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vancouverplays review

 

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THE NUMBER 14
Axis Theatre
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
Oct. 25-Nov. 18
$37/$32 + sc
www.ticketstonight.ca or 1-877-840-0457

There’s no shortage of Halloween plays in Vancouver this season, from Little Shop of Horrors and Dracula: The Musical? to The Zombie Syndrome and A Tomb with a View. But if you want something scarily talented and frighteningly funny, head down to Granville Island and catch that familiar bus, The Number 14.

Twenty years ago Axis Theatre created this vehicle for a troupe of physically skilled comic actors, imagining what a trip on Vancouver’s legendary east-west bus route might look like from the perspective of the driver. The result might not be what Translink would want you to see, but you’ll laugh until your lungs hurt.

It’s a wild, kaleidoscopic ride, a hybrid of commedia dell’arte and The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live and Cirque du Soleil. One of Vancouver theatre’s great success stories, The Number 14 has traveled the world and garnered a whack of awards, including a New York Drama Desk nomination. Now it’s making a final stop in BC before heading to Ottawa and Montreal on its 20th anniversary tour.

Six actors play 60 characters, from school kids to old folks, the rude and lewd, the inane, the insane, and everything in between. Director Wayne Specht keeps things moving without pause, the actors dancing in through the front door of Pam Johnson’s clever bus set and exiting out the back to Doug Macaulay’s syncopated soundtrack. They re-enter moments later as a different character in a different Nancy Bryant costume and mind-blowing Melody Anderson mask.

The most common character is the Clueless Obnoxious Passenger. There’s the statistics guy who knows everything about everything and the kid wired on sugar (Chris Adams) wearing headphones so he doesn’t realize he’s talking and singing REALLY LOUD. The giggly private school girls (Sarah Rodgers and Morgan Brayton) whose conversations are anything but private (No way!” Way!” “No way!” “Way!”). The jerk that coughs and sneezes into his hand, then wipes it on every surface. The woman who blithely counts out her fare in pennies while the lineup seethes behind her.

The funniest of these is a realtor who changes her clothes on the bus while making a deal on the phone, watched with astonishment by a man in a hilarious pop-eyed mask. Brayton, a comic treat throughout the show, plays the realtor with great physical abandon, at one point hanging upside down in her underwear.           

Excellent solo turns abound. Neil Minor provides the physical highlight in an incredible display of acrobatics as a little old lady flung over the seats by the quick stops and starts of the bus. Stefano Giulianetti takes on a different character and voice with each seat he sits on or pole he touches, playing the bus like an instrument. Scott Walters’ rapper (“I got the information/ from the station/ about the transportation”) manages to incorporate “The wheels on the bus go round and round” into his hip-hop routine.

But it’s ensemble work that really drives this engine: a man and woman who precisely transform their characters by flipping pages of magazine models’ faces in front of their own; a dueling pair of foppish Shakespearean actors (“thou unsexed marmot!”).

In the show’s coup de grace a group of shaky, flatulent old folks off to bingo magically transform into a troupe of out-of-control school kids on a trip to Science World, chaperoned by the world’s worst teacher, a cross-dressed actor on stilts. The kids’ gross-out contest is screamingly funny. Anderson’s remarkably expressive masks should get equal star billing in this routine.

Try not to miss this bus. And take your kids along for the tricks and treats.                                                   

Jerry Wasserman