N.O.N.C.E. & Unpossible!

The last weekend of Victoria Fringe is here, along with the last chance to catch 2014’s stellar line-up of performances. Yesterday I caught what turned out to be two of my picks of the Fringe: N.O.N.C.E. by Steve Larkin and Unpossible! by Travis Bernhardt.

NONCE generic show imageN.O.N.C.E. is based on Larkin’s experience as the poet-in-residence at a high-security therapeutic prison. Larken tells a striking, hilarious story while giving insight into complex social issues. Themes include sex and violence, gender and criminality, disturbing norms and dehumanization both within Western prison systems and without. Yet the show is strengthened instead of bogged down by these heavy topics. N.O.N.C.E is an entertaining, relatable, remarkable piece of art. I will be thinking about this show for some time and am confident this will be my favourite show of the festival. Larkin has two remaining performances at the Roxy, find showtimes by clicking here.

Travis 2Unpossible! needs few words. Bernhardt is an extraordinary magician. He has crafted a magic show that will amaze anyone of any age. I can tell you he does both sleight of hand and mind reading, but beyond that the show’s content is a secret. Bernhardt’s last show is today at 1:45pm, but I hope he will be back soon.

This will be my last blog post, but stay tuned for more from Phoenix. Thank you for following along with our interviews and reviews. If you can, I encourage you to take a chance on a show. Artists are the heart of Fringe, putting time, effort and most importantly themselves into their productions. Artists can get good reviews in one town and bad ones in the next. Sell out one festival and loose money the next. Every review and opinion is one among many – so make your own opinion.

I have been honoured to be part of fringe for the third year in a row. Thank you to the artists, volunteers, staff and Intrepid Theatre for all your work!

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The Quitter

stagepicNo one likes being known as a quitter, but is quitting really so bad? This idea is explored by Al LaFrance is his first solo show. His monologue begins where he begins, in his hometown of Alymer, Quebec. He unwinds his story from then until now, marking his life by how he quit again, and again, and again.

Autobiographical monologues are the bread and butter of fringe festivals, and LaFrance bakes good bread. From beginning to end LaFrance was funny and wholehearted, unfolding stories about mini-golf, the Heritage College Donut Club, service job gigs, and fringe festivals. You quickly learn that quitting does not mean failing. Actually in the bigger scheme, it seems LaFrance never gives up.

If you are looking for a good story, I recommend The Quitter. This is LaFrance’s first fringe tour, yet he appears grounded on-stage. He’s travelled across Canada and on his fifth festival. You can even follow Al’s travels on his Fringe blog by clicking here.

The Quitter plays at the Roxy. For showtimes click here.

The Middle of Everywhere

Opening night saw the Metro Studio packed with fringe-goers excited to see WONDERHEADS’ newest production. They were not disappointed. WONDERHEADS’ has reached a new level of finesse in full-masked physical theatre while still using a simple storyline to make profound statements.

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The show features Winston, a man of routine and order about to attend a very important presentation. Suddenly Winston’s day is disrupted by eleven years old Penny. The two are taken on a magical journey to the middle of everywhere, confronting their fears and discovering a world much bigger than themselves.

The Middle of Everywhere is a feat of time, effort and skill. The physical performance coupled with the 160 sound and 60 light cues is phenomenal, especially considering the performers wear sizeable masks that obscure their vision. Those masks each require 50-80 hours to create. To watch the process of making one, click here.

Every time I see a WONDERHEADS Production they invite me to suspend my disbelief and take in their whimsical performance, and I happily do. They crack through the hard shell of rational order and detachment, searching for connection and openness. However, I found this show’s comments on existence and chaos confusing. Also not everyone likes this type of theatre with no dialogue and simple storylines. Yet I hope you will give it a chance – there are few opportunities to see full-mask physical theatre delivered so expertly.

The Middle of Everywhere plays at the Metro Studio. For showtimes click here.

Paleoncology

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An actor constantly wears a dinosaur costume on stage – do you understand their character is actually wearing one? Your loved one is diagnosed with terminal cancer – do you understand they are going to die? Through gentle humour and touching sadness, Paleoncology slowly draws in the audience and helps them understand.

Leaellyn, or Lee for short, is in her early twenties. Her older brother Daniel has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lee supports him while trying to understand who she is without him. She finds comfort in her love of dinosaurs – lots of dinosaurs.

Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s production adeptly brings together disparate topics of family dynamics, personal potential, the loss of a loved one and dinosaurs. Kira Hall’s solo performance as Lee is outstanding, enhanced through the use of puppets, voice recordings and overhead projections. The other characters are largely seen through Lee’s eyes. The parents seem flat and strangely distant, but Daniel takes shape beautifully.

Paleoncology is my favourite show to-date, because it awakens the desire for connection over distances. Not only physical distances, also constructed ones of habitual small talk and fear of vulnerability. Like Lee and many people who tend to be reserved, I have struggled to connect with people I love. I am so thankful to have stepped into this show as it reminded me of the value of being vulnerable and expressing love for others.

Paleoncology plays at the Downtown Activity Centre. For showtimes click here.

The Rise of Basement Boy

There are an outstanding number of good local productions in this year’s Fringe. The Rise of Basement Boy is one of these productions, featuring Phoenix Theatre students and alumni. This light, energetic musical comedy has audiences laughing and toe-tapping.

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Archie Clarkson lives in his basement world of nerd culture, spending his time gaming with his best friend Bart and his grandfather. The world outside holds little interest until one-day the pizza delivery person is the girl of Archie’s dreams, and he has to venture into the real world or lose the game of love.

Considering I work with CFUV 101.9FM you won’t be surprised to know I love music, but musicals are hit and miss for me. Basement Boy is a hit because the lyricism is good, really good. The writing throughout is clever, constantly using an array of gaming references. While people who are into gaming and nerd culture will especially love this show, those who don’t understand the appeal of gaming might also gain some insight.

If you missed my interview with the writer and cast, here it is:

Basement Boy plays at the Downtown Activity Centre. For showtimes click here.

IMPROV CLUB

Dave Morris’ IMPROV CLUB is darkly funny and compelling, leading you into the mind of writer Chuck Palahniuk. A new story is carved every night that resembles Palahniuk’s works, such as Survivor, Choke, Lullaby and Fight Club.

improv_club-160x160Haven’t read Palahniuk? Don’t worry. If you enjoy horror, satire, morbid humour and improv this is the show for you. Enter the American underbelly and the grotesque inner workings of characters who never quite fit into society. Be prepared to laugh then feel uncomfortable by what just made you laugh. The show may take two steps two far but only to reflect Palahniuk’s work.

Morris adeptly mimics the writing styles of Palahniuk while giving the show a humorous twist. The first show was rough, with Morris ill-prepared for certain characters and themes. Also this dark improv structured in media res, so the story starts at a dramatic midpoint, is not easy. In taking on the challenge, Morris shows his talent and willingness to be vulnerable on-stage. I expect the show will only improve as it progresses through this year’s Fringe.

This article was co-written by Aaren Topley & Robyn Spilker. IMPROV CLUB plays at the Victoria Event Centre. For showtimes click here. 

Saudade

While there is no universal teenage girl experience, Saudade captures many themes I remember from my teens. Stuck in suburbia and highschool while poking fun at these absurd structures. Trapped in your body and emotions while wielding them for your own expressive purposes. In an up-close and energetic solo performance, Caitlin McCarthy of Vancouver-based company Theatre Plexus makes her debut at Victoria Fringe.

This coming of age story follows Erica through her last year of highschool. She wants to do the right thing, but what she wants more is to matter. By year’s end she finds her latent potential, but it is not what she expected.

The storyline works, but what I enjoyed more was McCarthy’s performance and writing. The detailed description of the contents of Mr. Nelson’s desk. The characterization of each teacher. The way cheesy, emotional music samples are used. The attempts to explain the absurd and inexplicable. If you are intrigued, be sure to see this show.

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Saudade plays at VCM Wood Hall. For showtimes click here.