Vancouver Fringe Festival Reviews (2018 Edition)

Posted by 
Natalie North and Nav Nagra

Welcome to Room magazine's coverage of the 2018 Vancouver Fringe Festival! We will be posting reviews of shows all week, so check back regularly. The Fringe runs until September 16, 2018, and we encourage you to go check out a play (or maybe twenty). Reviews are in alphabetical order, so scroll down!

Hysteria

As a woman who knows other women, it’s hard not to identify with any of the five women or the stories they tell in Hysteria. Riffing on dating apps, AI and the proliferation of social media in our daily lives, Hysteria aims to shift the #MeToo conversation from screen to stage while asking what happens next. The cast—Kimberly Ho, Lauren Martin, Ariel Martz-Oberlander, Jill Raymond and Isa Sanchez—under the direction of Eleanor Felton, succeeded with style. In what felt like one of the fastest-moving hours of Fringe theatre ever recorded, the cast kept the energy high and the laughs coming, between moments of vulnerability. Hysteria manages to strike the balance between humour and heart needed to accept choreographed dance moves alongside multiple disclosures of sexual assault and then somehow sews it all together within a clever storyline. When it was through, most of the audience was quick to rise for a standing ovation and slow to leave the theatre. If they’re like me, they probably felt like they needed a bit of a cry, or maybe just an anguished cry to the heavens. By the end of Hysteria, the careful groundwork laid through its crafty songs and small doses of powerful honesty culminated in my feeling—a lot of feelings in every direction. This wasn’t an outcome I was expecting, but my gracious hosts were. Before we entered their world of near-future consent apps and re-envisioned Disney songs, we were introduced to a counsellor in the audience, there to provide us with support if needed. Fringe shows are like little children, each filled with potential, impossible to choose a favourite. This year I decided the Hysteria was my favourite kid. 

—Natalie North

clown holding a sex toyIs That How Clowns Have Sex? A One Woman Queer Clown Sex-Ed Show

Calling all Sexperts-in-training! This show is for you. Montreal-based Maximaliste Productions brings Beatrice Haven (played by Fiona Ross) to Vancouver to give us all the sex education we all should have received years ago.

Beatrice greets her students as they come through the door at Your Open Closet. She asks that each individual write down a sex-ed related question that will be addressed during the show and they really are answered! Both educational and incredibly entertaining, Is That How Clowns Have Sex brings together basic sex-ed and adds in what should have been learned. Beatrice interacts with her students as she guides and informs about all things sex. Using inclusive language, Beatrice leaves no one on the sidelines and manages to keep a light, fun tone throughout the show while discussing things that are usually whispered about like dental dams and STIs. Not only is this show thoughtful and silly (at the same time), the advice given is truly valuable. I think everyone should take an hour and go see this show—you (and your partner) will be glad you did!

—Nav Nagra

Jan & Peg's Ritual Sacrifice

Imagine that you’ve been invited to a Supperware party only to find out that things might be a bit more sinister than you had expected. Enter the quirkiness of Jan & Peg’s Ritual Sacrifice from Calgary playwrights Valour & Tea. Set in Michigan with accents to match, Jan & Peg charm the audience by making them feel comfortable as soon as they take a seat in the theatre. Offering cute cups of Chicago-style popcorn, Jan & Peg walk gracefully and cordially through the crowd setting the tone for what will be an interactive and funny show.

Pairing the occult with the traditions of a cult, Jan & Peg consider how to get into the good graces of the one and only Dark Lord. How best to do this? With a ritualistic sacrifice of course! Being the gracious hosts, they are, Jan & Peg chat with their audience to decide who best to sacrifice before the night is out. What is at once a dinner party meets Supperware party soon becomes a game show to determine which of their “chosen” audience members will be the one most suitable to sacrifice. While I won’t spoil the ending, I can guarantee this show will charm you with its weirdness. Bring a friend (or two) to Jan & Peg’s Ritual Sacrifice so you don’t end up as the chosen one!

—Nav Nagra

woman holding a glass of bloodLife, Blood, Water

Life, Blood, Water is pitched as “an unconventional offering” to the conversation pregnancy loss amid pro-life/pro-choice debates. Playwrights Levana Irena Prud’homme and Clay Nikiforuk deliver on their promise. Through thirty-minutes of monologue and dance, they begin a new, or at least far from mainstream, discussion on an age-old, polarizing debate. Our guide into the conversation is someone who, after attempts at navigating B.C.’s public health-care system, set out on a journey to learn more about intentional pregnancy loss and became a doula along the way. Unconventional indeed. This show feels incredibly honest and true to the playwrights’ unique experiences. Some of us will appreciate meditating on family planning and alternative medicine to dance more than others—and for those people, this is a piece for you.

—Natalie North

Lip ServiceLip Service

I have to admit something: I went to this show without reading a thing about it and I’m so glad I did! Lip Service is an absolute delight. Ashley Whitehead and Natalie Tin Yin Gan are both extremely talented and funny women who pack a lot of punch into the show. The choreographed dance numbers and puny anatomy lessons are wonderful to watch. Whitehead and Tin Yin Gan are both great physical actors who have their timing down and their dedication to the show is so very clear.

While Lip Service has songs, dance and comedy it also tells the true trials of the traditional female sex. Pap smears, bad sex and those who don’t understand what they’re dealing with a just a few topics dealt with. Lip Service isn’t preachy though nor does it feel overly crass. Whitehead and Tin Yin Gan maybe dressed as the traditional female sex, but you almost forget simply because of how damn entertaining these two actors are. I hope Lip Service makes it to the best of Fringe because I believe that if you haven’t seen it yet, you just must!

—Nav Nagra

Woman holding a beakerNo Belles

American company Portal Theatre comes to the Fringe with No Belles, an hour-long telling of the women of science throughout history who have often been overlooked. To date, there have only been seventeen women who have won Nobel Prizes in Science and this show goes through the lives of a few of these women to give them their long-awaited due. While the subject matter of No Belles is something that I am incredibly interested in and passionate about, I have to say, I was not as excited about this show as I wanted to be.

No Belles was very minimalistic on stage which can be a really amazing thing but there was so much telling instead of showing that I found it hard to stay engaged. The stories told throughout the show deserved much more than sock puppets, photographs and the melodramatic tone that held throughout the hour. No Belles had so much potential but often came off as nothing more than an afterschool special in which your hand was held by your guidance counsellor the whole time. Like I said, I really wanted to like this show. Amazing women in history simply do not get the air time they deserve but I feel like No Belles fell a little flat. I will say that the show did get a standing ovation, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and maybe I just wasn’t the right audience.

—Nav Nagra

Rachel and Zoe: Uncorked and Uncensored

The title doesn’t lie. Rachel and Zoe uncork the wine and deliver an uncensored discussion on sex, love, relationship goals, and the men they meet in search of all three. As Rachel’s wedding nears, the two best friends, played by co-writers Hannah Gibson-Fraser and Jodi Morden, spend an evening in Rachel’s living room revisiting defining moments in their relationships to uncover what it is they desire out of their next ones. Hats (and everything else) off to Mark Ferns who managed to play three different lovers and at least as many sexual positions along the way. Throughout it all, Gibson-Fraser and Morden show a level of comfort and chemistry that comes off as incredibly genuine, often to the delight of the audience, complete with endearing dance moves a well-timed quips. The stickier (in all senses) situations with Ferns are also executed with ease. In between are the moments when awkward dialogue and a meandering storyline reveal themselves, perhaps mirroring how wine-drunk women actually hash out their relationship woes on a best friend’s couch. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Like a fine wine or on-stage oral, it all comes down to personal taste.

—Natalie North

Ruby Rocket Returns!

As the program goes, Ruby Rocket is an intoxicating, intoxicated private eye, who always gets her man. It’s true. It’s also true that with her rotating cast of fantastic local improvisers, impressive longform improv skills and pure charm, the performer behind Ruby, Stacey Hallal, could give audiences any number of characters and they would happily go along with each. Amid a rich film noir aesthetic of multimedia imagery and live keyboard music, Hallal creates a mystery to solve before our eyes, without making it look like work. She keeps (just enough) control of her storylines while giving guest improvisers the room to create their own—and to share a piece of the spotlight. Not literally, of course, as that’s where a trenchcoat and booze-laden Ruby likes to deliver the monologues that ensure her fast-moving, goofball mystery doesn’t fly off the rails. Without a doubt, Ruby Rocket Returns! is a well-crafted hour of fun. The only question left to answer: when will Portland-based Hallal come back to play?

—Natalie North

The F Words

Fat, forty, fugly, and forgotten: far from the best descriptors for a performer sharing her unfiltered truth and enviable word power, but ones Yvette Dudley-Neuman claims for herself in The F Words. Dudley-Neuman’s (mostly) true tale of bullying, sex, and her nana’s advice is just the ticket for anyone seeking a coming-of-middle-age tale to an adult singalong song soundtrack. If confessional one-person shows that may feel a bit ambitious or fresh from the mind of a performer aren’t for you, then a) why are you at the Fringe? and b) the songs alone may be enough to let Dudley-Neuman into your heart. By the end of the 75-minute show, I was left feeling like The F Words fell a little short of its potential, but only because Dudley-Neuman has so much of it. Her honesty, vulnerability and angel’s voice are gifts, the kind that only grow more valuable with time.

—Natalie North

Virginia Jack

Even if you don’t know anything about improv, you probably know that the genre, more than others, is so critically dependent on audience engagement. As one of the few, low-energy audience members at this particular Virginia Jack performance, I take equal responsibility for the show’s lack of a certain je ne sais quoi. On another night, I’m confident these two could hit it out of the park, but unfortunately when I saw them, there really wasn’t enough of us at the ballpark to so much as witness it if they had. What went well: Virginia Jack has a very distinct style that sets them apart from other improvisors. Both performers swap roles regularly, an initially-jarring move that allows the duo to make more complex characters and inject a little playful tension into their scenes. They take risks. They make choices that I didn’t see coming. What else? The fire alarm went off in the final minutes of the show I attended. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one relieved to make it to the end, including the performers who deserve a fresher group of people holding up their end of the deal in the performer-audience relationship.

—Natalie North

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