2010 Edmonton Fringe Review Day 7

Underneath the mango tree
Me honey and me can watch for the moon
Proponents of Canada's loose-as-Darrin-Hagen's-anus immigration policy tend to have some wonky beliefs. The total list is too much to get into here, but amoung them is the concern that by bringing them over here, the Third World can be "saved" from poverty. There are of course many strong arguments against this point, but while we tend to focus on the economic harm caused by giving incentive for their best and brightest to move away, Under the Mango Tree looks more at the human cost of whisking men away from their families.

Timal is one of the Hindu minority in Fiji: her mother has died, leaving her father and her grandparents to raise her. When she turns ten, her father leaves for Canada, where she is assured he will soon become rich and be able to bring her with him. To give away the ending, this never happens: over the next decade or so of Timal's life she is forced to endure letters only, distancing her from the family in Fiji determined to arrange a marriage and keep her there in the village. Playwright-cum-actress Veenesh Dubois does a pretty good job with her material here, (mostly) effortlessly switching between the characters. Her frantic acting style results in the need for a mid-play break, which is used with a live-action expression of a letter from home (the $2 bill makes a surprise appearance) which helped the audience as well when we started becoming a little weary or her performing. It's almost disappointing that some of the other letters weren't expressed in a similar way, though most of the letters required Timal to provide mini-editorials.

As the play nears its end, however, heartache begins to reign, and when a now grown and married Timal leaves her own young daughter to visit Canada in her father's illness the parallels of the two Canadian departures doesn't even have time to resonate before Timal arrives just in time for a funeral, cursing and spitting on the affluent country that somehow decided that it needed an additional blood sacrifice from her long-lost father. As the immigration debate ebbs and flows, its a subtle reminder that we impose not only an economic hardship on every foreign family who's hardest workers abandon them and their families.

Ever since DeWitt's formulation of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, science fiction has loved the notion that each decision we make creates a parallel universe in which that decision took place. Ignoring briefly that the same story which used the many-worlds interpretation will also involve some device who's operation is dictated by the Copenhagen interpretation or a von Neumann interpretation, once writers find themselves in this world, all sorts of wacky events can take place.

This is what The Excursionists: A Matter of Seconds looks into. The sequel (apparently) to an earlier work I never saw, features Victorian inventor Goggins and his high-society idiot friend Necksycracksy. Goggins has created time machines out of two bathyspheres with clocks on them, and the two of them travel through history on a whirlwind adventure. Their thrills start in 1509, where it seems they have accidentally beheaded Henry VIII on his coronation day. Escaping the mobs, they travel to 1613, where Shakespeare puts on a play about the beheading in which Goggins and Necksycracksy feature prominently. As they try to ponder how this could have happened, the story cuts away to Necksycracksy and Goggins....but this time Necksycracksy is the genius professor while Goggins is the bumbling politico. It transpires that these two Victorian explorers also built a time machine, with the express purpose of going back and assassinating Henry VIII. This is explained as required for France to invade England, although we know full well that the only way you can travel back in time to let France win a war is the complete annihilation of the opposing country.

This is where the fresh take on the parallel universe theory is so appreciated: through some remarkably clever stage techniques, Christopher Bange and Professor Jonah Von Spreecken do battle with the parallel versions of themselves, encounter each other in numberous settings, do battle with themselves, and ultimately kill themselves. There is a little bit of crowd involvement in this work, which I'm not particularly a fan of. There's also self-referential fringe jokes in this work, which I'm also not particularly a fan of. However, there is enough high adventure and gags and snappy writing to make The Excursionists worth a look.