Edmonton 2013 Fringe Review: Apocalypse Saskatchewan

Apocalypse Saskatchewan is the story of how three old retirees in small town Saskatchewan cope with a zombie outbreak.

Sorry, I was maybe a little loose with the facts there, that sentence was basically a synopsis of the line in your fringe program. Apocalypse Saskatchewan is actually about three confused old men who sit in a coffee shop, deliver the same 10-15 lines of dialogue over and over again, and try to make it look like there's a plot when there really isn't.

Apocalypse Saskatchewan [hey fringe authors, can you please make plays with words that aren't so easy to misspell? This review is my own personal apocalypse. -ed] opens in a small town coffee shop as Cliff and Bill sit talking about how quiet things are, the weather, etc. etc. It's your very typical small town small talk, and it seems like the talk about how the town is slowly dying and things are even slower than usual is the setup for a stealth zombie apocalypse plot.

Spoilers: it isn't, and there isn't. When sort-of-wheelchair-bound Charlie shows up the plot gets underway, as the story weaves the mysterious explosion at Charlie's house, a new superbug hitting Toronto, weird slow-moving kids, and the decline of the town together to...no, sorry, this is what the playwrights thought again. None of these things ever happened. Well, okay, the story referenced them, but there wasn't much in the way of a tie-in. First Charlie thinks the Middle Eastern gas employee did some terrorism -- one of the few good lines, when he learns the guy was actually born in Canada, he says "it's that home grown terrorism. I mean, he did terrorism to my home -- then thinks the Germans are trying to kill him because of his past in WWII. Cliff just blames the government for everything, and in what you'd like to think is a nod to Bush Derangement Syndrome but really is just lazy writing he blames them for both being incompetent and simultaneously chillingly well run. Bill literally does nothing in this play but say that when he was mayor none of these bad things happened. No, I'm serious, I think that's his entire dialogue.

When the guys finally realize the house explosion was caused by the same Toronto zombie-creating superbug that zombie-king Lloyd Robertson was trying to warn them about (no, don't ask, it'll just make your brain hurt), they spring into action, fortifying the Winchester -- well no, the coffee shop, but you should probably all know what I'm talking about -- and planning their bold move to drive through town clearing out all the zombies. They try a bit of slapstick here which doesn't really work, and ends the next morning as Cliff's daughter, who owns the coffee shop, comes in to scream at them for being ridiculous and for making a mess of her shop.

The premise for this play sounded promising -- The Waking Dead meets Corner Gas -- but the execution was brutal. The actor who played Cliff was really good, looking and sounding sort of Gordon Pincent-y. Charlie did some good acting, but the actor flubbed a huge number of his lines. Bill and the girl were probably okay, but were given so little of quality to work with its really hard to make a judgement call.

Having a zombie apocalypse striking a dying rural town while the old men who drink coffee all day watch and react to the happenstance would have been a really cool setup, but instead we never got that. We got late-run Friends style jokes, where we're just supposed to hear the catchphrases and fill in the rest, one good performance and one passable performance and two roles where you couldn't tell, and a script that had no tension, no focus, and no real creativity.

Finally, a few things that struck me. First off, what's with the Saskatchewan love for Stephane Dion? This play has a whole segment devoted to him, and then he's prominently on the wall in the Shit Saskatchewinians Say video. That really makes no sense whatsoever. Secondly, when it turns out Charlie has a history of accidentally blowing things up, and Clifford has a history of screwing things up, why on earth would any of these three assume the zombie hordes based on insanely flimsy evidence and knowing their own history like this? It would be like me claiming to my family and friends that I was slashed on the palm in a bar fight. I don't get in many bar fights. I do have a bad habit of playing with knives and cutting my hand. This play ended up being as if I got everybody I know in a frenzy over finding the asshole who slashed my hand. Finally, why are these three guys so in the know about zombies anyways? The zombie craze is literally less than a decade old. Night of the Living Dead was in 1968, meaning that a 70-something today would have been already in his mid-to-late-20s when that movie came out, and in his 40 when Dawn of the Dead came out -- not exactly the prime demographic for picking up the cultural significance.

Final word: You'd probably have more fun actually just sitting in a small-town coffee shop.