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vancouverplays review


By Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson
Performance Works

By Martin Dockery
Waterfront Theatre

By Hannah Moscovitch
The Cultch

Sept. 4-14
$14 at

The Vancouver Fringe Festival marks the opening of the fall theatre season as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year--a long time in a city so short-sighted about its own history. At more than 80 shows a year, that adds up to a lot of good, bad, indifferent, experimental, insipid and inspired theatre. Centred on Granville Island but with shows also at The Cultch, the Firehall, the Havana, Studio 16 and a dozen other venues around town, the Fringe has a lot of Vancouver abuzz with fall performance fever.

A non-juried, first-come-first-served festival, the Fringe mixes seasoned professionals and green wannabes in almost equal measure. At the tail end of months of fringes working their way from the east coast across the continent, Vancouver audiences benefit from access to reviews most of these shows have gotten elsewhere. But neither reviews nor professional reputation guarantee anything. At fourteen bucks a ticket the Fringe risk factor is relatively low. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

One notable difference for this year's Fringe is the Dramatic Works Series at The Cultch, a program of short plays with a history of production and publication. These are meant to counterbalance the new and often non-textual work, mostly material performed by the creators themselves, that makes up the bulk of Fringe shows.

Along with the usual plethora of comedies, this year's favourite fringe flavour looks to be dark-and-creepy.

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Peter n' Chris

Sketch comedians Peter 'n' Chris are Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson, originally from Victoria but now based in eastern Canada where they've established themselves as veterans of the fringe circuit and major players at the big comedy festivals in Toronto and Montreal. Their new show, Peter 'n' Chris and the Kinda OK Corral, a silly spoof of film westerns, is just kinda ok. These guys have the chops, but a single comic sketch stretched out over a whole hour needs to be full of rapid-fire jokes and original comic ideas. Half-full doesn't really cut it.

The boys have fun with the cliches of the genre--good guys and bad guys, poker games and bar fights--and they do some pretty fine western dancing. But the lengthy slo mo choreography of the bar brawl is itself pretty clichéd, and their writing could use some punch ("You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in a warehouse full of broad sides of barns!").

Their most imaginative moments come from Chris as Winifred the cow, the two of them rapidly switching roles among multiple characters a là Bard on the Beach's Cymbeline, and the one truly inspired bit when hard-boiled Peter grunts, "I'll let my gun do the talking." In the extended riff of this quietly, obsessively talking gun you can see why this team has won a fistful of comedy awards.

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The Dark Fantastic

Another Fringe veteran, New Yorker Martin Dockery is a solo performer whose material has never been darker or more fantastic than his latest, The Dark Fantastic. Accompanied by electronic music and a constantly changing palate of coloured scrims, Dockery sits in the half-dark behind a microphone and spins out his tale in a low, rhythmic rap like a late-night deejay. It's a set of complex, time-morphing, at times confusing shaggy dog stories that bend and twist into one another, the narrator sometimes one character, sometimes another, the audience implicated in the story, too.

It's a surreal tale about an old man, a woman, and a boy with two hearts, a car crash in the desert, an office worker with a jammed photocopier, a Kafkaesque orphanage, and a detailed explanation of how, in fact, Rome WAS built in a day. Dockery is a skilled storyteller who can make the most trivial detail seem weighty with sinister significance. But it's hard to know in the end what it all adds up to. And the minimalist stagecraft--Dockery never gets up from his chair--makes it sometimes seem like a radio play.

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— Little One. Photography by Kaarina Venalainen

A more fully satisfying, dark gothic tale is told in Little One, a play by Toronto's Hannah Moscovitch, produced by Vancouver's Alley Theatre as part of the Dramatic Works Series. A one-act performed by two actors on a small bare stage, Little One feels appropriately fringey but showcases fine writing and terrific acting in elegantly theatrical ways.

Daniel Arnold and Marisa Smith play Ottawa brother and sister Aaron and Claire. Claire is a psychopath who has suffered some unspecified childhood trauma, and scenes between the two of them alternate with Aaron's narrating his difficult experience of growing up with her. Intercut with those scenes, Claire tells the story of their next-door neighbours, Roger and his Vietnamese bride Kim Li. Neither plot line ends well.

Animals die, people die, there's a scary sound effect, and creepy Claire seems at the centre of it all. But as in the best stories, not everything is as it seems. Smith, who seems able to keep her eyes open without ever blinking, is absolutely chilling as Claire, and Amiel Gladstone directs with a sure hand, something not always evident in fringe shows.

Jerry Wasserman


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