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Victoria Fringe Festival: Reviewed by Chris Cook

Check out some of these reviews by CFUV’s own Chris Cook, host of Gorilla Radio to see what happened at this 12-day celebration of live performance from around the world.

After the Beep

Review by: Chris Cook

after the beep

Pamela Bethel

In Association with Theatre SKAM – Victoria

Ever wonder what transpired on those princess phones; you know, the “teen” lines put in the family home by parents weary of fighting for horn time? Well, you’ll have to remember a time before the ubiquity of cell phones, (are they still called that?) and a time when the ardor of youth coloured life, and a lot of those princess handsets, pink. Multi, (sometimes) Inter-disciplinarian artist, Pamela Bethel didn’t have to remember; in fact she had determinedly forgotten much of her teen years spent on the telephone, until a move of house revealed a cardboard ark of juvenile treasure in the form of answering machine tapes – from another time!

The “beep” in Bethel’s title is that time we all share, teenhood, the between times of leavings and becomings, confusion, excitement, missteps and discovery. But, just as a tape recording belies much of the intended message, there’s much more going on behind the pop and bubble of youthful exuberance in After the Beep, (though there’s plenty of that too). It’s also the baring of a deep-seeded pain; a revelation of the, if not bitter then profound, disappointment of a child abandoned by parents too busy getting by, or just getting away, to spare much time nurturing the emotional needs of an only, lonely child.

Bethel presented After the Beep at this past year’s Uno Fest, toured Britain with Theatre SKAM’s ‘Fashion Machine’ and penned and directed the micro plays: ‘Community Outreach,’ ‘Giving Back,’ and ‘Cornelius & Titania or A Tragedy of the Commons (A Comedy)’ for the Belfry’s Sparks Festival.

After the Beep plays the Downtown Community Centre (755 Pandora) through September 3rd.

Mentor Me Through This Wonderland

Review by: Chris Cook

Mentor-Me-Through-This-Wonderland-1008

Janet Banks-Lorne Hiro

Hiroic Productions – Toronto

Those familiar with the venerable ROM, (Royal Ontario Museum to out-of-towners) will appreciate better than the uninitiated the awe-stricken reverence with which protagonist, Janet Banks enters her new position as Security Administrator at the veritable cultural heart of Hogtown. But, there’s something askew beneath the foundation of the stone and glass edifice, and behind the facades of the characters inhabiting it. It’s a tremulous labour/management balancing act, upset both by the arrival of our Ms. Banks and escape of an absent-minded professor’s tarantula. It’s Marxism, a la Groucho and ‘A Day at the Races’ or ‘A Night at the Opera’, but somehow pies need find a pompous face to land in for laughs, and the working stiff doesn’t quite fit that bill.

Banks has written several imaginative works, performed at Toronto’s Fringe, (and boasts mentoring at the knee of Canadian stage and literary icon, Timothy Findley) but Mentor Me is adapted directly from the playwright’s own life, (or more properly, “based on” events of it). Naturally, she’s taken liberties in the retelling, and I wondered if her labour union villains might not interpret events differently. But, it is billed as comedy/drama, so it would be a waste of the broadly comic characterizations to question her fair and balanced retelling; but it does make for some unevenness in the plot. The play strains to bust out in an ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ Chaaaarge!!! up the main staircase, but falls back, reined in perhaps by its “based on actual events” disclaimer.

The large troupe, six strong and playing more than twice as many roles, is ably led by Fiona Haque’s Janet, and co-creator Lorne Hiro as both her mentoring boss and the moustache-twisting union screw, determined to undermine her and management’s control of the museum’s dysfunctional security guard army.

Mentor Me Through This Wonderland plays The Roxy through September 3rd.

The Birdmann & Egg: BIRDHOUSE

Review by: Chris Cook

birdman and the egg

Trent Baumann/Satchie Makawa

Downunderground – Australia/Japan

“The Regurgitator is coming! And, it’s eating nature and turning everything into concrete.” Thus begins this year’s Fringe offering from perennial festival favourite, Trent Baumann, aka The Birdmann. Unlike last year’s, ‘I Forgot to Fly Today’ and 2015′s, ‘Momentus Timing,’ ‘The Birdmann and Egg: BIRDHOUSE’ is a two-hander, featuring Baumann’s accomplished partner in clowning, (and life) Satchie Makawa as Egg. It differs too from those past shows in its more narrative presentation. I say “more” because it’s still Theatre of the Absurd, retaining the corny one-liners delivered in Baumann’s masterful deadpan. “Non” or “anti-motivational” describes well his non sequiturs filled nevertheless with no-nonsense comic poignancy.

This year’s production premiers at the Fringe, and I imagine it will find its flight path smooths flying from stage to stage. It seems a change of course for Baumann, not only for the differences with previous work mentioned, but also in its message. (Yes, there is method to this madness.) Where, ‘I Forgot to Fly Today’ implored in its understated way we maintain our humanity amidst the mad spinning of our Planet of Apes, ‘The Birdmann & Egg’ watch a World disappearing and ask, “How can we stop the Regurgitator from eating nature and turning everything into concrete, and house everybody?” And more importantly, “What if fun can’t save the World?”

Maybe fun can’t save the World. Maybe it never could, but ‘The Birdmann & Egg’ has fun trying to get out a serious message, and reminds, “What’s this World, but a place to call home.”

‘The Birdmann & Egg: BIRDHOUSE’ plays at Fairfield Hall (1303 Fairfield Rd.) through September 3rd.

Gruff

Review By: Chris Cook

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Mercedes Bátiz-Benét, Judd Palmer, and Brooke Maxwell

Puente Theatre – Victoria

Though billed as “suitable for 5 years and up,” Puente Theatre’s own site includes a grown-up subtitle missing from the Victoria Fringe Festival program; to wit, “A Bolshevik puppet musical for families about what happens when the grass really is greener on the other side.”

Most over 5 will be familiar with the parable on greed starring Billy Goat Gruff, his by-degree scrawny kin, and the troll beneath the bridge. This isn’t exactly that story. But, the allegory remains, if told through the jaded lens of trickle-down goatonomics.

Pat Rundell soars as the goat who succeeded, playing the king of the pasture with the worthy diabolism a New York City real estate developer would envy, while Jana Morrison’s down in the hoof goat from the wrong side of the ravine earns her oats, and a fresh from playing The Bard’s doomed MacBeth, Trevor Hinton has enough wickedness left over to scare the bejesus out of the kids in the front row with his rendition of the lonesome troll.

Puente is really working without a net with Gruff; playing an outdoor venue, in a public space, beneath the sea planes, and before an audience of super-sucrosed kids, (and a dog or two). But it all works to delight the all-ages audience. Brook Maxwell’s (Ride the Cyclone) songs steal the show – no mean feat, considering Judd Palmer’s terrific puppets and the spot-on cast.

Gruff plays Bamfield Park (behind Vic West Community Centre) through September 3rd.

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