"This seems to me a symbol for what our party should be"

Puffin bird championed as Liberal symbol:

"It's a noble bird because it has good family values. They stay together for 30 years,'' Ignatieff said Thursday outside a Liberal caucus retreat in the Newfoundland capital.

"They lay one egg (each year). They put their excrement in one place. They hide their excrement. ... They flap their wings very hard and they work like hell.

Of course, 30 is actually 8 in people years...

(fringe reviews coming soon, i promise)

Update, 6:39pm: Bonus Puffin facts from the Wikipedia page:


Its things like this that make Toronto think its the centre of the universe

FAT FRANK’S BIGGER BETTER BITE is Edmonton’s only professional Toronto - style Hot Dog StreetKart vendors and supplies of private label Smokies and Hot Dogs! We not only operate on the street level every day, but may be found as well at most the major events in Edmonton.


Fringe Reviews, Day 8

Today I saw the first of three plays I shall be seeing today: Dickens of the Mounted.

Francis "Frank" Dickens, son of the famed novelist, spent the final 12 years of his life as a North-West Mounted Police officer. This play is adapted from Eric Nicol's 1989 novel, purportedly (but not really) based on Dicken's letters, of which only a small number have been found.

The performance, by Kristian Bruun, is very strong (and physically accurate, according to this photograph) and well tempered. The use of set pieces is notable.

As some sort of parable, as it politically motivated authors intended, it perhaps falls short. Near the end of the play Frank remarks how both America and his father have an urge to right wrongs (Eric Nicol himself is a well-known anti-American nationalist), but in the final analysis Dickens himself was wrong. (He had never really lived in the idyllic peasant villages he so admired in his work, which at least Tolkien had -- and indeed, his son Frank does in this play). Well, again, a romantic view of the west is painted in this play, and while parts of it are probably quite accurate, huge amounts are quite clearly bunk.

The biggest problem I had in this, the final (Edmonton) showing of the play, is that the crowd laughed far too often at things that weren't particularly funny. Other than that though, it really was a good and entertaining show. Interesting narratives, compelling tale, and well acted. Just don't try to draw any historic or moral lessons from it, all right?

Fringe Reviews, Day 7

I didn't really enjoy Tommy either.

Last night I went to a little showing of Superhero LIVE!, a "spoken word rock opera comic book". This, dewey-eyed proponents will tell you, is the heart of the Fringe festival. Not one man plays that you could see at the Citadel, not performances of a George Bernard Shaw work by local troupes, but going to a bar (The Attic in this case) and watching the sort of thing nobody would ever be able to do anywhere else. Well, some ya win...

When something is supposed to be melodramatic and over the top, can you really fault the acting? They certainly are trying. Playwright Aaron Talbot stars as "Superhero" -- so dubbed even before he gets any superpowers at all -- and he has two basic looks: angry animated Jack Nicholson in The Shining look, and sad and tender talking with father look. The first, though only seen briefly, looks convincing. The second needs some work.

Alison Boyce plays "Beautiful Scientist", and...well, how can I put this delicately? She doesn't quite meet the physicality implied by the character's name? She does have a singing voice thats quite good (apparently the only actor who does, as nobody else sings), but her facial expressions are limited to befuddlement.

Shady Character is played by Michael Cowie, who pulls off a Lex Luthor-look fairly well, and...well, he looks and sounds evil, so of course he is. The biggest problem...oh, wait.


...the biggest problem is that at the end of the play, it turns out that Shady Character is actually fighting for the right cause the whole time, and when he loses we get the sense that, well, the wrong guy won.


Finally, Murray Utas plays Al, Superhero's dead father. He's a cross between Hugh Dillon and Wolverine, and while he's the one person with the voice that fits the character, he's never given much for emotional range. Ah well.

The plot? Well, it moves along, and I say moves along generously for a play that starts at 6pm and ends at 8:10 (including a 15 minute intermission). There could surely be some chopping and editing going on in there. An obvious candidate is the make-work project banter between the live musicians (John Davidge and Shaun McKee) and between them and Superhero. It ends up taking you out of the moment, as it were. It's like watching a movie with somebody who keeps pausing to comment on it.

The other complaint, particularly in the first act, is the lack of action. Comic books are action-based media, and seeing 2 1/2 fights the entire show seems a little wrong. In general, the cast all were trying very very hard, and from that it was clear. It was just that the material didn't give them enough to work with.

Update, 3:58pm: I had forgotten to mention earlier that Superhero LIVE! has a website with episodic podcasts, if you're interested. (Beautiful Scientist, it is noted, is played by a different actress). Check them out here.


Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival 2007

I decided to toss in a handy aggregator of all my Fringe reviews, so that if you want to link to them you need only link to this one post and get the rest.

Also, I'll do a bit of ranting and reviewing of the Fringe in general, just to give this post some meat.

The ticketing system, today's Edmonton Journal tells us, is the talk (complaint) of the town. Well, it's not perfect, but its a start. There are a couple of major issues: computer slowdowns and glitches have been a problem. For example, one of the plays I wanted to see was cancelled. The kiosk computer didn't know this. Well, okay, it knew it, but it didn't think to tell the poor girl running it: all she knew is one of my tickets wasn't printing. The lack of a scanner sucks, since you can't print tickets at home. And why the $2 processing fee is per ticket rather than per order seems like a money grab.

Other concerns: the backpack searches are sily. Are they even legal? Doesn't matter, just come in from the north (just east of KidsFringe) and you can pass all sorts of security, sandwich and all. Trust me, I've done it. The party at Next Act Pub doesn't seem as personal as years gone by... haven't seen a single actor there yet.

Oh, a good story: Sunday on the grounds I was approached by a woman protesting the elephants at the Valley Zoo. I angrily told her "I'm not hungry enough as it is, now you have to show me pictures of delicious elephant meat?". That pissed her off royally.

Another exciting tale: one of the Fringe show promoters (for Water perhaps) actually said "We have a classical pianist named Dina Dykrstrum". That can't be a real name!

Another fun fact: one of the audience members for Napoleon's Secret Diary the one night I attended was a dead-ringer for Margaret "Hot Lips" Hoolihan (er, Loretta Swit, not Sally Kellerman).

Okay, onto the reviews:
Day One: The Churchill Protocol
Day Two: Underneath the Lintel and Futures
Day Three: Stand Up Stand Outs
Day Four: How to Fake Clinical Depression
Day Five: Napoleon's Secret Diary
Day Six: Strawberries in January
Day Seven: Superhero LIVE! (new)
Day Eight: Dickens of the Mounted (new)

Fringe Reviews, Day 6

I had an unpleasant relationship once.

Well, several, I suppose, but one was particularly unpleasant notsomuch in how it went, but how it stopped. The one complaint I had during the relationship itself, besides not knowing that it was ending abruptly without my knowledge, was that I had to sit through every stupid romantic comedy known to man. Oh, sometimes I "got to choose" the romcom, but in the end I had to see them all. Maid in Manhatten. Addicted to Love. Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. When the relationship ended, I vowed I would never see another one.

I suppose technically Strawberries in January isn't a movie, and I don't have to count it.

Chris Bullough plays Francois, an annoying French guy. Patrick Howarth plays Robert, a pretentious French guy. Jana O'Connor plays Sophie, an uptight French liberal. Rebecca Starr plays Lea, a...are we out of cliched French characters already? Well, she plays a single mother.

(As aside, Bullough and O'Connor are a real-life couple. The playbill tells you this. The people in the lineup told me this. Bullough and O'Connor essentially told me this over the weekend when I drank with them last weekend -- by this, I mean I drank in the same enclosed space as they did -- and watched them cuddle and kiss for 90 minutes. Today I did the same thing, and it cost me $14)

Francois and Sophie are roommates in love, due to be married, when somebody breaks it off (who? well, we see both sides, and later are told which one it was, and even later are told it was the other, and later still are assured which one was true - a detail I left out). Francois, being an annoying Frenchman with coffee bar, tells the story to pretty much everyone he meets. Robert, being a pretentious professor of French Literature, is at a coffee bar to hear the tale. Meanwhile, Robert has some history of his own, and when Francois sets professor dude on a date with his ex-fiancee, the interconnectedness of their lives starts to pile up not unlike another romantic comedy I watched in the dark days and reviewed on this site.

The biggest dig against the casting: that Francois and Sophie don't seem compatible, is a weak argument to make since the two are actually a couple. I'll make it anyways, and add that while Rebecca Starr looks to be in her late 30s (and could indeed pass for mid-40s as she is portrayed in early scenes) we later find the character is supposed to be 25-28. The elder looks helps us establish her and Robert as a couple, but ends up letting us feel slightly creepy. On the other hand, if I can be nailing mid-20s chicks in my 40s, I'll come back and edit this passage out.

I suppose I can take this opportunity to make another complaint about fringe plays: the number of characters in them who are themselves theatre performers. If art is truely supposed to tell us something about ourselves, we'd better all start writing creative works -- can't expect the fringers to write actual original characters. Or maybe they're telling us our lives don't have enough drama: she's an arc welder with a heart of gold, he sells insurance and ogles black chicks at the bar -- no play to be had there unless she actually paints and writes theatrical works in her spare time!

Where was I? Oh yes, I also have to note that Robert (Patrick Howarth) looks exactly like me, for those wishing to learn what I look like. Well, he doesn't look like me so much as he looks exactly like my autobiographical character in The Sims 2, which is still sort of cool. Anyways, the play has some laughs, has some romance, and has some cute girls as audience members. If you need a date play, Strawberries in January might be what you're looking for.


Fringe Reviews, Day 5

Tonight I went to go see Napoleon's Secret Diary, a one man show that tries to capture Bonaparte's life. If you saw the 5-star show from a few years back about Machiavelli, its the same sort of deal: a look at Napoleon from his own perspective, and not the opinion you expect him to have. In this case, the actor (Ryan Gladstone: thanks playbill!) not only plays Napoleon, but also plays Barras, Joan of Arc (interpreted as Paris Hilton), Alexander the Great (interpreted as Rupert Everett meets a Disney supporting character I can't quite recall), and the headless Louie XVI. Unlike the Fake Depression actor, here we know what the performer is trying to pull, and it works.

There are several recurring jokes (Napoleon is short, his middle name is Glen -- it wasn't, a lot of things have French in the title): Bonaparte is fighting Superman-style for "libertee, equalitee, and twin doors which open in the same way but opposite" for example. His involvement in North American history is left by the wayside, as is his life following Waterloo. While the ABBA finale leaves the audience on a happy note, the play does suffer by never bringing us to the "secret inner thoughts" of his surrender hinted at in the denouement. In fact, many of the secret inner thoughts are left by the wayside, so that while you enjoy sitting in the audience (except for the audience participation segments, which wind up leaving the crowd thinking they can talk during the performance for the next 90 seconds), and applauding at the end, the next few hours leave you feeling empty about the true Napoléon Bonaparte.

Fringe Reviews, Day 4

Sorry for the delay in this one: on Sunday I went to see How to Fake Clinical Depression. It was a good one-man show, staring some guy (no playbill). Not a particularly standout of a play, and reviewing it three days later probably doesn't help.

The gag, you see, is his experience in faking depression in order to earn money. As an aside, this isn't the first autobiographical (or allegedly autobiographical, to steal an editorial outlook from this week's Fringe-reviewing SEE Magazine) play I've seen dealing with humorous or dramatic events. Do would-be fringe stars go around the rest of the year placing themselves into awkward positions in order to make for something to present? If so, that's sort of pathetic. And much of what this actor describes falls squarely under that category. Mad that a research study doesn't place insane barriers of tests (expensive tests, mind you) to make difficult the filtering of perhaps thousands of potential applicants, he takes it upon himself to lie, and basically pad his acting resume. If the goal was to meet diverse people and show during a Fringe play later how well he can do other voices (impersonations only qualify when you can confirm that is what he is doing), then congrats. For anything else, the play gets a little too manipulative, and sometimes that's taken personally.


Fringe Reviews, Day 3

So today I saw what's pushing the limit of a "fringe play" when I went to see Stand Up Stand Outs, a presentation of acts from four local comics. Basically four mini-shows, and the review hinges on what worked, what didn't, and whether you really want to see stand up in lieu of actual original works of fiction. Remember Rodney Dangerfield's character in Caddyshack? Would you have paid $11 in the theatre to have him do his act? Maybe, but thats the decision you should make before even thinking to see this performance.

Sean Lecomber opens up the show...he has a very easy going style, hits the red-band material on occasion with good results, and a very entertaining show. Sean apparently was declared best new act at Just for Laughs this year, and it shows.

Unfortunately, this leads to what is by far the low point of the show: Kelly Soloduka. Kelly apparently had a bad experience in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He also has trouble letting go. He denounces Edmonton's "Fight violence" campaign as having a stupid slogan, but he should be paying more attention to the province's ad campaign: Cage Your Rage. He trashes Prince Albert. He trashes Saskatchewan. He trashes Albertans. He has 3 caveman impressions used to slander us as "simplistic". I suppose its easier than, you know, writing jokes.

As expected, host and show creator Lars Callioeu stole the show. He didn't bring much in the line of new material, so if you've seen his act before (and most of Edmonton has, I suspect, by this point) you aren't getting your $12 worth. Still, he kept the show together, and its good to see that the material that didn't work for him before has been refined to the point where it does.

The show is closed by Andrew Iwanyk, who apparently is half Chinese and has HIV. Or is playing it for laughs. It's awfully hard to get into an act where the performer announces he's HIV positive. Then tells you how it isn't funny. Then four minutes later claims it was all a joke. Some of his stuff is quite good, but the show sort of fell apart when he had two women Indian leg wrestle over whether to do red band material or not. The material ended up being a "Gangbanging for Beginners" presentation, which was the longest 7 minute setup for a lame anal sex joke imaginable.

Remember how Star Trek movies alternated between bad and good? This show was about the same deal. First performance very good, second very bad, third pretty good, fourth pretty bad. A better bet is to just go to a comedy club. At least there you can drink when the show sucks.

An aside, if you have $10 burning a hole in your pocket (I didn't) or an intense desire to watch all 4 performers again (I didn't) then you can purchase a DVD of their individual Comedy Strip performances (I didn't).

The Pembina Institute are idiots

So the left-wing loonies over at the Pembina Institute is complaining because Alberta has a cap of 900 MW of wind power. (Since wind power is unreliable, the province feels its wise not to place greater than 10% of total electrical generation on such a source). They want the cap removed, as they feel that there are up to 3000MW of power which can be generated by interested parties.

Since, after all, Alberta is already right up tight against the cap almost halfway to the cap... that's right: ~450MW of wind power is currently being generated. If there was such interest in more wind power, dontcha think somebody would have used the existing room to play with?


Fringe Reviews, Day 2

This will be a two-parter, since I'm online in between the play today I have seen and the play today I have not. Hopefully that makes sense, but 3 trips to the beer gardens today and I'm a bit tipsy.

This morning's performance was Underneath the Lintel, which sorta sounds like a Gwen Stefani song but is really an interesting tale about a disgraced librarian trying to track down a seriously overdue book with a seemingly impossible trail that turns out to be a little too easy. As things go along, it turns out the reason there was coincidently always another clue was because somebody was always leaving one. Could the late book return be from the Wandering Jew? What implications does it have to our existence? And will the search ruin a second man's life?

The one-man performance by John D. Huston (who looks sort of like Dean Stockwell) is incredible, a full 90 minute no-break show. There was possibly a technical glitch that kept the slides from running... or possibly not, since it could have all been part of the show. Readers who attend other showings could possibly fill me in. It was a great performance in any regard, and highly recommended.

Update, August 18 2007 10:44am: Last night I also saw Futures, a 4-person audio-visual heavy play that can be quickly summarized as pretty weak: particularly if you aren't so far gone to actually think this global warming scam is true.

The year is 2014. Global warming is considered to be out of control, and even if everybody started living in caves nothing would change. (Basically Bjorn Lomborg's prediction, only this time illogically dedicated to the belief that we still should "do something"). A massive world conference is being held to deal with the change. Dr. Hannah something, M.I.T.'s leading climate change researcher, has come up with a way to let us keep burnin' fossil fuels and just scrub carbon out of the air. But to get her findings to those who need it, she'll need to deal with her activist ex-boyfriend, a sleazy investment-seeking spook, and the fact that the only reason I cared about her character is because the actress who plays the role, kindergarten teacher Marissa Robinson, is hot (especially when she's in just a bra and tight pants halfway through the show).

Oh, speaking of which, the play is a little longer than the 75 minutes advertised. For those of us who had tried to make plans, and found ourselves late for appointments.

The other actors, Nicholas Cole, Matthew Spinney, and Scott Shannon, are all decently okay. It's a shame they get bogged down in what's classic "fringe overplay"... a lot of dramatic jumps to all 4 members speaking in unison. The playbill features a message from the playwright, Len Falkenstein of New Brunswich, who rants about how he started caring for the environment because of his kid, which is almost a shame as if he really cared for children he wouldn't have written such an overbearing script.

There is also a rather serious technical problem: two large multimedia screens are used to show pictures, and also titles for segments of the production. The problem is, they never thought much about the sightlines in the Varscona Theatre, and as a result even close to the centre you spend too much time totally unaware of whats on screen as set pieces are left haphazardly in the middle of the stage. Seriously kids, that's what rehearsals are for.

Fringe Reviews, Day 1

Well, saw my first play last night. It was an action packed first night at the fringe: at the beer tent last night, I seem to recognize the guy behind me. Where do I know this guy from? He's got his questionably fruity handler with him, he's bald with hints of red hair, quite tall.

Suddenly it hits me: I'm standing in front of that Klein-obsessed moron Kevin Taft! Ohh, the things I could say. The things I could do. I'm tempted to make a gun-related comment, decide against it. So there you go: I missed my chance to punch Kevin Taft. I'm bringing weapons to Day 2 today...

Anyways, the play. I saw one of those possibly polemic plays that I might have hated: The Churchill Protocol. It's all about a secret military facility in Canada holding prisoners from Afghanistan being investigated by a reporter. The synopsis brings fears of Gitmo/Yankee "satire", which fortunately was somewhat unfounded.

The plot actually fades into the background compared to the performances (er, one of them at least), so I'll concentrate on that. The highlight has to be co-writer Kris Joseph's "Colonel", who's real name is (assumably) never given. The best way for me to describe him is a cross between Sigfried (Bernie Kopell) from Get Smart, Emporer Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer) from Babylon 5, and Mr. Peterman (John O'Hurley) from Seinfeld. He's manic, he's obsessed with mind over matter, slightly paranoid, and swears constantly: but never anything other than "damn". The other character, played by Patrick Gauthier (also of the writing team) is a Globe and Mail reporter named Adam something. [note to producers of these plays: why give the character names, even assumed aliases, and then not put them on the playbill? It hurts the chances for a quality review. -ed] His character is more whiny and annoying than anything [an annoying Globe and Mail journalist? At least they're striving for accuracy... -ed]. As a foil to the military officer, it is at least effective. The writers don't quite pull the classic "sympathetic reporter, asshole army guy" heart-tugging cliche, which works quite well.

As for the plot, these guys (judging by their previous works) are obsessed with goats. At least it makes for an interesting premise: what do Afghan cargo planes, goats, polar bear jails, secret black projects, and the squeamish Canadian people have to do with each other? Because much of the message of the play seems to be that the Canadian Military is really more secretive and powerful than is generally assumed, and that efforts to make larger pushes in national defense are essential for the future. As the army guy notes, the Canadian Armed Forces are expected to defend a country "twice the size" (not really) of the U.S., with 1/10th of the population and full of resources much of the world desires, all without offending her citizens' moral objection to the use of force. The reporter tries to mass a defense against the Colonel's logic using principles of openness and democracy, but its pretty clear who has the stronger arguments.

The play itself is very entertaining, quite a few jokes (the Colonel's spitting after mentioning "The CBC" was a personal highlight), and absolutely no annoyingly leftist assaults on the poor Gitmo detainees that evil neocon warlord Bush is responsible for. Definitely a good start to the 2007 Fringe festival. Even if this morning Kevin Taft is still annoyingly alive.

Update, 4:11pm: SPOILER ALERT!:

I'm confused still though about why the guy's arm got cut and healed. Seems contrary to the goal at the end of the production.


Fringe is here

Yes, once again I am going to attend some Fringe Festival plays, and will hopefully get some reviews in.

I'll caution you, a few of the plays look to be polemic (partly Iraq-centred), and therefore odds are I will hate them.

Recommendations on what to see can be added in the comments. Remember Feynman and Coulter's Love Child's primary Fringing rule, however:

No fags.


Question the Second:

When emailing an ex because the "stuff you left at my place" box doesn't include a couple VHS movies that are hard to replace, has anybody else had trouble resisting the urge to use the email subject line:

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

(no, this wasn't one of the movies)

Question the First:

Is it totally improbable that we could round up the world's computer programmers and convince them to come to an agreement on style?

There are currently two schools of thought (two too many) on what to do about first-time alert messages.

Should the message be "Don't show me this message again?"

Or should it be "Show me this message again?" (which I temporarily can't find an image of). Some programs do it one way, others do it another. It's annoying...

Update, August 15 2007 5:41pm: With no available examples, I simply created my own.


A public announcement

To whomever defaced the right-wing bumper stickers on my car on Whyte Avenue last night: I will find you. I will kill you. I will use your mother as a test of how sympathetic to sodomy you really are. Don't think you can escape me.


Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?

I went to go see Transformers last night.

Something seemed wrong to me, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it until this afternoon. I was worried going in that the movie would end up just like Masters of the Universe did, spending too much time on its new human characters when really all we want to see is more involving our fantasy characters. This movie had it in spades, but I had been expecting that.

So what had me on edge? Was it Optimus Prime's apparent lack of leadership skills? His use of the phrase "my bad"? His failure to utter (wholly intact) the line "Autobots! Transform and roll out!"?

No, today I figured out that the first 1/3 of the movie was pretty much just a guy trying to land a hot girl with the help of his magical sentient (but non-talking) used car.

Michael Bay basically made a Herbie movie, with a few transforming special effects added on for size. Bumblebee even drives on his two side wheels for pity's sake...


You're joking, I know it: Notley doesn't do comedy anymore

Yes, that's right, believe it or not: a recent Bob the Angry Flower cartoon was funny.

I mean, lets face it, ever since he broke his rule about "not getting political" in his strips, the son of the famous NDP loner has been almost univerally dreadful. In his pink-tinged world, the world has never seen a more horrific villain than Bush/Cheney and the Oil For Food scandal never happened (only in the BtAF universe would Kofi Annan ever be a hero, for example).

But, oddly enough, a strip of his from a couple months ago actually made me laugh out loud. So kudos on that one. Also, except for a description of his archive referring to Bush, the President's name does not occur on his main page anymore, with only the smallest smattering complaints of a guy who hangs around with too many hippies on trips to Edmonton. (Between his presence and Andy Dick's, its a wonder anybody risks lining up at Black Dog)

Bonus Notley Note #1: I have once passed him on the street, and twice been mistaken for him at the bar. We don't even look alike. What's up with that?

Bonus Notley Note #2: My new laptop came with 3 free plays of "Bookworm Adventures", the game that finally drove him over to Seattle. What name did I give myself to play? Notley is a Commie. Great fun.