Fringed and Confused: the 2014 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival

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The Edmonton Fringe Festival kicks off tonight, and as always from Third Edge of the Sword World Headquarters in Tribeca, Manhattan we bring you boatloads [not buttloads, see below -ed] of content related to Edmonton's grandest and last major festival (sorry Blues Fest, Latin Fest, Canadian Derby, Symphony in the City, and Sonic Boom).

For a hint of what content is coming your way over the next 11 days, click here to see last year's coverage.

And, as always, our Fringe coverage comes with one major rule:
No fags.

Other 2014 Fringe content:
A review of the food options at this year's Fringe grounds.
Photos from the festival grounds


Our Loud Pipes Saves Lives Challenge winner...who just blares Hungarian folk songs?

Four years ago I posted the Loud Pipes Save Lives Challenge, asking motorists to affix large noisy horns onto the sides of their cars and honk them extremely loudly (I'm thinking 105dB or higher) when in the presence of a motorcycle with unnecessarily loud pipes (so, all of them).

Imagine my delight last week when I finally actually found one!

2014 Edmonton International Fringe Festival photo page

If you see this man, give him a noisy bike ticket.

Two worrisome incidents over the past few days have led to the obvious conclusion that the Edmonton chapter of the Hells Angels is beginning to operate more openly again and flexing their muscles.

For a while the Edmonton Angels were pretty active, though in recent years they've calmed down. In the wake of a high-profile gun incident at Showgirls, the man known as "Bear" who (on paper) owned the establishment drew back and eventually retired (to BC, if the rumours are true, which when it comes to the Hells Angels are usually pretty good to listen to). New owner Scott Jamison has been relatively quiet.

However, on Sunday afternoon a motorcycle with a man wearing a Hells Angels jacket with only one wing was regularly cruising up and down Whyte Avenue with a bike engine so loud you had to plug your ears half a block away -- one notices that none of the Edmonton Police officers regularly walking the beat ever tried to give him a noise ticket. Three times he cruised the street from end to end (I was unable to get away from my patio drinking to get a picture). Then on Tuesday night this man in a "Support 81" (ie. a member of an affiliated club) was seen riding the streets:

Keep your eye on the newspapers folks...you're about to read a few stories about some bad men doing some bad things. (This may be connected with the fast-rising Red Scorpions getting knocked down a peg or two last month)

"Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and handmade cardboard signs"

Over the last four years at Third Edge of the Sword, our annual Fringe play reviews remain some of the most popular individual posts (most traffic comes to the main site via my Twitter page or the monthly archive posts via Google). Last year's review of Sigmund Freud's Last Session garnered almost 1000 page hits a month for the latter half of 2013 -- and this was for a review posted after the Fringe festival was already over. Many of the older reviews were also quite popular, one of the reasons I decided to stop doing it day-by-day and concentrate instead on individual reviews for individual plays: people coming to this page obviously were looking at The Sputniks. Pagetraffic to this page, however, is harder to gauge: were they interested in the ludicrous female-friendly (read: bad) Inviting Desires or that ridiculous "my vagina is 8 miles wide" song sung during it; or were visitors after the more introspective and female-nonfriendly (though, also, kind of bad) Manners for Men? Hard to say, really.

This year, unlike other years, outside of people actually visiting the page, my reviews certainly got noticed. The first to get noticed, with a flurry of angry comments until one jackass from Saskatchewan posted a wonky link and wrecked it for everyone, was this one specifically kicking the Fringe off with a "pre-review", a "preview" if you will, of various shows at the festival that I wouldn't be reviewing: mostly because I recognized the "oh gawd another one of these plays" warning signs right from the get-go, and a few that I'd either already reviewed. Naturally, a lot of the plays that fell into the category of horrible subject matter were ones prominently featuring uranists.

Zanna, Don't: Our first of many fringe plays celebrating sodomites, imagining a topsy-turvy world where disgusting sexual practises are the norm. Aye-void.
This, as it turns out, brought the fagosphere out in full effect. It may wind up being the Third Edge of the Sword blogpost which gets discussed by more people than actually read it, which happens more often to bigger conservative names like Mom or Rush Limbaugh. So that's what that feels like. Cool.

How cruel, how cruel, they cried out dramatically that somebody would dare to talk about plays before watching them. How can you pass judgement, they declared, on something unseen!

The thing with liberals is they don't want you to actually do the thing that they're asking you to do, and they themselves want to do it even less. This is of course one of their more aggravating personal traits: they say they want to be judged on the content of character until the millisecond it is more profitable to be judged based on race. They love bleeting that Harper is conducting a "war on science" until they find the government siding with science a war worth fighting. You're admonished to "check the facts"...but then heaven forbid you check them and find out the facts don't say what they claimed. The biggest online sensation for liberals has been "net neutrality", which they also abandon at the first sign of trouble. Finally, pertinent to this discussion, they say they want to "start a dialogue" but then immediately try to end that dialog with only their half of the conversation allowed to proceed.

One of their other aggravating personality traits is of course groupthink, and getting into righteous victimhood anger based on it. How did Mom put it again? Oh, right:
The demon is a mob, and the mob is demonic. The Democratic Party activates mobs, depends on mobs, coddles mobs, publicizes and celebrates mobs—it is the mob. Sweeping in its scope and relentless in its argument, Demonic explains the peculiarities of liberals as standard groupthink behavior. To understand mobs is to understand liberals.
So it was inevitable, I suppose, that the only thing that would make them madder than reviewing plays without seeing them would be to review plays after seeing them. (In the past, of course, the objection has been that people didn't see plays at all, so we're surfing the entire spectrum of possibilities here and finding them unhappy at pretty much every turn. The play that I actually reviewed that really got everybody's anger up is Swordplay. To wit:
The story isn't necessarily easy to follow, and throwing in a bunch of clearly out-of-place songs here and there doesn't help the audience keep up: half the running time of each song is dedicated to arguing whether or not there's going to be a chorus of backup singers available. As this play has an obnoxious running time of two hours, cutting out 20 or even 35 minutes of unnecessary singing would be just what the doctor ordered.
There has been, obviously, a mosquito infestation at the 2014 Fringe, and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Venues 14, 15, and 16) have a nice big yard and a garden. The little bloodsucking bastards will brutalize you in line and in the building: every time a spotlight was shone on the stage, the crowd gasped in horror as we saw the mosquito plague fill the air. This may also be God's punishment for hiring a poofter to write the music, or something else the Anglican church has been screwing up this decade.
The cast and crew of Swordplay didn't seem to like this review, and posted it to Facebook to drum up some fagosphere support. It's worth noting, of course, that minus the hellfire talk the Edmonton SUN posted almost exactly the same review. It has finally culminated in this:
For those keeping score, the current argument is "because you disagree with us on a political topic you should stop sharing your views about dramatic works". The method of delivering this argument is flawed of course, but let's address the argument first. This will appear radical, mostly because you'll notice the people mad at me never make the argument nor can they particularly verbalize why they are making it. There's a good reason for this, of course (it's clueless), but let's briefly deconstruct. What we have here is a blatant desire to ensure that the only people that they have in the audience is "their kind of people". Rigid ideological purity of all Edmonton Fringe theatre-goers must be strictly enforced at all times! We can't have people who disagree with our sick politics and our sicker lifestyles in the audience! That way lies madness! No, we must band together and work to make sure that we only entertain our devotees and sycophants. Allowing conservativesinto the works will sullen and cheapen it. They may hear our stories, our tales, and learn too much! Especially serious is the thought that these same conservatives might have the gall, the audacity, to share their opinions of our works! Those opinions may differ than ours! We may even by accident one day read of them ourselves, or worse, others may read them. No no no, this cannot stand, this must end. One deluded nutter takes it even further, demanding that I avoid his play (presented to the public) and don't even mention it on my blog (too late! Bill Pats' show "Executing Justice" will be coming to Edmonton in 2015. It's anti-death penalty. You can't wait to read my politically-tinged review). Sometimes they give the game away a little too early in the show, and Pats admonishment that he doesn't want people who might, say, enjoy a return to capital punishment, to see his attempt to convince them otherwise. One assumes, of course, that if you put on a pro-death penalty play that Pats wouldn't go see it or even mention it, and certainly not dare ever review it.

The sheer ridiculous of it almost makes me giggle, but it's the standard fare. If you haven't learned this lesson yet, go back to square one and come back when you're finished. This is the same level of attack that has been aimed at far bigger names than me: Dinesh D’Souza. Mark Steyn. Ann Coulter. Katie Pavlich. Jennifer Gratz. Karl Rove. Don Feder. David Horowitz. Again, discussion isn't something they're interested in having as much as ending. And look, we have literally a demon with a mob.

But now let's move onto probably the most ridiculous aspect of the entire affair: the scheme that when reviewing the plays I have bought (or been given, or had bought for me) tickets for, the crew of Swordplay is going to donate money to a local cocksucking charity. It's satisfying to know that for these poofters their knowledge of economics is about as strong as their knowledge of where a dick is supposed to go. As I tweeted a couple of days ago, this is just a bunch of faggots moving money between each other.Let's imagine what would happen if I'd never posted a review all Fringe long. Does Darren Hagin not donate to the @yegasspiracyclinic already? Where would this money have gone, exactly? The answer is easy: it would have gone to 'fabulous' fundraisers for Ben Henderson's harpy wife, or back into the revenues for another pro-fudgepacker play next year. It's not exactly like the revenue from Swordplay, previously being earmarked for worthy causes such as The People's Gospel Hour or REAL Women of Canada or Allan Hunsperger's House Ministries, is now being directed to vile charities promoting a sick lifestyle. That money was always going there! It is, as I said before, just moving money around. The next time I write a cheque to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation will it mean anything if I tweet Jason Hardwick and let him know I've decided to do it in his name? If my cousin in the States decides to again donate to The National Organization for Marriage can't he just attribute it to Hardwick and balance everything out? Of course not. It's no different in this situation. The ultimate facts on the ground don't change: I will continue to post reviews and trust me that my view will not be silenced by lame cardboard sign gags based on foolish assumptions. The faggots are still the proponents of a sick undesirable lifestyle, a lustful expression of the mental illness that exists within them, and no matter how much money one uranist gives his favourite pro-uranist charity that doesn't change.

Nor does it change that Swordplay was too long and the musical numbers routinely dragged it down. But maybe changing that conversation was their plan all along. Wouldn't be the first time.

The foodie guide to the 2014 Edmonton Fringe

On the first Friday night of the festival, while I was out with friends enjoying some Trent's BBQ brisket, ironically one of the girls said "you should really start like a Fringe food blog". While she'll probably never find the fringe food blog, I figured it would be at least worth a post.

As I wrote last year, and it's the same thing this year, the food options seem oddly short...every year they get a little bit smaller. Hey, does anybody else remember the ring of food vendors across from the north beer gardens

But I digress: it's time to talk turkey. Disclaimer: there is no turkey

Alberta's Best Kept Secret Philly Cheesesteak: An interesting selection of philly cheesesteaks: the original is oddly authentic, what with the Cheese Whiz and all. Yes, that's right, in a real Philly Cheesesteak the cheese is...Whiz. They also have a peppercorn variety that looks/tastes just like you would imagine it would if you picture a peppercorn cheesesteak in your head, but not oddly enough what it would look/taste like if you ready the description on the side of the truck what it contains (hint: no meatsauce). A bit pricey but that's about to become a theme here so you might as well just grin and bear it. $9 eat.

Papa's Brazilian Steakhouse: Previously, the only hot Brazilian things at the fringe were the bikini waxes on the girls in those super-tight shorts that their ass hangs out of. Now, the famed "all you can eat if you have enough money to buy a Keg franchise" restaurant food truck is at the Fringe. It was previously at Porkapalooza, where it served severely overpriced pork. Now it's expanded to also serve extremely overpriced steak. For a mere $9 you get a tiny little wisp of meat on a stick, over a bed of either potato salad or pasta salad: whichever you choose, it's more peas than anything else. Not fun

Trent's BBQ: There was a Trent in the group on Saturday, so obviously we had to check this out. Whether you get the brisket burger or the pulled pork, $8 later you're wolfing down a nice scrumptious burger adequately but not slatherly sauced. Either option works well, I have yet to try any of the more elaborate fare.

Pizza 73: We couldn't get Funky Pickle to come back to the Fringe grounds, they've been gone for years now. Boston Pizza used to pop by, and I thought Rosebowl was working on a mobile unit. Sadly, we're left with Pizza 73 to provide decent but uninspired pies. Even in the busiest time of the day they only have cheese, hawaiian, and pepperoni. It's okay if you need a quick bite...almost alone on the grounds this is food you can eat while you walk, making it a decent choice if you're off to the ATB phone museum or Trinity Church. $5/slice

Poutine World: I'm not sure if this is the same poutine place from last year, or just a similar concept. Delicious poutines ranging from the $7 traditional to the $10 international specialties. Highlights are the Mexican and the Albertan. Avoid the Japanese.

Donair: This is the yellow donair truck over by Trent's BBQ and the Green Onion Cake place.

Arizona Fry Bread: I can never figure out if this good ol' food trailer, seen everywhere from the Rainmaker Rodeo to the Calgary Stampede, is named "Fresh" or "Arizona Fry Bread" or "TACOS" or what. All I do know is that if you desire a yummy treat that you only have to shell out $8.50 for and then realize you could have made it at home for $1.25, there's only one option for you there: Taco in a Bag. Oh, don't pretend you don't know: they take a bag of doritos and slit the top open, dropping in some salsa, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and taco beef. Then they give you a fork and let you go to town. Again, it's a guilty pleasure but that doesn't mean you can't be pleasured by it.

Quick Meal: Attached to the north beer gardens, there's a decent if not particularly incredible selection of Lebanese food...the previous big winner is of course still there: donair poutine, though for $9 the portion is a lot smaller than it was in previous years and the price more expensive...it's still donair poutine and therefore it's still delicious, but it's hard to justify a repeat visit at that price...bearing in mind, of course, it *is* attached to the north beer gardens.

New Asian Village: A few years ago New Asian Village had lost it's mojo. Sure they still had all the fare, but the quality had diminished. Then last year they moved from their traditional digs at the corner of 83rd Avenue and Gateway, and it was looking dangerously close to vanishing entirely. Well they're back in their old spot again, and while they aren't where they were at their peak they also aren't where they were at their trough either. Your basic Indian fare is of course still around: you can be tempted by the curry if you like, but the best dish going is still the butter chicken. Be sure to pair it with your favourite naan bread. By favourite I obviously mean either the traditional or the garlic: the coconut is okay if you're sharing with friends (the taste wears on you fairly quickly), and the cinnamon is more of a snack naan or a dessert naan than a meal naan. Also caution: the sign says $10 for a combo, but the $10 is only for the plate of butter chicken: so if you want naan and a drink be prepared to cough up a whopping $16. It's pricey, so only do it once as a treat. It's also affixed to the wine tent so that comes in handy now and again.

Fat Frank's: The famed hot dog and smokie vendor has setup right on the grounds again, even more funny considering they are almost exactly a single block north of their Whyte Avenue location: if festivals were held year-round and city-wide, they would probably rival Tim Horton's. Unlike some of their other stalls like the one in front of Canadian Tires on weekend afternoons, this one has the full gamut of selection too: if you want a double smoked farmer you aren't out of luck. The condiments are all out in force, and somehow they manage to do a better job of their neighbour one block south at keeping them all fully stocked. Don't ask me how in the name of Kevin Taft that works. $5

Zaika: The...other Indian place...slightly cheaper than New Asian village, this place has some pretty weak-sauce food. No, that's not just talking clever like the kids do these days, it's literally weak sauce: the butter chicken sauce is watery and has little taste. Two separate times friends have bought food from them, been unable to finish it, and asked me to finish it off...and unappealing every time. Seriously, New Asian Village is just a quick walk away.

Wood-fired Pizza: Another regular offering, they offer a variety of delicious yet atrociously priced little pizzas ready in just a couple of minutes, so don't be scared if a few people are ahead of you in line. $15

The other places: I haven't eaten everywhere on the grounds (yet...). I'm reluctant to try "Thai This" despite the clever name. Like Zaika next door the majority of their signs read "no sampling" and while I don't know what EDM DJs have to do with any of this... Just kidding folks, we know what it means: "if you want to see how bad this tastes, plop down $11". I haven't had elephant ears yet, nor deep fried oreos. There's a fruit truck that I'm sure is good for the hippie crowd checking out beads down the street, and I've never liked green onion cakes but they are there in full force too. There's also ice cream and lemonade, but judging by the forecast their sales are about to nosedive. I never ate at either place. They sell beer.

So there you have it, a little food rundown of this year's Edmonton Fringe festival. Again not as exciting as in previous years and definitely another sign of the oddly shrinking Fringe Grounds. But we get what we pay for I suppose, and here's what you pay for. (In some cases, overpay for)

Post #2100, Baby

2000 is always an exciting milestone, 2100 seems less so. Maybe it's just ageism from those of us who were around for the Year 2000 but are pretty much guaranteed to miss the Year 2100.

But here we are, the 2,100th post on Third Edge of the Sword since we started this wild journey. And why not treat you with something special, especially with an afternoon Esks game coming up: a gametime recipe for the grill. You can even use it to, say, celebrate a milestone blogpost.


2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: No Tweed Too Tight; Another Grant Canyon Mystery

What if TJ Hooker had been allowed to dress in the styles of the 70s rather than the police colours of the 80s? If you have this pictured in your head, you're partway there to understanding No Tweed Too Tight; Another Grant Canyon Mystery. Ryan Gladstone wrote and starred in this one-man show, and he really brings you on a tour-de-force around (and indeed, both and above and below) the globe.

One thing that I always thought helped to separate a strong from a weak Fringe show is the Foley: especially these days, professional level audio recording has never been more accessible, and while theatre has used human instruments (eww) to create sound for ages, it really helps us think of this as a major studio motion picture even with the simple addition of the good old "thwack" sound. One of the best executed parts of the play is the precision timing between the sound engineer in the back and the actor on stage...especially when we're going to hear various face punches and other sounds keyed to what the actor was doing on-stage where even a half second margin of error would have taken away some of the wild 70s magic. This play also opens up both with fully recorded music as if this really was a Grant Canyon motion picture (that the character has become recurring, it appears, certainly helps stretch the ol' development dollar): both the opening and closing theme were good enough that I expected the sale of CDs or 32MB flash drives with the tunes. Grant Canyon himself appears in occasional strobe-light-ish flashes to set the mood...and as the play opens, we get to meet our hero.

You know that "The Champ" gag where the character always mis-hears and overreacts? Canyon's gag is that his memory is toast...he forgets things even as he's being told them, which gets used to great comedic effect throughout the play. Well his swiss-cheese memory is stopping the FBI to solve a case, so Ziggy and Al...oh, wait, wrong franchise with swiss-cheese memory...the voice of an FBI agent interrogates and beats around our hero while he remains tied to a chair. This is a great opening scene and really sets the tone for the rest of the play except...the FBI agent himself. As the only other voice we ever hear, he's awfully flat and doesn't deliver his lines with any personality or gusto, and certainly not in the verbal style of the era (which Gladstone's Canyon is doing). It makes the opening scene's pacing a lot less energetic than it needs to be...once he's stopped talking we can go without for most of the rest of the scenes.

At the FBI agent's behest, Canyon starts flashing back to the start of the case...a beautiful woman in a nightclub scared to death of her jealous and powerful boyfriend, a possible insurance fraud in Florida, a bartender with a glass jaw, and a private detective (well, insurance fraud investigator) in a deep plot way over his head. With Canyon's dual skills of surviving any and all fatal or near-fatal injuries just by blacking out and waking up again later, and forgetting key things he encounters, the audience gets taken on a fun and wild ride: from the depths of a Soviet submarine to 12,000km in orbit, from Columbia to Des Moines, we follow Canyon as he not so much solves the case but somehow is in positions throughout the play to uncover the bad guys and engage in hilariously over the top fights (in one scene he snaps a Russian soldier's neck: we understand that he's in enemy territory and needs to be ruthless. later he's in the hospital and breaks the neck of the doctor there to help him). Objectively he's no inspirational hero for us ("he's the anti-hero's uncle" exclaims the lyrics in the opening song) but we root for him anyways because hey, it's a one-act play and this guy has a direct line to our funny bone. That every once and a while he really brings out his inner Shatner doesn't hurt: hamming up scenes like this pretty much demands you don't go fully Shatner but you never leave him too far away.

The script is near-perfect, offering great comedic foils: as Canyon knows he's about to black out and switch scenes, he mutters "I sure hope whereever I wake up is comfortable". In the next scene he starts out tied up to a rack and deadpans "I was the most uncomfortable I'd ever been in my life". I don't think Gladstone ever uttered the word "mouth" and why would he when he could get more laughs using the word "face". The audience couldn't get enough of Canyon's confrontational style and colourful metaphors (though I'm sure a few in the audience had to keep from exclaiming "too soon!" when he brought up this event), and the way he just propelled through almost every scene with pure force of well. Gladstone also gets credit for his word on the other characters and being able to track in his head where everybody is supposed to be: earlier in the show I was thinking it would have played out better with one or two other actors to play the other parts; by the end I wasn't so sure, especially when it was clear about 9 other actors would have been needed. Better in the end just for Gladstone to keep pointing out where they would have been.

This is easily one of the most entertaining romps at the Fringe this year, and if there is a complaint to be made it's probably that the show winds down too soon...even another 10-15 minutes with the character would have been more than worth it. I guess the easiest scenes to expand though would involve the flat-voiced FBI agent, maybe I should just play the hand I'm given and not try giving up a 10 of spades in the hope that its replacement will be better.

I should also note that this play finally does something I've noticed lacking in the fringe over the past five years or so: plays that are tied to the theme. I understand that not everybody holds off on their play until the theme is revealed, and that traveling shows will do city after city and quite often start a continent away, so it's not going to be universal nor necessarily should it be. But few shows try to capture the timeframe or the attitude embodied in the Edmonton Fringe official theme anymore, I'm pretty sure they used to. Kudos to this play for tying into the theme and also not being that questionable Godzilla vs. Zeppelin thing.

Final word: This is a great show. Full stop, ultimately no conditions or anything. Great show, go see it, fully entertaining.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)


2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Mr. & Mrs. Alexander

Mr & Mrs Alexander take us back to the Victorian era in New Zealand, when magic stage shows as we see them today were in their infancy and the world of science and technology was new and not entirely well understood.

Passed off as a real-life story (it's not, though they do a good job of painting this as a historical drama: neither the mayoral theft nor the governor-general's murder occur in this list and indeed NZ didn't have a GG until 1907), Mr & Mrs Alexander is a way to show off various magic tricks (Mrs. Alexander stops her heart and enters a mysterious other realm, Mr. Alexander makes balls appear under cups) under the guise of storytelling. It's definitely novel, and quite entertaining.

As the story begins, Mr & Mrs Alexander are touring New Zealand in the early 1890s, wildly popular and successful they are at the top of their game. Trouble looms on the horizon, however: why is this "the last time they will ever perform this show"? The performance is basically a recreation of their 1892 show at Auckland Town Hall, with a few quick scenes from earlier in their life, and of course a lot of modern-day communication with the audience bringing them up to speed on things like the prevalence of opossum traps and how mysticism and the idea of "communicating with the other side" by going into a heart-stopping trance were so wildly popular and yet also generally not understood. This was sometimes a bit of a distraction that I thought took away from the vivid period account they were doing simultaneously, but I do appreciate that in a world where kids don't know we used to have endless bar arguments before Google on smartphones was a thing it can be necessary to explain a world we don't always fully appreciate as radically different from our own.

The various elements of magic are, of course, what constitutes the bulk of the work: a little "whodunnit" asking if the butler did it in the bedroom because of politics, mentally transferring touch between two couples (after first holding an awkward "Newlywed Game" between them), and using a spiral to make Mr. Alexander's head appear to grow -- again, all tricks that are more or less understood by the collective consciousness today, but dynamite in 1892.

For a final trick, the "Mayor of Auckland and his wife" are called up onto the stage, where a variety of tricks and stunts are preformed before simulating the final act of Mr and Mrs Alexander: making Mr. Alexander disappear on-stage. Forever. With, oh yes, a rather expensive European-crafted jewel which the mayor's wife gave away for a magic trick and then never seemed to give back (shades of Seinfeld's infamous "stolen jacket" episode). Mrs. Alexander, who was hinted at being in early pregnancy during the show, apparently disappeared soon after (and soon after receiving much charity). Months later in Australia, a new husband and wife magic act debut with a new name...

The performances in this play are well done: obviously the two stars David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache wrote the play around their own skills as magicians and illusionists, and therefore they aren't necessarily 'actors' in the traditional sense where you could see them doing a 2-person Hamlet or Pirates of Penzance in a future year. But of course while acting isn't necessarily a skill of magicians (cf. Penn & Teller guest starring on Babylon 5) showmanship certainly is, and being able to perform on stage and work with an audience were definitely skills they brought to the table. Playing themselves, even under the guise of themselves as they would have existed 120 years ago, still required them to play the role and both did very well. The tricks of illusion and magic are all very well done as well, though be forewarned there is a lot of (individual) audience participation (Hint: don't go as a couple, that seemed to vastly improve the odds). The looming threat made earlier in the play that this was the final show, and that the couple seemed on a collision course with a dark end kept the audience always engaged, at least in the periphery, of the 1892 plot. It would have been interesting to see this sort of story play out with less magic tricks and stunts, though the occasional dramatic non-magic scenes they had were a little uninspiring: it seemed also quite unlikely that two shucksters would actually believe that stopping the heart actually communicated with the other side and the drama involved in it didn't have time to develop.

Final word: If you like magic shows and don't mind the chance of finding yourself on-stage holding up a big sign that says "LUST", you should definitely enjoy checking out the non-historical account of Mr. & Mrs. Alexander

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)


2014 Edmonton Fringe mini-preview for Wednesday August 20

Are you thinking about hitting up some plays today? If so, this is a good day to catch some of the shows I've reviewed:

Noon, Stage 2: Einstein!

2:15pm, Stage 1: The War of 1812

3:30pm, Stage 28: The Real Inspector Hound

5:45pm, Stage 36: May & Alia do Pirates!

6:15pm, Stage 9: Sundogs

7:30pm, Stage 25: Under the Mango Tree (caution: review from a previous year)

9:15pm, Stage 14: Swordplay

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)

Pirates of Penzance is one of the most memorable works from the immortal duo of Gilbert and Sullivan. "The Crown Jewel in the musical theatre oeuvre" insists one of the performers. It cannot, absolutely cannot, she insists, be done in less than an hour by two people. Indeed, she's correct, but the attempt seen in May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)is a jolly good try, as the Major-General might have proclaimed.

May and Alia are two chubby Australian girls, and frankly I don't know which one of them was which. Let's say Alia was the redhead and we'll move on. In that case, May is the one with the stronger singing voice. As the play opens, May wants to pack up and go home since they didn't bring their costumes, their sets, or indeed their cast. Alia, however, soldiers her to play on, and they pick up on the basic elements of the plot.

As quite often happens with these "sped up versions" of the play, it only works if you already know the source material (and the other two people I went with didn't) and the more you know it the better. Since I tend to get Penzance and Pinafore mixed up alreay, this probably didn't help. If you are planning on going, you'd best get yourself up to speed. We open of course in that dreaded pirate cove of...Cornwall...where Frederic the Pirate (the girls shift around playing all the characters, same as in The War of 1812, though Alia tries to play the part more than anybody else) is proud to announce that at midnight his service to the dreaded pirates with whom he has been interned will expire, and he will fulfill the duty he always dreamed: joining the Royal Navy and helping exterminate the piracy menace from shore to shore. The pirates do convince him to explain what weakness they have (he does, after all, have almost half an hour of loyal service to them left) and he lets them know that the "we never harm orphans" policy seems to have leaked out to the general population.

This is one of the many points the show takes a break, and May declares she wrote a massive algorithm which scoured the globe to find the perfect person (with the right mix of "swash" and "buckle") to play the Pirate King, one of the stage's most sought after roles. He needs to be tall, dark, handsome, rougeish, sultry...and therefore quite clearly the most perfect person on the planet to play the role is...her.

Regardless, soon Frederic and his housemaid Ruth (she's 47, he's 21, Gilbert and Sullivan predicted Demi Moore decades ahead of their time) who's always been horny for him are going with the pirates to spy on some lovely lasses. The pirates come in with family-friendly rape on the brain, but the girls warn them that their father is nearby...to which, of course, we get to everybody's favourite part of any Penzance performance: the Major-General's Song.

Before we get to that part, let's all quickly enjoy of course the full song from the 1921 recording...the earliest known recording, though we always keep hoping an older one will pop up:

There, that was fun. May and Alia agree, and May proceeds to begin the song...partway through, Alia also dons a mustache and the two of them have a high speed "Modern Major General singoff" that is the highlight of the show. It always is. After the Major-General and his daughters and Frederic go to the old church to hide from the Pirates, the girls on-stage have an argument and break up...Alia leaves May alone on stage to perform the entire play. It does give a bit of a dramatic structure to the performance itself (as in all these adaptations, we aren't exactly waiting to learn what happens next...Frederic is going to learn he was born on a leap year, there's going to be a silly pirate fight with policemen, the pirates are going to turn out just to be noblemen in funny hats not actually performing any piracy...what we will need is something to catch our interest), with the obvious downside that now a single actor is having to play all of the parts and therefore rises and falls on her performance. May does a good enough job during her solo part of the show, but the work doesn't really get its energy back until Alia comes back with the Pirate King hat so we can learn the leap-year bit. This is another of the good parts of the show, where Alia starts explaining the science behind the leap year and only slightly avoids in the tiniest number of aspects to just barely get everything completely wrong. Now that the two are together again, we can get to the pirate battle. (Also Frederic leaves to rejoin the pirates, tells them the Major-General's not an orphan, outrage, revenge, yadda yadda yadda)

This is the major bit of the audience participation bit where the policemen and the pirates face off. Half the audience were the police shouting "allo allo what's all this about then?" at the key point in their song and the other half the pirates chanting "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum". Yeah, only one of these is a cultural hallmark, go figure. At the end, the policemen defeat the pirates (wait, what?) and the big reveals about the noblemen pirates comes out, though its hard I think for the modern audience to fully grasp the gag there. And with that, barely 50 minutes later, May and Alia are trying to pose with you for pirate photos you can tag on Twitter.

The show did have a lot of manic energy to it, and the two castmates did what they could within their limitations. Some of the extra material, including a lot of the confrontation scenes, were clearly tried to coincide with the dramatic rhythm of the play though they didn't always work quite so well. Again, for the two people I went with they left wholly unsatisfied, they were trying to ultimately keep up with two stories and one of them was perpetually going on fast-forward.

Final word: A rousing but short retelling of Gilbert & Sullivan, if you don't already know the source material at least superficially, you're going to find this short work didn't give you as much entertainment as you'd paid for.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)


Edmonton Fringe Review: The Real Inspector Hound

The Real Inspector Hound is almost certainly going to be one of the most well-written plays of the Fringe this year. That's because the work isn't from some horny dyke from Toronto, or a guy who wrote a script on the back of a napkin while making out with a cute blonde girl: it's from legendary playwright Tom Stoppard, which is why it has its own Wikipedia page. This man did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for Christ's sake, and this play borrows a bit of its wit and style.

Two critics sit down to watch a classic murder mystery: both of them are B-level reviewers, one only there because the usual guy wasn't available and he's the mere stand-in, the other the regular reviewer but known for spending more time chasing skirt than writing copy (I can relate, many exciting adventures with girls on the grounds have been between my viewing of this play and the writing of this review). The stand in is the more boorish of the two, imbibing grossly overwrought and cliched motivations and themes from the smallest of aspects of the work in question. The skirt-chaser is all about promoting sexy girls to be up and coming stars and maybe getting rewarded in return...

Soon though the actual play they are watching (which I found grossly enjoyable on its own, more on that later) is underway: an escaped madman is on the loose in Essex, and even though Muldoon Manor has working telephones apparently nobody in a position of authority figured it would be worth ringing them up to let them know that hey, there's a madman on the loose a few hundred yards from yours the only house. Ah well, I'm sure they'll just randomly turn the radio on at times perfectly corresponding with the police reports.

A mysterious stranger named Simon meeting the description of the madman sneaks into the house: he meets the maid, breaks up with the beautiful Felicity, and falls for the Lady of the Manor, still aching from her husband's disappearance and presumed death years ago. The lady's crippled brother-in-law, recently visiting from Canada (hence the brutal Scottish accent...) shows up and the four of them (minus, of course, the help) play a game of cards, entertain the visiting Inspector Hound, discover the dead body that we'd noticed when we came in, and try to figure out who murdered Simon who has suddenly been shot just as he announces that he knows the dead man's identity. The play goes black for intermission.

While the actors are taking a break, the phone on the stage starts ringing and distracts the critics from being able to write their copy: it's womanizer's wife on the line! As he tries to calm his wife down after she read about another of his dates (with the actress playing Felicity), the play resumes from about 1/3 of the way in, with the womanizer being thrown into the Simon role! He too loved and wooed Felicity but was more enamoured with the actress playing the Lady Cynthia, and though his dialogue changes throughout, much of the other character's dialog doesn't. There is, by the way, great physical comedy in a joke here: the wheelchaired Major who bowled over the first Simon bowls over the second Simon specifically using the critic's knowledge of the earlier play against him.

Suddenly the other critic gets himself thrust into the play when it is discovered that the original dead body is the usual reviewer: our stand-in now leaps to the stage to find out why his own colleague is laying on the floor. Further complicating matters is the fact that our reviewer had been openly talking about killing his rival: not unlike all the characters in the original play threatening to kill Simon (who is now being played by the womanizer, of course, and oh yeah he's shot dead quite obviously, it was in the script the first time). The reviewer takes the role of Inspector Hound (as the original Inspector Hound and the original Simon take the reviewers lounge and start writing their reviews of the play they were just in, trying and failing to solve the murder mystery before finally being shot and killed by the REAL INSPECTOR HOUND, who was under cover posing as a Canadian Major in a wheelchair. Oh, and he also happened to be Lady Cynthia's long-lost husband whose amnesia that plagued him since his disappearance magically was cured.

Oh, and one last insult: in the same way that we had a A-list reviewer (Higgs) that was killed, and the stand-in who we just watched get shot, the stand-in recognizes the man now through the disguise: it's his stand-in, who has just somehow engineered the death of his two chief rivals!

This was a very entertaining play with lots of energy: the cast really sold us on their roles: the actress playing Cynthia deliciously chewed up her lines like a ravenous carnivore. It called for her sexuality to completely overwhelm anybody interested in the younger and prettier Felicity (which the casting also nailed), and she rose to it beautifully. The actor playing the stand-in did fairly well, even though the accent gave him trouble. The actors playing the original Simon and Inspector Hound were solid but nothing exciting and admirable (Felicity, as well, though she was prancing around in a tight white tennis outfit that forgives all other faults), and the actor playing the womanizer was a little too subdued. The mad props have to go to the scene-stealing Major/Inspector/Husband/Reviewer, particularly when he was talking "Canadian proverbs" in a Scottish that would make the guy from those old Canadian Tire commercials mutter it was probably too over-the-top. Finally, the fact that the dead body on the floor wasn't a dummy but actually an actor who never had a single line or even stood up, and his job was to lay on the floor while we were all getting to our seats and then during the actual play without moving a muscle. Fooled me, actually. Well done.

Final word: Unless you can't possibly handle screwball comedy, you'll love attending this play.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

Everything Gavin McInnes says about trannies is true

It's worth mentioning, of course, but every single word in this Gavin McInnes post is pure gold, and I stand proudly behind it.

He’s a chick, you asshole. God fucked up and made him a dude, but luckily we have the technology to fix that mistake.
They’re non-heteronormative. In fact, the only thing more normal than castrating yourself and taking tons of hormones to grow tits is chopping them off. Women who get double mastectomies and then have their cunts turned inside out are just righting a wrong. They need to have a weird cheese blintz-looking thing sticking out of their previous cooch because it feels way better than wearing a strap-on. Sure, the nerve endings aren’t the same as a real dick, but standing up to go pee pee is something these women were born to do. How dare you have a problem with that?
We aren’t blind. We see there are no old trannies. They die of drug overdoses and suicide way before they’re 40 and nobody notices because nobody knows them. They are mentally ill gays who need help, and that help doesn’t include being maimed by physicians. These aren’t women trapped in a man’s body. They are nuts trapped in a crazy person’s body. I see them on the streets of New York. They are guys with tits and a sweatshirt. They wear jeans and New Balance. “What’s the matter with simply being a fag who wears makeup?” I think when I see them. You’re not a woman. You’re a tomboy at best.
By pretending this is all perfectly sane, you are enabling these poor bastards to mutilate themselves. This insane war on pronouns is about telling people what to do. It may empower you to shut down a school’s computer system because they phrased your gender wrong, but that’s just a game to you. To them, it’s a life-changing event that fucks them up. To fight against transphobia is to justify trannies. To justify trannies is to allow mentally ill people to mutilate themselves. When your actions are getting people mutilated, you’re at war with them.

Well, okay, he goes off the rails at the end:
Being gay is a weird quirk that happens at birth. It’s like being an albino. If you’re born that way, you shouldn’t fight it. You don’t need to change who you are. In fact, doing so is sexist, misandrist, homophobic, and further damages the lives of the mentally ill.
That part isn't true. If you're a sodomite, there's something wrong with you too. Just...less wrong.

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Case Study

I saw this one coming.

About five minutes into Case Study, an Edmonton Fringe play about two scientists working together on a research project, I recognized what the ending was going to be. Many of you wouldn't, though (I used to be able to do this with Baywatch too, and it was the most popular show on the planet), and so let's review and recap.

Two scientists are put together (voluntarily? Josh Languedoc's script doesn't make it perfectly clear) in a room and forced/told to perform groundbreaking research into...dum dum dum...the origins of violence. One (literally one, that's his name in the press junket) is a field researcher who is apparently well regarded, quite successful, influential, and has a bit of a dark history of having experiments get away from him. Two is a university professor in the social sciences, specializing more in focus groups (??) that, unlike One, actually involve studying humans. As the play begins, shadowy government figures who do not reveal their faces or identities give them their assignment: on a tight deadline the two men are to study various violent criminals with known psychological issues in an effort to determine if violence in the brain is nature or nurture.

The conflict builds slowly, in one sense, and at inconsistent speeds in the other: each scene is to show the two men drifting apart in their styles as the play moves along, with a dollop of personal conflict as well. The personal conflict builds as good as it can with the limited time and number of scenes: Two's flair for the dramatic gets on One's nerves almost immediately, and as he sings songs and impersonates movie stars One looks on in a bit of dread, as if to wonder how long he's going to be stuck with this guy. The professional divergence, on the other hand, doesn't flow nearly as organically, apparently coming in out of the blue at several junctions in the play. It isn't that their styles don't merge well (though they certainly don't, even in the world outside the play these two researchers wouldn't come up with any successful results), but that when key decisions need to be made regarding the project when disaster strikes they both have different ideas on how to proceed. Unfortunately, these decisions seem to be made up on the fly, and aren't consistent with earlier decisions from the same character.

The big tipping point comes when a research subject violently kills himself by accident (he was being triggered with loud noises which the psych report says sets him off, and threw a chair hard enough it presumably bounced back and hit him. the details are left fuzzy). You'd think in a situation where you have two university educated men to deal with this problem, the answer and resolution are pretty quick: let the project leads know what happened. Instead, the two conspire after a brief argument to cover it up, clean up the mess, and hide the body. This is often the answer criminals come up with, mostly because they aren't the brightest knives in the drawer to begin with, but more importantly they did something bad they want to get away with. These two didn't, though a University Ethics Committee would rake them over the coals for the trigger bit. This was a man who died by his own hands before they could stop him (there was a plot thread with the power mysteriously draining every time the script called for the scientists to be distracted and not pay attention to the room, which was never resolved), a death row inmate who presumably was escorted to the facility by a police officer or thirty, and who those same officers almost certainly would be expecting to take back. The death row inmate bit was mostly to justify the moral choice to keep quiet, though it ends up being the biggest plot hole around; the later death of a 17 year old girl with drug possession charges would have been easier to cover up, she probably just walked to their door for her session.

As the play goes on, the two men find themselves (figuratively) at each other's throats, tattling to the project team behind their back, bringing up ethical arguments along the lines of Zimbardo or the Milgram experiment (though at one point one of the actors accidentally mispronounced the name wrong and made it sound like a very different experiment) and how they were groundbreaking if not highly highly ethical. There is space in a drama like this, I imagine, for pointing out that modern ethics codes swing too much the other way. While the Stanford Prison example really got out of hand and messed up a lot of people, nobody was actually harmed in the Milgram experiment, and it did resolutely confirm the author's hypothesis. The goal of creating this beautifully groundbreaking research project imbues the characters with a goal, an end point to be pursuing: that it involves them being rather silly and unscientific in their process is I assume just a fact that this isn't a Hollywood movie, there isn't time/money for a few people actually involved in scientific research and writing proposals to script doctor it up. Still, the story doesn't do a very good job of holding it all together, and I tried very very very very very very hard not to giggle when the scientists determined that if they had three totally different human brains plus a single monkey brain (don't ask), they could "triangulate" the results and prove everything.

The actors did fairly well for their performances, Connor Suart (One) especially. Andrew Dool's Two was a little inconsistent, he played up the nerdy professor stereotype a fair bit for a guy who started off talking about Robert DeNiro. I'm also note sure about Dool's robotic sounding voice when he was playing the role of the secretive Project Team, I'm not sure if that's the only way he knows how to read flat lines, or if it was intentionally trying to make some subtle (and therefore lost) hint about who the Project Team really was...another plot thread left open by the end. Dool was also the actor most likely to mess up his lines.

Finally, there was a cool bit with reality show-styled "confessional booth cameras". Just the poor old iphones they were using didn't have enough battery to stay alive the whole show. Whoops.

Final word: If you don't mind seeing things that aren't science called science, you may get a minor kick out of this frantic word. Just leave your non-monkey brain at the door.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Sundogs

is what happens when a clever idea for a premise is squandered.

From the first ghastly bit of green light hitting our protagonist Holly (this is actually the name of the lead actress, the character's name is said a few too many times for my liking, and I'm ignoring it out of protest -- also, she looks more like a Holly anyways) we're looking due to delve into the big setup for the play: aliens in Leduc!

(as an aside, if any aliens do land in Leduc, you should take them to Airways first, give them a proper taste of our planet)

The play eschews linear storytelling, and is broken up into two parts, which keep intersecting to reveal more of the story: at first, Holly is confronted by a local cop who wants to know what happened. Something clearly out of the ordinary happened here, was it related to Holly's (unseen) house guest? Next, we travel back in time to see Holly meeting up with a journalist-cum-author who wants to do an expose on the house guest, apparently a fairly well respected scientist and academic who suffered an alien encounter and retreats to Holly's farm to get away from it all. Did the aliens follow him?

What happens next is a bit of a schizophrenic hodgepodge where we see the cop and Holly doing a lot of yelling at each other, and Holly and the author traveling the woods to try and reproduce the close encounter (and getting into a couple close encounters of their own, wink wink nudge nudge). What you don't get a lot of is the sense either in the before-the-incident scenes or the after-the-incident scenes of dread. That the police are investigating Holly and the houseguest certainly hints that something happened, but what? There's a lot of confrontation in the police scenes, but not a lot of sense of agenda: Holly is acting a little bit suspicious, but definitely not enough that there's much legal basis for the inevitable search warrant that lays everything bare. In the budding romance and exploring prequel scenes, there's never much tone indicating that there are alien events afoot, or even strange human-centric endeavors.

What Sundogs is forced to rely on is Holly Cinnamon's acting chops: they're quite good here, the last time we saw Holly she was dressed sexy on a pickup truck (the promo photos for this play, sadly,feature the truck but not the skin), but this play puts her centre stage and gives her a lot more to do, if not a lot more to work with. She does a very good job though as playing the hurt and vulnerable girl who has a tough inner strength and resolve that makes her formidable enough to spend half the play holding her own against a cop who all but said "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you", but also capable of forming a strong bond with the author, which seemed to vanish the moment an event made it clear there was no story. Their final telephone conversation was nicely acted and technically pulled off well, just had not much for substance behind it.

I won't spoil the ending for you here, but the final fate of the houseguest was a bit of a letdown: I suppose subconsciously the playwright knew this...maybe that's why the scenes didn't have any tension of incoming doom? Because at the heart, there wasn't one?

Final word: A strong central character is important, but its a shame if there's nothing for her to play off of.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Ludwig & Lohengrin

Sadly, sometimes a Fringe play sneaks past the No Fags rule. This one sort of did and sort of didn't, K'urn just came back from a week and a half in Germany and was interested in the play about the Swan King. I figured it wouldn't be too bad, even in the Fringe they wouldn't play up the Fairy King's pillow biting that much, would they?

Of course, I didn't account for the dual questions of "who usually stars in one-man plays" (Answer: the author) and "who would dedicate a play to celebrating the pathetic life of King Ludwig II" (Answer: a sodomite). These combined to make Ludwig & Lohengrin barely tolerable.

The play opens up with the telling of the fairytale of The Knight of the Swan, before introducing us to the cast of characters that surround Mad Ludwig the Poof. Various people both men and women are portrayed, but playwright-author Kyall Rakoz is such a flamer that all but a couple of them (Wagner and von Holnstein) sound identical. You're left trying to remember in which way he's wearing a white sheet as a dress, or which hands were on his hips to try to remember when he's playing the Countess von Truchseß, or the hired help, or one of Ludwig's queer lovers. It makes it very difficult to follow along even when you think the script will really require you to know who is who (and you don't). All things considered it was probably wise not to portray Ludwig himself in the work, but the idea of a modern day interviewer getting hints of the story from these characters wore old thin...indeed, the end scenes appear to play more like an actual play, depicting the scenes in which the Bavarian nobility thankfully rescue their country and indeed us from all this, having meetings in a much more traditional narrative sense to remove the nutty ball-licker from the throne.

By the time we get to the story of Ludwig's mysterious death (was it a murder? did the King commit suicide? did he prance like a ninny on a wet dock and drown?) we're in character abandonment mode. Ludwig II was famous for being a fruit from a family of fruitcakes, building castles and borrowing money from the treasury (bad) and foreign royals who he'd then be indebted too (even worse) in order to build castle after castle after castle. The play doesn't really touch on this, only occasionally chiding its subject for not being interested in political affairs as, von Holnstein notes, is part of his duty. We definitely are spared any taste (beyond "the people loved him") of Ludwig's impact or lack thereof on the grander European affairs. The Unification of Germany in 1871, just 5 years after his death, would almost certainly have happened with or without his involvement whether or not he was in favour or opposed. The Prussian wave that would lead ultimately to another Wagner fan (Hitler) had already begun, no matter how many acts of ass piracy the king committed instead of trying to lead his people. Instead, fittingly, we got the Paris Hilton of European royalty, a smug little man-child who like the late Michael Jackson or Robin Williams never wanted to grow up, and live in his fairy-tale land forever.

Final line: Here in the real world, we're stuck watching Ludwig & Lohengrin and a reminder that amongst the great deeds of European royalty in the romantic period there were still their share of sodomistic stinkers.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Einstein!

If you only know Albert Einstein because he did E=mc2 and sticks his tongue out on t-shirts, you don't really know the man.

This is the premise behind the simply named Einstein, a one-man play written by and starring Jack Fry as the scientist who needs no first name. Of course the same is also true of Feynman, Oppenheimer, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Newton, Dyson, Higgs, LaGrange, Gauss, Ohm, de Broglie, Chandrasekhar, I think you get the picture. As xkcd would note though, you can't do a one-man play about Feynman and no Fringe show could afford all the women.

We start off with the famous mass-energy formula, but it's pretty quickly forgotten. Remember, mass-energy equivalence is special relativity kids, the idea of Lorentz transformations in an inertial reference frame. Albert quickly moves us onto the real meat of this play: general relativity. That's where the big controversy existed in the early days of the First World War, and unfortunately for Einstein he paid a very high personal price: his first wife and he had decided to divorce, and Einstein was forced to make that age-old decision between family and career. As he tells us, his career obviously won: that's why we all know his name and make bobbleheads and t-shirts.

Most of the drama in the play comes from the various expeditions trying to verify general relatively using eclipse photography, the difficulties in wartime of collecting this information, Einstein's deteriorating family life, and the new threat of some of his rivals deciding to prove his theories wrong. The latter threat was the most serious for Einstein's immediate future: without success and notoriety he wouldn't be able to support his family and maybe win back his children's affections.

The script and delivery are quite good, and really draws into the tale of how Einstein's early days were fraught with difficulty. David Hilbert is made out to be the primary villain of this piece -- Göttingen is clearly a debate rather than a lecture series in this version of events -- and not as much of Einstein's non-family personal life is delved into than you might think, though he does toss off a couple lines on his agnosticism and Jewry and several on his pacifism. Still, the play does wring a fair bit of education and entertainment out of its lines, and Fry is good at differentiating between his various characters. I personally would have replaced a few of the more modern references with more of the science and the history behind it, but I suppose it helps ground the audience: K'mpec didn't like the play at all and almost fell asleep during it so your mileage may vary.

Final word: An excellent performance on an intriguing subject that gets maximum drama out of its basis while never losing that when you're with a pretty girl relativity means an hour feels like a minute.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Swordplay

In a faraway kingdom, an evil Count has forced the King to split up his two children and send them off into exile. Now, either they must find each other and save the kingdom, or an evil wizard will take it all for himself.

So begins Swordplay, which apparently was a (much better and beloved) Fringe play 25 years ago, now re-imagined as a musical with work done by famed Fringe faggot Darrin Hagen. Unsurprisingly, the poofter words and music end up dragging the play down and extending its running time far beyond what we the audience needed to deal with.

The story starts out with the Count's men on the search for "Captain Jack", who has apparently been robbing from the rich and stealing from the poor and yadda yadda yadda. They encounter two women who are part of Jack's crew, and before you even see the robed and obviously gender-disguising figure of Jack coming this way you know how this is going to turn out: "Jack" is actually the exiled princess, on the run and trying to track down her brother the lost prince so that they can combine their two amulets together and make the fairytale MacGuffin that will open the other MacGuffin and bring peace to the kingdom. However, unbeknownst to them, they are being persued by another villain not in league with the Count: rather a mercenary in league with a dark and sinister wizard who, hilariously, he can only communicate with by drawing blood from a finger, of which he starts running low as his conversations get cut short. The wizard and the mercenary hire an "ass-ass-in" [I find it important to note that the first queer joke in this blogpost is from the playwright. You'd better hold off on those commments folks! -ed] to help them eliminate Captain Jack, who its known has been hiding and protecting the exiled princess. Confused yet? Hope not, things turn stranger:

As this goes on, Sedgewick (Mat Busby, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Alan Tudyk) arrives with his indentured servant Glen (Ben Stevens, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Galecki). Sedgewick enjoys pretending to be more famous noblemen and bedding the women who come with it, while Glen wants...its not really important, actually: his character's motivations are all over the place throughout the performance. Anyways, while "Captain Jack" casts aside her outfit to instead portray a peasant girl (two evil forces, after all, are after her), Sedgewick finds it and picks it up, deciding he will play Captain Jack as his next way to woo girls. The first girl he meets, of course, is the Princess Melodia who has in true "Ben Kenobi" fashion decided to keep using her real name while she goes under cover as a simple peasant. She and Sedgewick instantly fall for one another, in a moment that for one of these two characters will go completely forgotten for the next hour and a half of running time. "Captain Jack" tells her, however, he knows how to find the good Wizard Sharliton (who the princess needs to find her brother which she really doesn't but oh well), so Melodia is forced to follow this guy around who's hitting on her when she doesn't like it in the hopes that he's more honest about knowing wizards than being a brazen outlaw. Seriously, since they seemed to drop the "both fell in love at first sight" 12 seconds after they used it in favour of "he's horny and after her" instead her motivations for following him are highly suspect. Why would she think that the lying liar isn't lying to her now, to borrow the line from Louis Heren?

As these two go through the forest, Captain Jack's other two bandmates go out and also fall in love with other performers: Glen gets the chubby one who's stealing from her coworkers and running off in cowardice, and the mercenary Raeban (Garett Ross) gets the tall prettier one who fakes falling in love with him but doesn't because he's evil, only to reveal at the end they were in love after all. Just because that's how this works (ask late-season episodes of Friends), the evil wizard also gets a girl: the ass-ass-in Vespa who decides that guarding this evil man in service of the royal family will redeem herself.

The story isn't necessarily easy to follow, and throwing in a bunch of clearly out-of-place songs here and there doesn't help the audience keep up: half the running time of each song is dedicated to arguing whether or not there's going to be a chorus of backup singers available. As this play has an obnoxious running time of two hours, cutting out 20 or even 35 minutes of unnecessary singing would be just what the doctor ordered. After the intermission we go to the evil wizard's lair when he fights Glen who has pretended to be the good wizard (Sharliton himself never appears, even though he's cast in the program as Ned Pert), Raeban tries to kill Captain Jack, Vespa tries to kill the tall pretty girl who apparently got her kicked out of the royal guard, and Glen and his girl just try to pilfer the cupboards and run like hell. It's complicated by the fact that the evil wizard has gargoyles in his castle who can sense where everybody is; was anybody else faked out when the gargoyle insisted that what he said was totally true and that Sharliton was in the west wing? I figured for sure that Glen would be elsewhere and the gargoyle was seeing the "real" Sharliton, which would be used for great effect later. Ah well, too bad, I guess. Also in this plot are the two (apparently identical?) halfs of the prince/princess amulet, which are mixed around and confused over and over and over again. Is the evil wizard actually the prince? Or did he just kill the prince and take the amulet, waiting for the princess and her other half to reveal itself? Or did he just find the amulet and the prince is still alive and well, actually one of our main characters though we haven't seen it yet? Yeah, yeah, it's that last one.

The actors themselves were hit and miss: Busby is great at hamming up the Sedgewick character while still giving him just a little hint of pathos. Jenna Dykes does well with Melodia, and she and Busby do a great scene where she holds his hand during the sword fight...Scott Pilgrim vs. The World style. The two girls in the band (Janine Hodder, Kendra Connor) are decent enough as actors, they were clearly hired more for their excellent singing voices: another pox on the genius idea to put the fruit's music into the piece and diminish the remainder of the work. Stevens and Jason Hardwick do a really good job with their parts, particularly the latter, who really seems to enjoy hamming up his role, especially during the singing even if he's not that good at it. I also reserve judgement if Ben Stevens turns out to be just a lethargic stoner in real life which would take away from the performance.

It's also worth a giant caveat: DON'T GO SEE THIS PLAY IN THE EVENING!!!! There are a couple shows coming up August 22 and 23rd in the late afternoon where you may get to enjoy this play without....THE MOSQUITOES There has been, obviously, a mosquito infestation at the 2014 Fringe, and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Venues 14, 15, and 16) have a nice big yard and a garden. The little bloodsucking bastards will brutalize you in line and in the building: every time a spotlight was shone on the stage, the crowd gasped in horror as we saw the mosquito plague fill the air. This may also be God's punishment for hiring a poofter to write the music, or something else the Anglican church has been screwing up this decade. Kudos however to the performers for being able to adlib a couple great mosquito gags into the story. Unsurprisingly, killing one got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

Final line: A meandering but well-intentioned plot, this one tries its best. But the tree of entertainment can easily be poisoned when there's corrupt lifestyles infesting their musical roots.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

Edmonton 2014 Fringe Review: The War of 1812

In 2012, leftists were outraged at Stephen Harper for his "militaristic, patriarchal, inaccurate, blah blah blah" promotion of the War of 1812. Was this part of a longstanding objection to the war we fought against the Americans? Or was it just anti-Harper hate trying to manifest itself in a new form, and deciding to oppose the promotion of the War of 1812 entirely because Harper was the one promoting it? You'll notice there's only one Rabble.ca article link in that last sentence, not two...

And one of the key things I pointed out was that far-left comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie didn't think it unrealistic to promote the War of 1812 when they wrote a song about it. Nor, indeed, when Trolls member Wes Borg wrote a play about it years ago. That play has returned to the stage this year as the last surviving Troll brings his work home...with the help of a couple other actors and his poor beleaguered daughter.

We kick off with, of all things, the voice of the late Pierre Burton, who delivered his lines by phone 18 years ago and shames us into wanting to watch this historically inaccurate play instead of his two War of 1812 books, and several other of his key tomes on the topic of Canadian History (which, Rabble take note, he unequivocally believed was a category the war fell under). And with that, we start with young David angrily talking about how lame Canada is by pointing out all of the American-named things that he buys and lives under. Suddenly, springing from "very cheap confetti" appears Pierre Burton himself (well, in this case unlike the previous, not himself but instead played by an actor...which one won't matter, as the different cast members all take a turn playing both David and Burton) to convince him that Canada isn't in fact "lame" and that we "did kick some asses" even before Vimy Ridge.

With that, we break into a bit of history through the use of a time travelling canoe (it's probably best just to shrug about this plot device, and move on): to the actual Senate testimony calling for a declaration of war, and the opening salvo where General Hull invaded southern Ontario but never press on to reach any strategic military targets. As the play continues, we'll experience the invasion of Detroit where British/Canadian General Isaac Brock didn't have to fire a single shot, and Indian raid on Hull's men (in real life, the Indians were much more bloodthirsty than this play led on, slaughtering American troops even after surrenders and cease-fires were signed: one of the consequences of this of course was the decision to use force rather than treaties in the northwest, since a viciously violent childlike race can ignore the latter but not the former. We're seeing the same situation play out in Gaza). The raid scene is where we first get to see some of the prop-based comedy that this play will delight us all with: the Indians are stick puppets that the actors playing American soldiers hold and use to simulate their own deaths. It would have worked too, if all the actors had fallen on the little tape X's carefully laid out on the floor of these productions.

By the time Brock is leading the charge on the American frontier, the audience participation meter is in full swing: a cannon is used to launch ping pong balls into the audience and once Brock's forces start losing the counter-attack, the cast has ran into the crowd to give us all ping-pong balls the throw back at the Canadian forces before us on stage. Great fun, and some of the many little touches this play does to help draw the audience in and make it a good time (since, as Pierre Burton warned us, it's not going to be very accurate). One of the first casualties is Henry Procter, the Canadian General who was portrayed as a fudge packer throughout the play ("I didn't even sound like this! I was macho!" protested Borg-as-Procter as his order to abandon Tecumseh's Indians and retreat was given), though Tecumseh himself was made out to be a fair bit less savage than history records. Still, Detroit was in Canadian hands and "at the end of the first period the score was CANADA 1, UNITED STATES 0". (Again, actual history being some separate nebulous thing operating far outside the reality of this play)

The play progresses though as the Americans start their counter-attack: General Hampton who tried to conquer Montreal is portrayed as doing kung-fu in a speedo straight out of Die Hard 2. Pierre Burton and Peter Mansbridge fight with oars in a time-canoe battle that Wes Borg turns into a pretty weak celebrity joke, and an audience member gets to play Napolean...for one line. [that seems pretty....short....okay I feel dirty now. -ed]. Finally the play wraps up with the burning of the White House (I briefly thought for sure they were going to literally set fire to the prop, after all the stuff they'd already done) by cleverly turning a cardboard cutout into a flaming pyre, and of course Wes Borg's character learning about the War of 1812 (as Pierre Burton goes off to "teach a young girl in Saskatchewan the importance of the development of the railway system") by singing his famous song on the topic.

The War of 1812 featured a few other running gags too: Borg's daughter was the on-stage sound and prop editor, and the actors enjoyed making her clean up the arrows and ping-pong balls and even the confetti. In turn, she enjoyed spraying way more water on the performers during the naval battles scenes than was necessarily called for. Paul Oppers is apparently in his first Fringe play, which he used many times to justify some of his diva-ish actions. Finally, Kelly Hudson really really really wants to sing but is almost never given the chance to: nor does she get the chance, when Laura Secord is introduced in what even this play's Pierre Burton calls the "Historically Inaccurate Musical Number", to even play the only female character actually in the play. All of these are lovingly played off of. Also played off of, to the extent I think a lot of it was just shady work by the technical crew, was mistakes in the lighting cues. After a while these got old...though I'm sure that Borg and Morgan Cranny were just as frustrated by this as we the audience were. They were the two veteran performers, though perhaps not surprisingly were the weaker actual actors in the work. We've seen these men on-stage before, and their tounge-in-cheek performances in this play work much better than their attempt to re-do Jeff Who Lives At Home.

Final line: Though not big on historical accuracy or fine method acting, this is an expertly pulled off Fringe performance with laughter and frivolity and maybe even a tiny bit of education. Plus, we'll be able to hold this over the head of Harper-Derangement-Syndrome leftists for years.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Ages of the Moon

Can two men sitting around drinking bourbon be interesting? That's the question posed by Ages of the Moon, a play by famed playwright Sam Sheppard and performed by David Wolkowski and Bill Roberts, both of whom were seen at the Fringe last year in the disappointingly rambling Apocalypse Saskatchewan.

This year, of course, they had a bit of a better scriptmaster to helm them: Ages of the Moon kicks off at a rustic cabin out in the middle of nowhere: Ames (Wolkowski) has moved out there in his twilight years in response to his wife finally snapping when he cheats on her one time too many with a girl 1/3rd of his age. Byron (Roberts) has come out to have a visit, and maybe a gloat, and maybe just maybe put an old friend on the ropes into his place. There's a lot of talking in this one, a little rambling, and a broken ceiling fan.

Ames and Bryon talk about the infidelity, and Ames' marriage and the history of him and his wife. Is Byron really part of the history, or is he just as Ames claims trying to "insert" himself into the other's life? It's never fully revealed which is true, which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't the trigger point for the ultimate confrontations the two men have later in the play. I know it's probably a conscious choice not to, this is Sam Sheppard after all, but it would have been nice for the audience to have a clue which man was being unreasonable. After all, if we want to see old men arguing about things in the past nobody can verify, we already have family reunions.

The play starts out fairly entertaining, and gets its legs back at the end, though the middle act does drag on a bit. The actors are competent enough with their lines, but only Wolkowski seems to "get" his character: Byron ends up seeming like a tacked on addition for Ames to play against, not an actual person in his own right. At least Byron didn't used to be a mayor, I'd have probably had to walk out of the theatre. Once the actors leave the porch and start moving around the stage/world, the play fortunately gets its energy back just when it seemed poised to start robbing it from us. The confrontation between the two men threatens to turn deadly against their wishes, and suddenly their friendship is if not rekindled, and least set towards the right path as they stay awake/alive long enough to witness a lunar eclipse.

Final word: One good performance and some quality material to work with makes this play worth seeing, though not particularly entertaining.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)