug­gling writer whose book seems to come to life as she’s writ­ing it. Even though it’s about a writer, there are re­fresh­ingly few lines of di­a­logue. Per­formed by Drea Lu­sion and Eric Parthum, a pair of real-life chil­dren’s cir­cus arts in­struc­tors who are charm­ing, ex­pres­sive, and funny, this wildly imag­i­na­tive show is based mostly in move­ment, phys­i­cal com­edy, ac­ro­bat­ics, and, of course, cir­cus arts. There’s an in­cred­i­ble se­quence in­volv­ing Lu­sion and a chair, which is gut-bust­ingly funny, but also beau­ti­fully con­veys just how dif­fi­cult the act of sit­ting down to write can be. The au­di­ence wasn’t just spell­bound; we were kids again, daz­zled, de­lighted, and awed. At the Re­vue Stage on Septem­ber 15 (5 p.m.) and 16 (4 p.m.) > AW

MUL­TI­PLE OR­GAN­ISM Here’s a show un­like any­thing you’ve ever seen. Even die-hard fans of Mind of a Snail, whose work is usu­ally fam­ily-friendly, are in for a sur­prise—and a treat. This adults-only show be­gins with a pro­jec­tion of a mouth on a naked fe­male torso whose breasts have been painted with big goo­gly eyes. This char­ac­ter walks us through its daily groom­ing rou­tine, which con­tains sur­prise af­ter hi­lar­i­ous sur­prise. The show’s free­wheel­ing in­ven­tive­ness, tech­ni­cal pre­ci­sion, vis­ual and acous­tic tex­ture, and giddy trans­gres­sive­ness (a toi­let talks, tooth­brushes en­gage in X-rated ac­tiv­i­ties) make it a must-see for any­one who ap­pre­ci­ates artis­tic risk— and wildly orig­i­nal suc­cess. At the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre on Septem­ber 14 (5 p.m.), 15 (10:15 p.m.), 16 (noon), and 17 (4:15 p.m.) > KO

7 WAYS TO DIE: A LOVE STORY Rachel and Irv­ing live across the hall from one an­other. They’re timid in­di­vid­u­als but each seems to like the other, at least a lit­tle bit. How­ever, Rachel has a few other things on her mind, like con­stantly find­ing new ways to try to end her life. This is go­ing to be trig­ger­ing for some peo­ple, but the re­ward is a gently mor­bid love story that’s dif­fi­cult, funny, and a lit­tle weird. Staged in the spirit of a silent film or an old-fash­ioned car­toon, 7 Ways to Die sees play­wrights and per­form­ers Keltie and Alexan­der Forsyth wear large masks that com­pletely ob­scure their faces. In the Forsyths’ bod­ies, Rachel and Irv­ing are vividly hu­man, and beau­ti­fully con­vey the an­guish and hope that bring th­ese two into each other’s worlds. At Stu­dio 16 on Septem­ber 16 (6:30 p.m.) and 17 (3:45 p.m.) > AW

GRACE­LESS GRACE Grace Mon­roe is an 18-year-old who dreams of be­com­ing a fa­mous dancer and get­ting out of Hope, B.C. The only prob­lem is, she re­ally doesn’t have any tal­ent. Natalie Collins’s solo show presents as light­hearted and quirky, but there’s also some cun­ning com­men­tary about the al­leged nar­cis­sism of mil­len­ni­als, whom the me­dia keeps den­i­grat­ing for their so­cial­me­dia ad­dic­tions, empty in­sta-fame goals, and lack of work ethic. Collins is a charm­ing per­former, and the stiff­ness of her limbs per­fectly con­veys Grace’s in­her­ent awk­ward­ness, which makes ev­ery au­di­tion se­quence in par­tic­u­lar a to­tal de­light. As she fi­nally grap­ples with the truth—she’s a ter­ri­ble dancer— Grace lashes out, and this is where Collins truly shines, in the craggy out­rage of ado­les­cent im­pa­tience and crum­bling bravado. At the Wa­ter­front The­atre on Septem­ber 15 (10:25 p.m.) and 17 (7:15 p.m.) > AW

EV­ERY­BODY DIES IN DE­CEM­BER Claire, a third-gen­er­a­tion funeral di­rec­tor, spends most of her time talk­ing to dead bod­ies on her ta­ble: old crushes, strangers, fam­ily friends. Th­ese in­ter­ac­tions are much eas­ier than the mess of liv­ing, and her ex­plicit envy of th­ese corpses and the way in which she pro­fesses her love for each of them are, yes, creepy, but also deeply vul­ner­a­ble. Claire guards her soft, bro­ken self be­hind a hard­ness that is both sur­vival in­stinct and per­for­ma­tive. Play­wright and ac­tor

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Grace­less Grace,

Nancy Kenny is riv­et­ing and the char­ac­ter of Claire is bril­liantly nu­anced. Macabre, funny, and sur­pris­ingly heart­break­ing, Ev­ery­body Dies is both a dark com­edy and a ten­sion-filled emo­tional thriller. At Stu­dio 1398 on Septem­ber 14 (5:10 p.m.), 16 (1:15 p.m.), and 17 (8:30 p.m.) > AW

CHRIS & TRAVIS A power fail­ure that plunged their venue into dark­ness on the open­ing night of the Fringe couldn’t stop Chris Ross and Travis Bern­hardt: they per­formed out­side their venue, lit by au­di­ence mem­bers’ phones. The show, en­tirely im­pro­vised and per­formed in gib­ber­ish, ex­ploits a very por­ous boundary be­tween au­di­ence and per­form­ers; be pre­pared to play along. The per­for­mance I saw had oc­ca­sional mo­ments of comic ge­nius, like a per­fectly paced sketch in which two mourn­ers try to re­trieve their wed­ding rings from the body of a de­ceased friend, but other bits strug­gled to find shape. That’s im­prov: you don’t al­ways hit your groove, but you can have a lot of fun try­ing. At Carousel The­atre on Septem­ber 15 (8 p.m.), 16 (3 p.m.), and 17 (6:45 p.m.) > KO

AIN’T TRUE & UN­CLE FALSE Ken­tucky na­tive Paul Strick­land cranks up the charm me­ter with his wholly orig­i­nal tales of Big Fib Trailer Park, home to his Ain’t True and Un­cle False and a host of other fas­ci­nat­ing and not in the least be­liev­able folk. Most of them work in the town’s pea-punch­ing plant—“where they punch peas un­til they’re black-eyed”. Strick­land cre­ates dis­tinct char­ac­ters with sim­ple shifts in voice and ges­ture, and his sto­ries are packed with de­light­fully ab­surd de­tails: peas canned in plas­tic panty­hose eggs, a snow sculp­ture of a bowl­ing al­ley, a pair of sis­ters con­joined by wish­ful think­ing. The sto­ries (and a couple of songs) are a lov­ing tribute to Strick­land’s grand­fa­ther, whose spirit gives the show its struc­ture (Big Fib evokes both tall tales and the tones of a de­fib­ril­la­tor) and nuggets of down­home wis­dom. This one will tickle your imag­i­na­tion while it warms your heart. En­joy. At Per­for­mance Works on Septem­ber 14 (5 p.m.) and 16 (4:35 p.m.) > KO

CRY-BABY THE MU­SI­CAL When teenage bad boy (with a sen­si­tive side) Wade “Cry-baby” Walker meets sub­ur­ban sweet­heart Al­li­son Vernon-wil­liams, sparks fly and 1950s Bal­ti­more is turned up­side down. Teen angst, ro­mance, and fear­less­ness chal­lenge so­ci­etal prej­u­dice and clas­sism in this hi­lar­i­ous, high­en­ergy mu­si­cal. The show is driven by the sen­sa­tional Vic­tor Hunter, whose char­ac­ter­i­za­tion con­jures shades of Elvis Pres­ley and Johnny Depp; the stand­out per­for­mance of sweet Ka­t­rina Teitz; and a fab­u­lous cast of young tal­ent. This over-the-top satiric mu­si­cal with a sin­cere and time­less mes­sage is a rock­ing good time. At the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre on Septem­ber 13 (6 p.m.), 16 (3:15 p.m.), and 17 (2 and 7:15 p.m.) > VINCE KANASOOT

BONDAGE The shows that sound the kinki­est are of­ten the ones with the most talk­ing, and this pro­duc­tion of Bondage, by play­wright David Henry Hwang, is no ex­cep­tion. In an S & M dun­geon, a fe­male dom­i­na­trix and her male sub­mis­sive client are hav­ing their usual play ses­sion in full, leather­like body­suits, chains, and masks. His fan­tasies cen­tre on the two role-play­ing as mem­bers of dif­fer­ent races, in­ter­ro­gat­ing the sex­ual politics and power struc­tures of, in the first en­counter, a blond, white woman and an Asian man. Even though 2017 feels like the nec­es­sary time to re­visit a ’90s med­i­ta­tion on race, racism, and gen­der, Bondage’s spank is a bit too soft to leave an im­pres­sion. At the Vancity Cul­ture Lab on Septem­ber 14 (9 p.m.), 15 (9:25 p.m.), 16 (3:15 p.m.), and 17 (8 p.m.) > AW

ROLLER COASTER TJ Dawe has built his ca­reer on turn­ing his pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the mo­ment into in­tel­li­gent, funny mono­logues. His lat­est braids to­gether theme parks, religion and the oc­cult, Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, the rea­sons we go to war, and much more. With his rapid-fire de­liv­ery, Dawe can cram in a moun­tain of in­ter­est­ing de­tails, but his ge­nius is to ground the ab­stract in the per­sonal: he jumps up and down ef­fus­ing about jour­nal­ist and cul­tural critic Bar­bara Ehren­re­ich, for ex­am­ple. Imag­in­ing a postapoc­a­lyp­tic fu­ture, he won­ders, “What value would there be in that sit­u­a­tion for an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mo­nolo­gist?” I was hooked for the first two-thirds of Roller Coaster, but my at­ten­tion be­gan to wane. In its cur­rent form, this show may have one or two more threads than it can com­fort­ably hold, but I’d still rec­om­mend it for Dawe’s fans. At the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre on Septem­ber 15 (8:15 p.m.) and 16 (8:45 p.m.) > AW

AC­CEL­ER­A­TION The premise is smart: Elise, a grad stu­dent in bi­ol­ogy, wan­ders into a physics lec­ture and ends up search­ing for the Higgs bo­son, a the­o­ret­i­cal par­ti­cle. What she’s re­ally look­ing for is her miss­ing sis­ter. But play­wright Caro­line Sni­atyn­ski gives us too much of the present-day story (which in­cludes a chip­per un­der­grad and a perky neigh­bour, both foils to Elise’s grief­stricken som­nam­bu­lism) and too lit­tle about the sis­ter’s dis­ap­pear­ance. More of the back story might en­able Les­lie Dos Reme­dios to ex­plore a wider range of feel­ing than the flat numb­ness we see here, es­pe­cially since, un­der Ulla Laid­law’s di­rec­tion, she spends a lot of time mim­ing star­ing at com­puter screens. More life, please. At the Re­vue Stage on Septem­ber 13 (10:15 p.m.), 15 (8:30 p.m.), and 16 (2:15 p.m.). > KO

JUST NOT THAT WOMAN Why did Hil­lary lose? Ali Kennedy Scott strains to use the metaphor of magic: in al­ter­nat­ing scenes, she plays a ma­gi­cian ex­plain­ing her se­crets, and then var­i­ous Amer­i­cans re­act­ing to the elec­tion re­sults. Some of th­ese peo­ple say very en­ter­tain­ing things: “Lib­er­als have this idea that peo­ple want to spend their days read­ing po­lit­i­cal stuff—but they don’t!” But it’s not al­ways clear who they are or who they’re talk­ing to, and their or­der feels ar­bi­trary. Scott’s an en­gag­ing per­former, but the play and its end­less cos­tume changes go on much too long. Stick to Youtube. At the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre on Septem­ber 13 (8:15 p.m.), 15 (6:45 p.m.), and 16 (1:45 p.m.). > KO

AL­MOST A STEPMOM Keara Barnes re­ally did move to Ire­land, fall in love, and al­most be­come a stepmom. She plays all of the roles in her one-woman show with con­fi­dence, smoothly em­body­ing each char­ac­ter’s phys­i­ol­ogy with an arch of the back or a sink­ing of the shoul­ders. But there’s some­thing al­most ex­ploitive about this piece, and in part it’s be­cause the an­tag­o­nist—the mother of Barnes’s al­most-step­daugh­ter—is a cliché. She’s no more nu­anced than an evil Jes­sica Rab­bit with a foul mouth and a drink­ing prob­lem. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to feel an emo­tional con­nec­tion, even when we know we should, be­cause there just aren’t enough lay­ers to grab onto. At Arts Um­brella on Septem­ber 13 (9:45 p.m.), 15 (6:15 p.m.), 16 (8 p.m.), and 17 (9:45 p.m.) > AW

THE AU­DI­ENCE DIES AT THE END Wally, an ac­tor, makes a pact with the devil: he’ll travel and be­come fa­mous, and all he has to do is lure un­sus­pect­ing the­atre au­di­ences to their deaths. Play­wright and ac­tor Blair Moro is a con­fi­dent phys­i­cal co­me­dian, but there are two jar­ringly aw­ful mo­ments that I hope he will con­sider re­vis­it­ing. First, Wally de­scribes In­dia as a “hell hole”, com­plain­ing that “all the chil­dren smelled like a sewer.” Then Moro ac­tu­ally adopts a racist “Asian” ac­cent to play the drug-crazed Un­cle Jack, whom he meets in Bangkok. White peo­ple need to stop do­ing racist ac­cents. At Arts Um­brella on Septem­ber 14 (6:15 p.m.), 15 (8 p.m.), and 16 (9:45 p.m.) > AW

In Natalie Collins plays a de­luded, tal­ent­less dancer.

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