CFUV @ Fringe: Sid the Handsome Bum (A Review)

Written by on 09/05/2015

Sid the Handsome Bum
 is a sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of a variety of personalities who inhabit the DTES, all rolled into one.  It’s written by Ira Cooper who mentioned, while promoting the show in another Fringe lineup, that he invested considerable time in the DTES talking to some of the characters there.  He said he listened carefully and wanted us to know that his motive is to help tell their stories, not to exploit them.  Sid is beautifully portrayed by actor Joanna Rannelli.  Ira and Jo are members of Vancouver’s Spec Theatre (
Sid invites us to look at shopping carts, and the people who call them home, in a whole new way.  In fact, it’s difficult to look at a shopping cart the same way again after meeting Sid, and the various characters who contribute to his DID – Disassociative Identity Disorder.  Despite his multiple personalities, at one point Sid describes himself as a nobody.  “I’m no-one.”  Is it surprising to think that this is how a homeless person might feel?
Reflecting on the situation he finds himself in, accidentally on stage perceived as an opening act, Sid reflects on the traditional purpose of theatre – to reflect society back to itself. Sid tells us about the impacts of closing the institution known as Riverview and essentially being thrown to the streets – relocated to the DTES.  Regardless of how you feel about institutions, Sid’s loss of a place to go, with people to talk to, raises a lot of questions about what happened there.  It’s a piece of history people ought to know whenever the conversation of “what shall we do with the homeless” arises.
We’re also encouraged to think about the Pickton catastrophe in a new light. Why did the authorities ignore the now infamous pig farm for well over a decade?  Homeless people are often highly suspicious, often rightly so.  Sid’s suggestion that Pickton was working for the government because, as he put it, “they can’t kill prostitutes,” and “it’s easier to gentrify without those people around” may suggest a level of cruelty we don’t want to believe is possible, but Sid invites us to imagine the sort of thoughts that circulate in the brain of someone who’s been thrown out, dismissed, ignored, abandoned.  And perhaps begin to ask our own questions about those missing and murdered indigenous woman, and all the others whose stories continue to be ignored by otherwise powerful and influential people.
The play’s not all heavy doom and gloom, though.  Sid is a complex series of characters, each of which emerge at various times throughout the play to introduce themselves and share a view of the world from their own perspective.  They sing, they dance, they laugh and cry, they’re angry, happy, and not all of them agree with allowing Sid to be the dominant personality!
Sid offers us a glimpse into a world that scares us so much we prefer to ignore it, hoping someone else will take care of it and make it go away.  He reminds us we’re all closer to it than we might like, (this is probably what makes it so scary), at the same time the efficient use of his shopping cart in which he carries all the necessaries of life, is somehow alluring.  Sid’s life is simple.
Sid lives among us though he’s often invisible, shuffling from place to place in an attempt, as Sid explains, to “stay awake through another wet day in the city of perpetual unlove.” He’s got a ready escape route, into his own mind, whenever he needs it.  He wants us to know he and all his friends, inside and out, do normal things too.  They like picnics and parties, they love to fall in love, share jokes, hold hands.
Hold someone’s hand and take it to see Sid: The Handsome Bum this Saturday September 5th at 5 pm at Venue 5 – St. Andrew’s School, 1002 Pandora.
Review by Janine Bandcroft – Host of Winds of Change (Thursdays 11:00am-12:00pm bi-weekly)

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