Regina Fringe Festival Review: The Surprise

SHOW: The Surprise
VENUE: Artesian on 13th (Angus Street and 13th Avenue)
SCHEDULE: 5 July 4:30, 6 July 7:15
RATING: 3.5/5

Martin Dockery’s Spaulding Gray-on-crystal-meth delivery tells the story of a relationship in crisis and the protagonist’s father cross-pollinating another family tree 10,000 miles away. Dockery’s southeast Asian travelogue quite entertaining, and moving at times — especially with an ending that both Hemmingway and O. Henry would love — but it’s only later that there’s not much insight into the human condition — unless you want to take away from a play is how not to conduct yourself when you’re visiting Angkor Wat with a head full of LSD.

Regina Fringe Festival Review: When Harry Met Harry

SHOW: When Harry Met Harry
VENUE: Artesian on 13th (Angus Street and 13th Avenue)
SCHEDULE: 5 July 9 p.m., 6 July 5 p.m.
RATING: 4/5

If you don’t know a Harry in your workplace — anal-retentive, domineering, as sociable as a grumpy skunk — be very afraid. You’re probably Harry. Allan Girod’s one man play examines the lost life of aq mid-level company man at his emotional breaking point — one of those company life training seminars hosted by a Anthony Robbins-wanna-be takes a while to get going, but eventually climaxes in a scene that can best be described as a comedy of horror. If you ever had a rough day at the office, this one-man play won’t be an anecdote but a reminder that you’re not alone.

Fringe Review: Can You Say Saskatchewaaan?

SHOW: Can You Say Saskatchewaaan?
VENUE: Unitarian Centre, College and Angus
SCHEDULE: Monday 5 July 5:15, Tuesday 6 July 7:15
RATING: 0/5
Since the establishment of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1947, fringe theater has been defined as something that is edgy, challenging to the audience, and unconventional. Can You Say Saskatchewan is none of these. And it‘s not any good, either. There are some people who would enjoy having coffee with grumpy old coots at the seniors’ home when the pension cheque comes through, but this one-man show won’t appeal to anyone else, and it’s probably better suited for the Abernethy Dinner Theatre than a fringe festival.

The author, Vincent Murphy, wants to compose a love letter to this province, so he fires up the W.O Mitchell Memorial Saskatchewan Cultural Stereotype Spin-O-Meter. Half senile old farts? Check. Long lectures about the etiquette of driving on gravel roads and correction lines? Check. RIDERRRRSSSSS!!!!!? You guessed it. Bathetic testimonials about life in this province, combined with vaguely-defined xenophobia against not only ‘outsiders’ but also anyone not capable of appreciating this life? As if you had to ask. Jokes that made their last appearance in “Laughter, the Best Medicine,” in the October 1965 edition of the Readers’ Digest? You get the idea.

All in all, the play, much like Saskatchewan boosterism during much of the last half of the 20th century, involved feeling smug, without clearly articulating what you had — if anything — to be smug about.

About eight years ago, I had to get an impacted wisdom tooth removed, and in my naivety, I elected to have local anesthesia rather than be totally knocked out. That hour-and a half that it took the dental surgeon to remove the tooth was the longest moments of my life. Until I sat through this play.

Well, the author may have a future in fringe festivals. I could see this as a cult hit at the Edmonton, Toronto, or Vancouver Fringe Festivals. But the audience wouldn’t be laughing with the performer. They would think it’s either performance art, or they would be laughing at the performer.

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: BURLESQUE UNZIPPED
VENUE: ROYAL SASKATCHEWAN MUSEUM
SCHEDULE:  JULY 4 at 4:45 p.m.; JULY 5 at 7:15 p.m. and JULY 5 at 9:15 p.m.
RATING: 3.5/5

The dictionary has it right, even though the vast majority of people today might not agree. Ask them what burlesque is, as Sharon Nowlan observes in the introduction to her one-woman show Burlesque Unzipped, and they would almost certainly equate it with striptease. But if you consult a dictionary you’ll see that burlesque is actually defined as “a literary or dramatic work that seeks to ridicule by means of grotesque exaggeration or comic imitation.”

Performers identified by Nowlan as operating in the burlesque tradition include Mae West, the balcony-dwelling grumps Statler and Waldorf on The Muppets and Carol Burnett. If you remember Burnett’s old CBS variety show, there was an animated bit at the start where Burnett was depicted as a grubby charwoman. Almost certainly as a nod to the show, that’s how Nowlan first appears on stage, unpacking evening gloves and other swank accessories which she hangs carefully on a dressing screen.

During her performance, Nowlan traces the evolution of burlesque from its orgins in the early days of the Industrial Revolution when a newly urbanized work force sought out entertainment at night to help escape the drudgery of their assembly line jobs through the upheaval of France’s 19th century transformation from a monarchy to a republic to the golden era of vaudeville in the United States.

For most of its history, Nowlan observes, burlesque was an avenue of empowerment for women, enabling them to confront restrictive social, religious and sexual mores. Grounded firmly in working class culture, it also served a means of critiquing the foibles of the moneyed elite and subverting their power.

Realizing the economic potential of burlesque, men slowly began to take over the industry. Once that happened, Nowlan notes, the show became more about displaying female bodies than female wit. That’s when striptease started to take over. That, in turn, attracted the attention of reform-minded puritans in the U.S. and led to burlesque being banned in the late 1930s.

Today, of course, there’s a thriving strip club industry (outside of the odd place like Saskatchewan where restrictive liquor laws render clubs economically unviable). But stripping in no way compares to traditional burlesque, which is apparently enjoying a revival.

Nowlan’s show is evidence of that. Generously laced with humour, including one bit with a lecherous male puppet that was particularly effective, and including several set pieces with costumes, music and dialogue chosen to recreate different eras of burlesque, Nowlan offers an insightful and entertaining overview of the art form. The only real quibble I have is that as a dancer, Nowlan’s technique needs some work. Otherwise, definitely worth seeing.

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: ONE MAN RIOT
VENUE: ST. MARY’S ANGLICAN CHURCH
SCHEDULE:  JULY 3 at 3 p.m.; JULY 4 at 4:30 p.m.; JULY 5 at 7:30 p.m. and JULY 5 at 9:15 p.m.
RATING: 4.5/5

History comes alive in this compelling one-man performance by British poet Jem Rolls.

If you’re over 40, and have generally made an effort to remain informed about news and politics in the world throughout your adult life, you’ll likely recall the key event that Rolls’ narrative hinges on. In 1990, in the waning days of her third term as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher a.k.a. the Iron Lady attempted to implement a poll tax. Part of the Conservative Party platform since the mid-1970s, it revamped the way municipal government was funded, replacing the equivalent of our property tax (which varies according to the value of the property held by a ratepayer) with a per capita flat tax.

Municipal governments in Britain, at the time, were dominated Labour Party supporters. Within the Conservative Party, the poll tax was seen as a way of reining in local government spending. If even the poorest of its citizens were subjected to taxation, the thinking went, municipalities would have no choice but to cut government programs and services to the bone to avoid impoverishing them.

Because of its regressive nature, the poll tax was heavily criticized by social moderates in Britain. Now at this point, you’re probably thinking, who in their right mind would want to go see a play about taxes? Especially since here in Regina we’ve just weathered two major tax hits with the April 30 deadline for filing our federal/provincial income taxes, and the June 30 deadline for paying municipal property taxes.

Well, in his performance, Rolls doesn’t delve too deeply into the nuances of the poll tax. Instead, he recounts a massive demonstration that was held in London on March 30, 1990 to protest the tax. If you’re tempted to dismiss the title of his performance as artistic hyperbole, don’t. Without actually swinging a billy club, or throwing a brick, or mounting a police charge on horseback, or looting a store, Rolls does an amazing job of recreating the riot that occurred that day as tens of thousands of people crossed the River Thames at Westminster Bridge and converged on the British House of Parliament.

Having participated in several previous demonstrations — most notably, a 1987 march against apartheid — that also deteriorated into violence, Rolls evinces a keen understanding of the dynamics of mass protest and the sometimes brutal tactics that police, aided and abetted by corporate media, use to restore/impose order.

With the recent clashes between police and protestors at the G8/20 summit in Toronto still fresh in the news, the performance takes on even greater resonance for audiences here in Canada.

Highly recommended.

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: INFINITY LIVE PRODUCTIONS: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MISS HICCUP
VENUE: ST. MARY’S ANGLICAN CHURCH
SCHEDULE: JULY 3 at 7.30 p.m.; JULY 4 at 9.15 p.m.; JULY 5 at 3.30 p.m.; JULY 6 at 5.15 p.m.
RATING: 3/5

Welcome to the colourful world of your best childhood playacting memories.
Remember when bath time meant an adventure over the high seas?
Or when you talked to your pets and toys as though they were your closest friends? (Or maybe that was just me. Weird). Be prepared to relive those memories through the quirky antics of Miss Hiccup as we follow her through her day.

We watch as her her morning calisthenics are worked up into a flower flopping, berry bouncing frenzy and cleaning her teeth is transformed into a latino inspired dance routine. (Her flamboyant costume would not be out of place at a Brazilian Carnival). A highlight was when Miss Hiccup’s eye ball “popped out” and was used as a ping pong ball with an audience member. Fun stuff!

Miss Hiccup wears shiny, red shoes, but unlike Alice in Wonderland, she doesn’t need to tap them three times to suddenly be in a very different world. Her fantastical, topsy-turvy world is in her breakfast, and leaking roofs, and in going to the washroom and in any other activity that she can, with a lot of imagination and an array of facial expressions and slap stick humour, turn into a world of childlike wonder and play (and several amusing musical digressions).

The performance can seem a little drawn out for the very minimal story line. However if we’re willing, we can walk away from this performance with a renewed appreciation for the power of imagination and the ability of a creative and child-like mind to transform ordinary, daily activities and annoyances into a whacky and wonder- filled world.

Regina Fringe Festival Review: Molly

SHOW: EYE OF THE STORM PRODUCTIONS: MOLLY
VENUE: ST. MARY’S ANGLICAN CHURCH, 15TH AND MONTAGUE
SCHEDULE: July 2 – 8:15 p.m.; July 3 – 9:15 p.m.; July 4 – 2:45 p.m.; July 5 – 5:15 p.m.; July 6 – 7:30 p.m.
RATING: 4/5

Molly Bloom has a filthy mind, and she doesn’t care whether the fourth wall knows it.

Based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, “Molly” adapts the novel’s final chapter, a long punctuation-free monologue running through the mind of Molly Bloom as she drifts off to sleep – or, if you read it closely, gets herself off while her husband snores.

Mancunian Carly Tarett gives Molly as dirty and earthy a reading as possible as she courses through her girlhood memories, compares her husband’s prowess to that of her lover’s (the singer Hugh “Blazes” Boylan), fantasizes about an affair with the young Stephen Daedalus and eventually returns (by a commodious vicus of recirculation) to her primal erotic memory:  the afternoon that her husband Leopold proposed to her, expressed in a “yes”-studded rush of ecstatic language.

As Molly, Tarett’s performance is joyously physical. She twirls, poses and winks as she lays out the contents of her mind, making full use of the small stage and its sparse set. Her interpretation of Molly Bloom downplays the tragic elements of the character – the death of their infant son, the disappointment and weariness in a marriage that has drifted off-course – in favour of the comic and salacious. Tarett mutes Molly’s anger and grief into affectionate irritation and wisftulness, which may have been a good decision for a Fringe performance. “Molly” is really about the joy and erotic power of words, and if you doubt me, wait for the look in Tarett’s eye when she fantasizes about “a man of letters”. It’s like she’s rolling the phrase over her entire body.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of Joyce, you can’t afford to miss this one. You may want to leave the kids at home, though.

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: LOVE AND HATE IN THE POSTMODERN AGE
VENUE: ROYAL SASKATCHEWAN MUSEUM
SCHEDULE:  JULY 3 at 6:30 p.m.; JULY 4 at 9:15 p.m.; JULY 5 at 3:30 p.m. and JULY 5 at 5:15 p.m.
RATING: 3/5

Not quite as sprawling as Tolstoy’s classic 19th century novel War and Peace (which Woody Allen famously parodied in his 1975 film Love and Death), this drama by Bio-Punk Productions out of Ottawa nonetheless does tackle some pretty weighty subjects. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a social evil that isn’t alluded to in one form or another. Domestic violence? Check. School yard bullying? Check. Mass murder? Check. Sexual predation? Check. International terrorism? Check. Torture? Check.

Both actors are in their early twenties. During the 45-minute play, which also includes live musical accompaniement, the male and female characters they play shift back and forth in time. Central to the narrative is a high school shooting carried out by a boy who adopts the on-line handle of Mad Dog. Victimized by bullies at school, he fantasizes about exacting revenge. In an on-line chat room, he’s encouraged by a girl to act on his fantasy and inflict pain and suffering on those who have tormented him.

At another point in the narrative, the girl recalls witnessing her dad hit her mom during a heated argument. At yet another point, as young adults, they reminisce — if that’s the right word — about 9/11. The man recalls being in school that fateful day, at age 12, playing Pokemon with his friends. The woman, meanwhile, recounts being in New York on a visit, and losing a beloved uncle when the Twin Towers collapsed.

As the narrative unfolds, all the personal and societal tragedies that are flagged — again, if that’s the right word — do start to seem excessive. No one can be that unlucky, right? But remember, this drama is set in the postmodern age. Every day, through sensationalist mass media and Hollywood-style entertainment that inevitably favours prurient spectacle over reasoned analysis, we are exposed to a litany of individual and communal horrors that can leave a person feeling depressed/angry/scared/outraged/helpless — you name it.

To cope, some people simply tune it all out. Others perhaps become involved in a cause of some sort and work, on a micro level anyway, to promote change. What of children, though, and young adults? Lacking the wisdom and authority that come with age, they can, I imagine, feel overwhelmed at times when confronting all the challenges that currently face us.

Like a crash course in adolescent angst, this play drives that point home pretty effectively.

   

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: ALAN BRATT: WITH THE POETS
VENUE: THE ARTISIAN
SCHEDULE:  JULY 3 at 9:30 p.m.; JULY 4 at 4:45 p.m.; JULY 5 at 7:15 p.m. and JULY 6 at 9:00 p.m.
RATING: 4/5

With the Poets is a simple concept and one that sounds boring when it’s written down. Regina’s Alan Bratt stands at the front of the venue and performs poems. Don’t get me wrong – it’s nothing like the oratory contests of 5th and 6th graders.  Bratt provides the audience with a menu of poems and asks the audience to request which poem is read next by shouting out the title. The show is pretty much the equivalent of a poetry reading vending machine.

The result: Awsomeness! Bratt is an expert performance reader and is well versed in the topical nature of the poetry he’s reading. He channels the power of written poetry from the page into spoken word flawlessly and clearly understands why writing good poetry is an art.

The show is slower and far less arcade then  more traditional performances, but as an audience member, having the chance to interact and help steer the performance gives this show replay value that other shows struggle to achieve. The audience helps make this performance fun, but that can work negatively so I recommend seeing this with a group. The poetry menu Bratt provides  is varied and covers most significant historical poetry movements from Shakespeare, the Romantics through to the Beats and beyond.

Shows like this are the reason that Fringe Festivals are great. Albeit, if you hate poetry and have no interest in performance poetry then this show  is not for you. Whether you’re an English professor or simply have a vague interest in poetry, Bratt’s powerful performance will leave you shouting out the titles of poems you’ve never heard and smiling at the result. Bring your friends and don’t be shy!

Recommendation:

Bratt performing Allen Gingsberg’s  “A supermarket in Califonia” is one of the best readings I’ve ever seen.

Regina Fringe Festival Review

SHOW: RONIN THEATRE: SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO
VENUE: UNITARIAN CENTRE
SCHEDULE:  JULY 3 at 6:45 p.m.; JULY 4 at 8:45 p.m.; JULY 5 at 3:00 p.m. and JULY 6 at 4:45 p.m.
RATING: 3/5

Sexual Perversity in Chicago follows the sexual dealings and attitudes of two young men and two young women in the late 60’s/early 70’s.

The storyline seems to have been written entirely around the principle that swearing is awesome. The theme appeared to be that in the end all you really have is your friends – at least that’s my guess considering it was stated in the dialogue – was a bit of a letdown considering the high drama the play attempts to portray. Scenes seemed redundant. For example character Bernard Litko (played by Brooklyn Ritchie) was established, re-established and re-re-established as a jocular, womanizing, classic 70’s asshole every 3rd scene. After being totally established in a negative context it’s very difficult to redeem a character, which became a necessity.  Every scene seemed to end suddenly in an attempt to be either profound or comedic which at some points was delightful, but for the most part seemed tired.

So what kept the audience entertained? Performance! The cast was sensational with particular merit to Denise Wong (playing Deborah Soloman) and Randy Burke (playing Danny Shapiro). These actors are great and did a phenomenal job. Brooklyn Ritche (playing Bernard Litko) was entirely convincing, funny and natural. The performance of the play overall was wholly entertaining and delightfully crude in a 70’s sort of way. The stage production was impressive for a fringe production thanks to stage manager Kelsey Ledbury. Kristin Swirles (playing Joan Webber) did a double role as actor/costume designer and was responsible for engraining the setting throughout the play.

Overall this might not be the best play you see at the Regina Fringe festival, but if you’re a fan of great performances this is one play, by Ronin Theatre out of Calgary, that you don’t want to miss.