VANCOUVER FRINGE FESTIVAL 2013
Fools for Love
Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods
The 29th annual Vancouver Fringe Festival is underway with 90 different shows on Granville Island, at The Cultch, the Firehall, and elsewhere around town. Part of the fun of fringing is the crapshoot quality of the event. You rarely know what you’re going to get but it’s almost bound to include the good, the bad and the ugly.
My first taste of this year’s Fringe featured three very different plots and performance styles with a surprising similarity of theme.
In Bad Connections? Paul Cosentino skillfully plays all nine of his characters, New Yorkers whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. Because the Fringe is about doing more with less, one-person shows are a popular way to tell a story and showcase the performer’s versatility.
Cosentino’s virtuoso work is restrained rather than showy. His characters include a young black woman, an old Italian man and his great-grandson, a middle-aged Jewish woman and her gay yoga instructor. He transitions between characters only by changing his voice, accent and body language.
As impressive as that is, I missed having a set and costumes to look at. Sometimes less is just less. And a lot of the scenes involve one-way phone calls, not the most exciting thing to watch.
The stories concern lives and relationships gone mostly wrong, but with a chance to maybe get them right. Some characters end happily, others not. A guru-like character with South Asian roots provides a frame for the play’s various quests. His spiritual advice to “stop, look and listen” is a path to enlightenment that runs through all three shows I saw.
In Fools for Love, red-nosed clowns Sheshells (Christine Lesiak) and Rocket (Adam Keefe) are friends living in adjacent apartments, each seeking a mate. He’s a guy’s guy obsessed with ninjas. His ideal woman is a Barbie doll he likes to stick down the front of his pants. She’s more refined, seeking a gentlemanly Mr. Darcy to steal her heart.
They look through the personals trying to find their perfect match, but to no avail. So they start going out together–just as friends. They have a surprising amount of fun and find common ground in their movie fantasies. His are always violent, hers romantic, but their tastes start to overlap. (Their movie of choice is Pride and Prejudice 2: Extreme Prejudice – Jane Austen with Uzis.) Eventually, they stop, look and listen long and hard enough to find each other.
It’s a sweet show with some clever moments but the clowning is not especially funny or poignant. Nor is the staging particularly imaginative except for a fabulous sequence using just flashlights and shadow, indicating how good this might have been.
Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods was easily my favourite, though the least theatrical of the three. Kevin Kennedy sits on a chair on a bare stage and tells us his story. He’s had some dramaturgical help from the master of the deceptively simple Fringe tale, TJ Dawe, and it shows.
In most of these storytelling shows the performer theatricalizes the narrative by acting out scenes or voicing different characters. Not Kennedy. An unassuming, ordinary-looking guy, he just sits and talks about his two-week-long solo wilderness hike through Yukon’s remote Wood Buffalo National Park. The details of that hair-raising journey are actually less compelling than the internal journey that led him there and the revelations that resulted from it.
There’s a wry humour to Kennedy’s tale. When he tells his ESL class in Yellowknife of his plan to make the hike alone, with his broken arm in a cast, without a gun, and with only Thoreau’s Walden for company, his Armenian student (one of the few places where Kennedy evokes a character, using a wicked accent) thinks he’s crazy.
Pretty soon we have to agree. He seems completely unprepared for the severe challenges and the danger. He can barely lift his 70-pound pack. He neglects to bring any bug repellent and is nearly eaten alive. He confronts bears and wolves with an insane lack of concern. Only when he comes face to face with an angry ton of bull bison does he get really scared.
But as he reveals how and why he arrived at that point, we begin to understand. An office job in Edmonton made him so crazy he considered driving into the river. Moving to the North made him feel alive again for a time but couldn’t quench “this yearning inside me for something more.”
Dr. Spock’s voice in his head tells him to be rational. But he desires to be fully “awake,” and this crazy, dangerous, naive, romantic journey allows him to stop, look and listen to the world and himself unfiltered by the daily grind. When he howls with the wolves, I want to howl with him.
That’s what good theatre can do for you.
Fools for Love
Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods
Tickets: $12/$10 at vancouverfringe.com