VANCOUVER FRINGE FESTIVAL 2013
Assaulted Fish: Sacred & Profane
An 87-year-old Mississippi bluesman creaks onto the stage, sharing a sly wink with the audience as he “warms up”–a sip from his whisky glass–then slowly sits, picks up his guitar, and in a high voice resonant of the Delta, launches into a steamy version of “Crossroads Blues.”
The next minute he’s morphed into a young white guitar-god, all tongue and attitude, banging off heavy metal chords for his band, Satan’s Orthodontist. Soon we’ll meet four more of Chase Padgett’s alter egos, utterly individualized characters, guitar virtuosos in completely different styles–country, jazz, folk, classical–all very funny and full of musical wisdom.
Fringing is such a hit-and-miss affair, especially if you’re consciously trying for variety. But I’m on a roll: pretty much all hits these last couple of days. And with 6 Guitars I struck gold.
There are still 75 shows to see if I’m going to see every one of them (I’m not). But if 6 Guitars isn’t the best thing at this year’s Fringe, it’s going to take something really special to beat it.
Padgett, a Floridian, performs 6 Guitars solo with only a single guitar and a synthesizer floor unit with multiple pedals that he uses to change the quality, sound and tone of his instrument.
There’s so much to like about this show. Besides being an excellent player and singer Padgett is a terrific actor. Each character sounds at first like a cliche. The country singer: “I got a dog, I got a truck, I got a wife, I got a gun. I am an American.” But each one–the pompous jazzman, the fey folkie–quickly transcends caricature. With precise vocal alterations, subtle shifts of body language and excellent timing, Padgett inhabits these guys.
It’s a generous performance, too. He rarely gets a cheap laugh at the characters’ expense. But when the rocker and bluesman improvise verses based on chats with audience members, the results are a hoot.
The witty, smart writing often takes unexpected turns. In one sequence the folk singer tells us about an uncle who introduced him to folk music when he was a kid. I was sure this monologue was leading to the usual revelation of sexual abuse when it turned instead into an exquisite lament of a very different kind, ending with a beautiful version of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Ultimately, 6 Guitars celebrates the glory of music. Each character takes turns explaining the essence of his own genre and praising the qualities of the others that seem so different but really aren’t. The show ends with a sterling six-in-one rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” an apt metaphor for what good theatre helps us to do. This is very good theatre. Don’t miss it.
Vancouver’s Asian-Canadian sketch comedy group Assaulted Fish scores many more hits than misses with Sacred & Profane, a selection of their skits from the past decade. Diana Bang, Marlene Dong, Kuan Foo and Chris Lam riff hilariously on gender and ethnicity: four Dr. Wongs treating a comatose patient, two gay Chinese guys working on the trans-Canada railroad, Japanese salarymen going through their day with desperate mechanical precision.
Much of their stuff has a political edge, especially a skit in which they discuss how race and gender are encoded in newspaper reports of a mugging. But they’re also happy to skew the pretentious absurdity of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami in an elaborate highbrow sketch that shows off director Laura McLean’s comic chops.
Assaulted Fish do absurdity at least as well as ethnicity. I loved their very funny song about hand sanitizing, a sharp sketch of a kid and her mom presenting show and tell with Mr. Bunny and Mr. Teddy, and a delicious solo turn by diminutive Ms. Bang who shows us how to do Sexy on a Budget. Think tissue-box shoes and garbage-bag dress.
Radio :30, a solo show from Toronto’s Chris Earle, offers a riveting portrait of psychological disintegration inside a recording booth. Earle plays Ron, an actor turned “voice guy” who specializes in radio ads. Ron explains to us the subtleties of voice acting, how “The Ron Thing” is a warm, casual, friendly voice that can make any product appealing. He’s a pragmatist, eager to please the client (“I’ll say anything you want any way you want”) and more than a little smug about the easy life he’s built for himself.
When he’s not talking to us about his life in the studio and outside (where he screwed his best friend’s wife), he’s talking to the disembodied voice of producer Mike (Sam Earle), or doing take after take of the 30-second spot he’s there to record. It’s remarkable how dramatically effective the difference between his amplified and unamplified voice can be.
Earle, himself a veteran voiceover artist, powerfully conveys how easily someone can go from cocky to crushed in this spooky little gem of a play.