2013-08-28

2013 Edmonton Fringe Review: Sigmund Freud's Last Session

As World War II began to dawn, Britain was tensed on the verge of war. Air raid sirens were installed throughout the land, the citizens implored to carry gas masks, and children sent out to the countryside to reduce the civilian impact on mass bombings of cities. During this same time the legendary psychologist Sigmund Freud (with help from HG Wells, Princess Bonaparte, and a Nazi official sympathetic to scientific causes) at great cost and near ruin was able to escape Austria to reside in North London. Here, his daughter Anna re-created his Vienna consulting room and allowed Freud to resume his work. Unfortunately, he only had 15 more months of life left in him.

In Sigmund Freud's Last Session, in the dying days of his life Freud calls on famous author and Oxford professor Clive Staples Lewis to come visit him and discuss a matter weighing heavily on Freud's mind: how a well respected intellectual like CS Lewis could be a famously regarded atheist one day, and an impassioned believer the next. This premise is a fictionalized sort of representation of what the PBS program about the two arguments side-by-side would be if the men actually encountered each other. As they discuss each others lives, take brief turns psychoanalyzing each other, and endure the shocks of the news broadcasts from the early days of the German invasion of Poland, they spar on matters of religious faith and the paths that drove each man to his unassailable position.

Both actors are well suited for their parts, but Randy Ritz's Freud steals the show and leaves Michael Peng looking a little weak as CS Lewis as a result. It also helps for Ritz that he so well embodies the Sigmund Freud we all know in our collective consciousness. The collective awareness of the personality of CS Lewis isn't nearly so strong, so it's harder to get a read on the character: particularly when Lewis is perhaps too often left in the role of the straight man to play off the much more robust and narrative-driving character of Sigmund Freud. "There's no escaping this, is there?" Lewis asks at one point while pointing at the (never once used) couch, during a particularly biting attack by Freud about his relationship with Jane Moore. There isn't, and while Freud gets most of the best lines and the funniest jokes, CS Lewis is the one who gets the philosophizing. It may just be because so much of Freud's attacks on religion are the same worn-out tropes that Stephen Fry has been falling into lately, the kind that Lewis so gently mocks with his note that "science doesn't know for sure what killed the dinosaurs, but I don't get angry when they give their theories". Stephen Fry, please pick up the white courtesy phone and prepare to lay down while some doctor examines what's going on in your head.

The play moves along fairly well, though the segues between the various avenues of exploration can get a little thin at times. The authors of the play had worn out the discussion on one point and wanted to move onto another, but couldn't find an organic way to get there. Once or twice was forgivable, but it was a recurring problem throughout the work. The frantic action events in the play (the false alarm air raid alert, the insistence of Freud that Lewis pull out his prosthetic) also seem quite unnatural, and remind you that you are in a fictional world.

Still, the play is well crafted and moves along well, with the weighty subject matter never becoming too preachy one side or the other, and as promised early on by CS Lewis, Freud had to argue against Christianity being argued from a rationalist perspective, not being allowed to fall into the tropes Fry and his ilk are always so guilty of. There's a little too much of the "oh and then let me tell you something about MY life..." that was a problem in last year's Woodsworth vs Mackenzie King play as well. Not all of us have to tailor our philosophies around specific events in our lives -- even if Sigmund Freud wishes it to be true.

The only other negative that could be said about this play is, well, Freud himself. He's something of an overplayed trope of fiction and while he certainly makes for strong subject matter, there are other well known figures who could parlay with CS Lewis.

Regardless, it's an excellent play worth seeing, and being a Fringe Holdover this year even though the Fringe may be over, you can still go take in this work.

2013-08-26

From Fringe With Love: the 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival

(this post is "sticky" until August 26th. Scroll down for new content)


It's that time of year again! The 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival begins today, with a celebration of James Bond (again!), a newly redesigned venue (that I've already peed in), and a wide selection of interesting shows indoor and out from around the world.

As always, Third Edge of the Sword will be at the Fringe for most if not all of the next 11 days, with regular dispatches both here and on Twitter to help you have the best possible Fringe-going experience. This post will be your one-stop portal for the rest of From Fringe With Love, with links here to everything posted on any non-Twitter medium (though I may do a nice tweet wrap-up near the end, stay tuned). And finally, of course, as we have done every year from Third Edge of the Sword World Headquarters in Adelaide, Australia there is only one rule:

No fags.

Apocalypse Saskatchewan review

Love, Hate, and Daryl Katz review

Death is Bullshit! review

Moscow Stations review

My analysis of problems with the newly redesigned Fringe grounds.

One Man Lord of the Rings and One Man Star Wars review

Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl review

2013-08-24

2013 Edmonton Fringe Review: Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

In order to pay her crippling student loans, Joanie Little ("there's nothing Little about me!") works in an independent coffee shop in downtown Toronto (the first sign you're in a fictional universe is that of course all downtown Toronto has is Starbucks and Second Cups duking it out for the last scraps of caffeine-junkied folks in the world's worst city), and dreams of something bigger. A huge fan of Jane Goodall, Joanie decides that she'll endure the mists of vapour being spit on her from outraged customers ("seriously, soy and lactose-free are the same thing!"), and try to document her life in the jungle of King and Simcoe.

For the most part the show works well, playwright Rebecca Perry carries her character effortlessly (this is one of the dreaded semi-autobiographicals, so sadly no points to be awarded here) and the style, where she part sings and cleans shop while telling the story of her life passing by and the characters that inhabit her world, is breezy and easy to sit through. Perry's style is part Felicia Day, part Rose McGowan, and part Meg Ryan and as she talks about the events that happen to her, we're drawn quite effectively into her story.

If there's a problem with Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, it's that she's not really the driving force in her own narrative. Too often things just happen, and she's there to witness them. This might have worked, particularly with the Jane Goodall analogy, if the analogy had made an appearance at any time during the middle of the play: it was at the beginning, and at the end, and then not much else. Sure Joanie worked on her journal, but if she wanted to study the Toronto gorillas properly we needed to be given that experience. As such, we're enjoying the story but at the end wishing there was a little more meat: kind of like the breakfast snacks sold at high-end coffee shops, come to think of it.

Perry plays the parts of those around her mostly though coffee mugs with the relevant faces on them, from her airy boss to his entitled brother: and the love interest in the last third of the play is appropriately enough Michelangelo's David (played against Venus de Milo): a granite symbol of the man of Joanie's dreams, but almost as motionless as her life narrative seems. Marco is his name, and he flirts with her through notes in the tip jar. His departure at the end seems to mark...the end of the adventure? Sadly, a little epilogue wraps up the ending that should have been experienced, and we see more of this fictional universe where Marco moves to Vancouver and marries a "beautiful environmental consultant" (which don't exist).

With a soundtrack featuring soft-guitar coffeeshop versions of hits like Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk or Zing Go the Strings of My Heart, Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is an enjoyable light romp that will definitely entice you into a fun hour of light comedy, wishing you could have spent a little more time in it.

2013-08-23

2013 Edmonton Fringe Review: One Man Star Wars and One Man Lord of the Rings

Twelve years ago Prince George, British Columbia native Charlie Ross began performing One Man Star Wars shows, and the Edmonton Fringe was one of his top destinations. A dozen years -- and a license from George Lucas -- later, he's still doing it, and a decade ago he added Lord of the Rings to his repertoire.

This year he's doing both at the same festival, alternating night by night. I attended both the Sunday LotR and Monday SW (only one of them abbreviates well) showings, and might as well just review them in tandem.

The first thing to say right out at the beginning is that One Man Lord of the Rings (OMLOTR from now on) is better than One Man Star Wars Trilogy (OMSWT). As Ross freely admits, his Gollum is better than his Yoda and his Gandalf is better than his Obi Wan.

It's not just in the characterizations though: OMLOTR is a tighter performance, both more technically proficient (despite, or perhaps because of his long history doing OMSWT Ross seems often bored or unfamiliar with the material, typically making far more mistakes and breaking character far more often) and being better drafted story-wise (not surprising here with Lord of the Rings being something he watched entirely in his adult life, not coloured by childhood devotion to the source material). It begins with the exposition that would be explained to you if only you had bothered to read the books. Ross is wonderful as he goes from Frodo to Gandalf to Bilbo to Gandalf, moving his body up and down so seamlessly you almost forget there isn't a second actor up there. The pastoral energy in the first movie is captured perfectly, and by the time Aragorn has joined us at the Council of Elrond you're right there in with the story. Equally chilling is his portrayal of the death of Boromir, playing both the shooting and receiving of the arrows to the chest with awesome precision. Oddly, his portrayal of the Witch King versus Frodo isn't nearly as effective, but its hard to say exactly why. Once the Fellowship is on its journey and we've all enjoyed a good Matrix joke at Hugo Weaving's expense we switch to his powerful reproduction of the death of Gandalf (the Grey) and the opening scenes of the Two Towers.

Here is where Gollum makes his appearance, and Ross' version is very impressive. You can watch it on the YouTubes if you like. It's good that Gollum arrives, because that and his excellent portrayal of Aragorn discovering the hobbits survived the Rohirrim's assault on the Orc band is what helps you get through the Two Towers portion that drags quite a bit (as indeed the movie does).

As the combat starts increasing in OMLOTR it becomes quickly apparent where one of the problems inherent to OMSWT arises: in OMLOTR Ross is playing Orcs battling Hobbits and Men and Elves and Dwarves with some Fangorn and cave trolls thrown in. All of these creatures, its worth noting, have 2 arms and 2 legs and a head and a torso. Charlie Ross has these as well, so during the various fights and combat scenes you're able to see him performing as the actors (digital or 100% analog) did in the movies. In OMSWT Ross has to break out his "4 years of mime school" to play Star Destroyers, X-Wings, Death Stars, Ion Cannons, AT-AT walkers, AT-ST walkers, the Millenium Falcn, droids, and speeders. You realize how much of the original Star Wars especially was told through special effects: the X-wings attacking the Death Star is a long stretch where no humans move around: they sit in pilots chairs while their vehicles do battle, and Ross has to represent them while humming the music.

OMSWT is also is impacted by the fact that Luke is a bit of a whiner, and Ross decides to really overplay that aspect of his character. The problem you may realize is that Luke is the main character, and that means that we get to experience whiny Luke in large chunks throughout the show. Add in the (on Monday, at least) technical difficulties and the fact that too many of the jokes in OMSWT take you out of the narrative, and it makes the older work suffer in comparison with the newer one. OMSWT has its strengths too, to be sure. Oddly enough few of them occur in the first movie and not many more during Empire, it's during Return of the Jedi that the work finally gets its legs and becomes a fine work in its own right. Ross's Jabba the Hutt really brought the crowd alive, and his Emperor, while not on par with a certain 74 minute YouTube star's, is very good. By the time Jedi rolls around the story is going gangbusters well.

Both shows, it must be said, are actually worthless if you haven't seen the source material. In a way the big weakness of the shows is that the casual fan of each ("I think I watched Lord of the Rings" or "I haven't watched Star Wars in 10 years") is also going to get very little out of the play. Do you really remember in detail Gandalf's confrontation with King Theoden if you only saw the movie once in theatres? How often do you need to re-watch Star Wars to appreciate Ross simulating the canyon run from A New Hope? If you aren't really a big fan of each franchise, you probably should stay away. If you are, though, these shows are for you! If you can see both starting with OMSWT then do so, if you can see both with OMLOTR first that's your second option, OMLOTR alone your third, and OMSWT the fourth.

Oh, and spoilers: incest. A brother and a sister kind of make out.

Final word: If you get this picture then get your ass to One Man Star Wars and One Man Lord of the Rings

2013-08-21

Edmonton 2013 Fringe Review: The Festival Grounds

This review isn't going to be about a play, but instead something far more intrinsic to the Fringe experience: the grounds.

As noted on Twitter, a large number of Fringe Festivalers don't actually see (or indeed know about) any plays. Don't ask me how they don't know: you'd think the 30 people an hour pushing playbills into their hands would constitute a sign. Be that as it may, for the vast majority of people who "check out the Fringe" they don't know that you have to avoid 172,000 plays starring that sodomistic lunatic Darren Hagin, or that you can change the name of the Catalyst to C103 but you can't make it even remotely bearable for an audience and wait isn't theatre the only thing they do there?

For these people, the grounds are the Fringe Festival, and making the grounds a positive experience for the people is the best way to keep them there long enough to maybe notice the big red bunkers selling tickets all over the place. Oh come on, you haven't noticed that? How about all the giant "venue" towers in front of those doors? Why are you people so clueless?

Anyways, getting back to the grounds: this year they kind of suck. The Fringe app promised me awesome newly designed grounds. The main beer tent is larger! New locations for the stages and busker shows! Every one of the changes they did is worse! Hooray.

I wrote last year about the curious lack of food trucks at the Fringe grounds. Well, the geniuses in the know took my advice to heart, because this year the grounds have fewer food trucks than last year! For those who didn't do the math, that means this year there are in fact zero.

Okay so Next Act is next door, but there are lots of food trucks in this city, n'est pas? And none of them setup on the grounds? Along Calgary Trail north of 83rd avenue is a vendor line, a perfect place to put a row of food trucks. Instead we have the same burger place that usually was by the beer gardens, the taco in a bag place that used to be between the hippie beads and the beer gardens, and then more places where hippies are selling beads and paintings and tshirts with bicycles and accessory scarves with bicycles. No food trucks. Is this the food truck people making this call, or the Fringe grounds people? Anybody?

Also oddly lacking is the Churros hut that was next to the south beer gardens, a topic which we're going to get to soon. At Heritage Festival this was bizarrely the busiest "country" of them all, the Churros hut. It's a personal thing, but I didn't get anything there since in 2 weeks it would be sitting next to my beloved beer gardens at the Fringe. Now its nowhere to be found. I don't get this. New Asian village is still on-site, next to the north beer gardens, which is decent enough, but I do miss the Greek truck that was there. In the old space occupied by New Asian Village is...well, nothing. Anybody noticing a theme here?

There is a couple bright spots: there's a German deli (to replace the missing Italian sandwich place) and a place that sells a variety of meat-enabled poutines. The infamous falafel hut with donair poutine, the hit of the 2012 festival, is still there. There are apparently expanded grounds at Faculte St. Jean, which may have some of our missing vendors (I'll report on that later in the week). But that's about it for the good news.

Two years ago there was a "sustainable carnival" in the north half of the grounds. I liked this, it gave me the hope that like the Edinburgh Fringe our festival was geared to supplant and take over the major festival (K-Days) it was created in response to. Now for 2 consecutive years it hasn't been there at all. Instead this year we have the "ATB Community Lounge". They don't sell beer (or, almost always, anything) there, so guess how many people use it. Yeah, probably pretty close to zero. Zero performers are also using the "performers only rest area" south of the main beer gardens which I promise you I'm getting to. The back parking lot of Knox Church isn't available this year either, which gives even more empty unused space on the north grounds. The street along Armoury is deserted from end-to-end, there isn't even an alternate stage up there this year. It looks, from all practical purposes, that the fringe grounds are shrinking.

I wish I'd taken a picture to illustrate this, and I might later in the week for posterity's sake, but was there any reason to have a collapsible set of grandstand seating pointing at absolutely nothing in front of Knox Church? And then have a busker spot right next door? The design of the grounds this year looks like something done by focus group, or perhaps in the interests of fostering greater diversity they had the autistic kid who was the subject of that nasty letter this week do the layout.

And now...to the beer gardens. The north gardens are going great, they have nicely matured to what we would like them to be, though I wouldn't mind the north fence going further out and/or incorporating a couple food trucks. New Asian Village is accessible from within the beer gardens which is nice. The "wine gardens" have been slightly expanded, but not to fill where New Asian Village used to be, and now they have no food options. If you're stuck with a wine drinker, you need this to be better.

We all need the main beer gardens to be kickass, and this year they aren't. The beer gardens have been expanded, now going all the way to the edge of the parking lot alongside Gazebo Park (and yes I know that's not its name). The fence is expanded a bit north too, now that the aforementioned burger joint has been pushed back to 104th street. You'd think this was good. It is not so good. For one thing, the extra beer gardens space doesn't really provide any more seating: there's a huge empty space west of the edge of the tables and east of the fence that doesn't get used for anything other than a single garbage can (garbage being garbage, if you have a can there's no receptacle for you but I just throw everything in there so it doesn't bother me that much). The table layout isn't as crowded in years past, but I don't think there are much for extra seats, and the close proximity to hot chicks was more of a feature than a bug anyways (they may disagree in the comments with bra photos iff they like). What did we lose? Well, food for one thing: the burgers may have been iffy at the place next door, but at least we could eat without leaving the drink behind. Sending individuals off on food errands doesn't exactly add to the party atmosphere. And if we the beer garden patrons lost much but gained little, we fared far better off than everybody else.

As a result of the beer garden expansion, the north-south traffic is now a massive bottleneck, especially during or just after a show on the main stage (and hey, that's almost all the time!). To make matters worse, if you're walking north the beer garden entrance is right there, so the security is busy telling asian women with baby carriages that they have to go around. It cuts off a natural pathway and is always going to be insanely crowded. Move the entrance to the east or north side of the beer gardens please! We don't have to worry about people finding the entrance. There's Grasshopper in there, we'll smell it out, don't worry. I've spent $200 on beer tickets in 4 days on the grounds, I am highly motivated to somehow navigate my way to that countertop where they always assume I don't know you need tickets which is getting patently ridiculous at this point.

I don't yet have all the answers on how to fix the Fringe grounds, but they are very very very broken, and this can help explain why. Step one, put the main beer gardens back to normal next year. Holy shit.

2013-08-20

Edmonton 2013 Fringe Review: Moscow Stations


Moscow Stations is the legendary Fringe play based on Moscow-Petushki, which you can buy here in book form. The play itself is, from what I can gather, fairly faithful to the spoken word frantic style of the book. The play itself is famously tied to the granddaddy festival of the fringe in Edinburgh Scotland, and I figured it was worth checking out.

Yes, and no. The play opens up splendously with Clayton Jevne coming out to talk about wandering the streets of Moscow unable to see the Kremlin. If you've never been to the city, by the way, it's quite the feat: only about 3 different subway stations drop you off near Red Square, and if like our protagonist you've ever wandered along the Moskva you really have to try very very hard not to find yourself at its imposing walls wondering how many cameras are watching you at this very moment but still probably fewer than if you were in Westminister. Vanya, however, has managed to do this. He's an employed alcoholic in the Soviet Union of the 70s, the kind of chilling social structure that the infamous 99% would find themselves committing emo-suicide if they lived in even as they demand identical government policies. He was fired from his State job for publishing tongue-in-cheek individualist reports (about staff alcohol consumption), and finds himself aimless wandering around with a suitcase full of hooch and a dream in his heart.

Vanya, you see, is in love. His love, and their love-child, live in Petushki where Vanya visits every Friday. On this particular day, Vanya is very excited to see his lover for the 13th Friday. Thirteen Fridays barely put Vanya's girlfriend into the second trimester, which instantly makes you think either this drunken fool is paying penance for a one-night stand a couple years earlier, or maybe these Ruskies aren't quite as good at math as they're cracked up to be. Vanya tells of his troubles in the morning, those horrible hours before bars open but after the sun has voskres, where the mere suggestion that he might like a drink gets him thrown violently out of cafes. Fortunately for Jevne, his character has a preference for clear liquors that can be replaced on stage by water: the actor is quite clearly not Russian but does put a slight hint of slavic into his slurred accent. But while Vanya cannot ever see the Kremlin (so wait, he never went to St. Basil's either?) he is very adept at finding his way to Kursk train station, where he begins his happy journey to Petushki and his love(s?). It's also where we the audience start to lose the play.

Vanya tells tales of his refusal to pay the conductor, and instead tricking his comrade into forgetting to ask for a ticket by telling tales of world history. He references a lot of classic mythological literature, a bit of Russian but certainly not entirely, and delights the conductor in a manner that we the audience quickly tire of. By the time he starts getting into Petushki district, unfortunately, you've been having too much difficulty following along and the mind starts to wander. Somehow Vanya misses his stop, and/or gets off and then back on a southbound train to Moscow. Fortunately this doesn't mark the halfway point, and once he's back in Moscow the play gets enough of its energy back to take you to the final confrontation with agents of the state (in the book, thugs) who somehow seize upon poor Vanya and chase him to -- the Kremlin -- where he meets his ever-so-Russian demise.

This is a great play while Vanya tells of his drunken memories of criss-crossing the streets and recalling the drinks he must have had or wishes to have, and his faithful reproduction of the book's opening chapters is impressive. Unfortunately Vanya also goes through "History of the World, Part I" and the Soviets wouldn't accept Jews in Space.

Final word: Moscow Stations is a beautifully tragic tale of woe, a classic fringe theatre play that you probably should see, and a great portrayal of alcoholism. But don't have a drink before you go in, or you'll fall asleep long before Petushki.

Edmonton 2013 Fringe Review: Death is Bullshit!

Death is Bullshit! is, quite simply, a quick little tale of how a retarded asshole slacker meets his demise. Now don't get mad at me (yet) for spoilers, this is covered right in the synopsis of the play.

The play opens with the lead character telling stand-up in the afterlife. For those who don't know, it's a little something called framing: the website that does sarcastic Enterprise reviews highlights the episodes that use this device, it's worth reading the bits on all of them:

framing episodes should be saved for something really special. In both of these cases, it wasn't necessary, and the fact that it was implemented was clearly to falsely jack up the suspense because the episodes couldn't hold its own.

That sort of covers this play, as you're waiting to see how the lead character, Skye ("they call me 'Skype' because I'm always on call") bites it. In the synopsis he's described as a lawyer, it's clear from the play that he has certainly not passed the bar, so we'll call him a legal secretary to be kind. He's a fan of 80s wrestling, smoking pot, and comedy. Unfortunately not only does he not possess any comedic talents, or any legal talents, he's also a horrible person socially as well. He plays games where he imagines having sex with random passengers on the bus, apparently doesn't notice when he's talking about people right in front of them (okay, I'll disgress on here in possibly the longest parenthetical aside in history: at one point Skye is on the bus with a girl who he had just finished spending an hour talking to earlier in the day, and cajoled into having him be an attendee at a benefit, and he decides to do a stand up routine about "the game" with her on the bus while she's right there and then when she confronts him he doesn't know who she is and seemed surprised that she could hear him, which really from any sort of storytelling point of view made no sense at all since we saw this same trick being used to apparently highlight his stand-up bits he was telling after he died, which as we all know he did right from the start), and has no qualms hitting on a girl as she's in distress and he's talking with her in a business setting.

Skye's sister (twin, though that's not particularly important) Beth is a real honest-to-God lawyer, though she seems to have gotten her own law firm or maybe taken over her fathers while in her late 20s? (The firm is "O'Brien-O'Brien-O'Brien") She's also in a bizarre sexual relationship (which may or may not be love?) with Trent, who is Skye's roommate and best friend. Skye's idiocy is on full display as he can't figure out why his sister is always over visiting and then sleeping on Trent's floor rather than in her brother's room. At later points of the play, even while they are engaged in what I guess is supposed to be hilariously kinky sex but is uncomfortably difficult to follow along even before Trent's character gets full-frontal on us (and oh long-time readers will be wondering, the women don't show so much as inner thigh here), Skye can't figure out what's going on around him. He falls on his nonexistent comedy to think they're doing some weird prank on each other, or maybe him.

Much of the relatively successful...not so much funny, but interesting to watch...aspects of the play are that Trent apparently is the founder of a company making crappy products advertised during infomercials (for those wondering about this review's URL). Beth and Trent do their own advertisements, and the parody of the style of these ads works well and again is at least interesting to watch. They probably should have tried to stick a couple more in, even if only the last one had any connection to the story.

The least successful parts all come featuring...I forget what the play called her, so I'll call her Alison. If you know what her character's name was, I suggest you forget that fact and just call her Alison in your head too. She's a prospective client for the law firm, but Beth (and all other lawyers in town) realize she's a toxic client not worth their time: her father was driving drunk without insurance and struck another vehicle killing the parents of the young family contained within. The family is suing Alison's dad, who must be related to Ricky Richardson since he's not in jail. Alison wants Beth to take the case, and Beth wants Skye to do his job, which is apparently be such an unprofessional ass that the client leaves. I'm not entirely sure this is a successful business strategy in the age of the internet, which presumably this play takes place in seeing how they reference smoking laws, where disgruntled clients can post a Google review and even the clients Beth wants may come across the horribly unprofessional guy passing himself off as a manager and then being a tool. Alison's character exists here only to push the plot forward, she's played much more straight and demure and not over-the-top until the end so she always stands out as not fitting in. She's apparently cool with Skye doing "comedy" at a benefit her family held to raise money for the victims of her father, even when this comedy was all about DVDA, seeing how even after that and the bus incident she still came back to his place. As the play reaches its end, Alison finally goes over the top, robbing Trent and Skye and then stabbing Skye for being a prick, getting into a fight with Beth, and then ultimately setting in motion the, oh, spoiler alert everybody, scroll down to the next bold to avoid...

...

...

...stabbing of every single character (herself included), causing them all to die and be reunited (to everybody's delight but Alison's) in Skye's afterlife of endless crowds interested in standup comedy.

...

...

...

okay you can all tune back in now.

Death is Bullshit is a series of fairly disjointed bits requiring us to find the horrible lead character either likable enough to handle despite his flaws, or horrible enough we want to see him fail. The actor is relatively likable Scott Malone but his delivery of Skye is so cavalier that he can't force you into one of the two required categories for the play to succeed. Too many segments seem to involve the writer Chris Cook to showcase his acting talents as Trent by having Trent like to pretend to be various weird celebrities being interviewed by Skye's Jimmy Kimmel (flip a coin on which one is less deserving of a big US network talk show). The play tries very hard to be zany, but it just has too many scenes either painful to watch or not interesting enough to sustain.

Final word: There are probably stand-up shows at this year's fringe with a less engaging plot and less funny jokes, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should sit in the hot C103 for this plotted attempt at theatre sports.

2013-08-19

Edmonton 2013 Fringe Review: Love, Hate, and Daryl Katz


Edmonton's finally getting its "new arena" that HBK Sports assures us we need immediately because our old arena -- built by a certain HBK Sports -- is a collapsing pile of shit despite being about a third of the age of Wrigley Field and three thousandths the age of the Sphinx. Some people are happy, some people are angry, some people are creative.

I'm not sure which category the minds behind Love, Hate, and Daryl Katz fall into, but I'm pretty sure its not the last one.

The play opens up as Daryl Katz is working on his Edmonton promotional video -- yes, DK himself exists as a character. Not just a one-note gag either, but one of the primary characters of the piece. He's got his roughly banal corporate-approved promotional video, the one you'll remember as how his bottom-placed team kept talking optimistically about the future. This leads us into a set of skits apparently taking light-hearted pokes at our city. At the end of each skit, you'll realize the joke (or on special occasion, jokes) that they wanted to tell, and then think in awe how long it took them to set it up.

Take the skit about a snotty Toronto art critic coming to see an art exhibit at the Alberta Toilet-Shaped-Deathtra--oh, that's an art gallery you say? Who knew? Anyways, the only way the critic could be lured into the Edmonton backwater is a chance to meet the elusive artist. Unfortunately the artist himself never was contacted or agreed to do this, so the art critic is about to be disappointed. In a gag straight out of Three's Company, or at least out of Three's a Crowd based on its execution, a homeless drunk gets past security, and in a panic the curator tries passing him off as the artist. The ruse is horribly easy to see through, but the critic literally doesn't see through it until just before the end, where the most realistic part of the switcheroo is taking place. The end joke is of course that the drunk really was the artist, and there's a really good arts graduate bit that would have been far more funny if this situation hadn't been going on for eight cringe-inducing minutes beforehand.

The skit where Katz' videographer and his wife have to host their snobby relations from Calgary who aren't impressed by the Talus Balls or the proposed beach at Hawreluk Park falls prey to the same problems. There are a few good gags of one-upmanship between the cities but most of the jokes aren't that funny (with one exception) and the shrill unprofessional delivery makes you hope that somebody from a cool city like Seattle or Calcutta shows up and smacks both of them around. It just keeps going on, with a bit of forced characterization thrown in (its not an analogy if you don't tie it into anything, guys), for a few jokes.

Even that seems a plus compared to the scene where Daryl Katz has to get a prostate exam. You're forced to sit threw the silly circumstance (he apparently "has to" get it because he's switching his health insurance provider which I'm sure is a concern for lots of billionaires who own their own goddamned chain of pharmacies), and watch as he tries to bribe his way out of the exam before a female nurse enthusiastically shoves her finger up his ass. Beyond the fact that the gag falls flat in front of an audience half of whom probably enjoy sticking things up their ass to begin with, it's a surprisingly mean-spirited and empty scene. The only enjoyment we're supposed to get out of this is that we watch a guy a lot of us probably don't like being humiliated in front of an audience (in the sense, I suppose, that prostate exams are extremely humiliating even though millions of men willingly sign up for them because they save our fucking lives). There isn't really a joke there, you're just supposed to like seeing a guy get his comeuppance.

Where the play really goes off the rails, and trust me the above skits were pretty off to begin with, is when the Stephen Mandel character appears. Unlike DK, whom the playwrights had no difficulty trashing, they couldn't find a single thing unkind to say about the sleazy little Jewish slumlord who blows taxpayer money on white elephant projects in order to help his buddies in the property development sector, and who has a temper shorter than the nose on somebody-other-than-his face. Mandel gets such a smooth ride in this play that President Monkey would watch this with Chris Matthews and ask him why he couldn't say such nice things as this. All Mandel gets used for is to be the setup for a lot of lame puns ("handlebars", "Mandeltory") and the briefest of -- I think? -- rips on this Make Something Edmonton campaign. I'm not sure if this play received grant money from the program (which, if so, should kill the funding for it immediately), or just thought it was awesome, or thought that it was a silly name for something they were otherwise in favour for. Instead they name-drop the program regularly and then grin at the audience. When Kevin Smith does this, we at least get the decency of something relatively straightforward where its not open to about 600 different interpretations, and the author's voice appears at some point in the production.

Love, Hate, and Daryl Katz features a couple of quickly forgettable musical numbers, uninspiring rips and gentle nudges on the city, and just for fun some anti-Diotte and pro-useless coward Don Iveson propaganda. They even manage to fit in a "Ralph Klein throws money at homeless people" joke which not only reminds us that for liberals the entire Klein era begins and ends on that day where he merely yelled at a guy for somehow still being homeless while taking advantage of provincial programs Ralph paid for, but also was highly inappropriate because RALPH KLEIN TOTALLY DIED THIS YEAR. Martok came close to heckling at that point.

We missed our chance, but you haven't missed yours. You too can go to this play and yell out "TOO SOON!" when they try passing off a third rate Ralph Klein joke as witty humour. It would probably be the most fun any attendee of this work has all fringe.

Final word: You won't love Love, Hate, and Daryl Katz but you'll probably hate it, and you'll definitely katz it. I don't even know what that means.

2013-08-18

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.

2013-08-15

Post #2000 Baby!


Eight years in, Third Edge of the Sword continuing as your one-stop shop for all your internettin' needs.