Math is Hard when the Premier isn't a man

Lunch Lady Premier has stepped in it now. Alberta is set to post a $5.9B deficit this year.

Rachel Notley's NDP government is forecasting to end the year with a $5.9-billion deficit, $814 million more than forecast in the March 2015 budget, which was introduced but never passed by the previous Progressive Conservative government.

However, this forecast was finalized on July 30 before the price of WTI crude started dropping well below the $57.94 US a barrel average in April, May and June.

"It is clear that the revenues have dipped even further in these past weeks," said Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who presented the financial update in the Alberta Legislature. "If current conditions continue, the final deficit will be in the range of $6.5 billion."
As always, since NDP losers aren't good at math, if they say $5.9-6.5 billion, expect it to top $7B at the lowest.

Ceci may be the least stupid of the NDP cabinet, but he's still stupid. Let's look at all the stupid things he uses as an excuse.
"The previous conservative governments weren't able to balance Alberta's budget in five of the last six years when oil was averaging about $90 a barrel," he said.

"They failed to diversify the economy, failed to ensure that those that could were paying their fair share and failed to save for a rainy day."
First off, of course, "diversifying the economy" isn't the job of any level of government. Even if it was, of course, such diversification has already largely happened by private sector activity. Secondly, as we've hammered home many a time, a flat tax is the only tax system that has people pay their fair share. Third and finally, while Alberta could be said to be "not saving for a rainy day" that's just as much on the spend-happy opposition NDP who, when times were good, suddenly forgot who this "Keynes" guy was and simply demanded more spending. Let's remember that Alberta had a socialist Premier (Ed Stelmach, Red Redford, now Rachel Arab) for most of the past decade, and no wonder the government kept spending money as fast as they could save it.

So will Ceci start saving? Will he promise to slash public sector expenditures (including wages) whenever Alberta isn't in a recession? Or will he just keep racking up the province's debt, wasting it on lazy unionized nurses and teachers?


Revisiting Anthony Daniels being an asshole

The Empire Strikes Back is about to get an upgrade: Star Wars Revisited is working on their enhanced version of the film for release sometime in 2015.

1.New 20th Century Fox opening (based on the post-Avatar logo)
2.New recreated opening crawl
3.Fixed juddering starfield as camera pans as probes fly away from the belly of stardestroyer
4.Added flames as probe enters atmosphere
5.Replaced pinks streak with flames for when probe crashes
6.Removed footprints in snow when probe crashes
7.Added crater debris when probe emerges to match previous close-up shot
8.Smoothed Taun-taun stop motion animation.
17.Changed Falcons turret gun in all studio set shots to match the studio model
18.Swapped hair colour or rebels when Leia is watching Han as he enters command centre to help fix issue with flipped shot
19.Covering Anthony Daniel’s neck which is visible while Han calls over the Deck Officer.
20.Re-edited the Wampa cave scene to closer match the original theatrical version, eliminating all SE additions (apart from one shot)
21.Altered position of lightsaber in the snow so it is more covered to match the way it is buried in other shots
22.Luke’s legs position changed from open to closed when hanging form ceiling of cave to match their position as he tries to break free
23.Luke’s sabre now retracts as he runs out of cave
24.Expanding the size of the hangar interior when seen from outside the hangar doors in the shot where R2 is using his scanner and added more troops/pilots
25.Altered scenery slightly when Han walks away from Taun Taun
62.Altered distant view of Hoth battlefield to fix continuity issue as original was heavily mist covered , yet not when we see the At-At’s
63.Original shield generator mattes replaced with miniature model in all shots
64.New hangar entrance shot where trooper is viewing battlefield
65.Enhanced displays in command centre as they prepare to fire Ion Canon
66.Enhanced Ion Canon with new background and added troops
67.Moved “First Catch” Imperial officers to the front window of their Star Destroyer to fix continuity error as they would not see the planet from the side window.
68.Added more stardestroyers orbiting Hoth
Purists who hate the Special Editions are oddly quiet about the Star Wars Revisited project. Regardless, reading this reminded me of something not every Star Wars fan fully appreciates: unlike Darth Vader [or R2-D2! -ed], C-3PO is played in costume by the same actor who dubbed in his voice.

Which always reminds me of the other thing about Anthony Daniels: he and R2-D2's stuntman hated each other. It also doesn't help than Daniels' relationship with Star Wars fandom in particular, and sci-fi in general, is...well, less than stellar.

For one thing, Anthony Daniels incurred the wrath of sci-fi fans by walking about of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you aren't supposed to say bad things about the Kubrick classis despite the fact that by any objective standard the movie is fucking horrible. You literally do spend the first ten minutes watching monkeys go crazy in front of a black obelisk, then suddenly cut to the year 1999 where a completely uninteresting and unanimated character slowly flies to the moon to interact with other uninteresting and unanimated characters. Then 18 months later we see yet totally different characters on a mission to Jupiter where, for a brief while, the movie gets interesting as we deal with our hero (who is sorta interesting but mostly unanimated as well) fighting a killer computer who goes all manner of homicidal crazy. Then, after a relatively exciting climax is resolved, we watch coloured lights for half an hour, see confusing vignettes in a hotel, and then a space baby. Seriously, try to stay awake when watching the last half hour of the film anytime after 11pm. So I don't begrudge Daniels much for that issue.

Another thing of note is that many including Kenny Baker have noted that Daniels is just an asshole in general who doesn't get along with anybody.
Baker said he once approached Daniels about touring as their characters to make money and "he looked down his nose at me like I was a piece of sh*t. He said: 'I don't do many of these conventions—go away little man.' He really degraded me and made me feel small."
I'm not sure how many of those midget puns are deliberate provocations by Daniels and how much is "expressing how Daniels is a jerk" by Baker. There's also these comments on the article:
I worked with Anthony Daniels once at one of those conventions or events he claims to have hated so much. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was the worst, most mean-spirited, incredibly demanding, generally unpleasant public person I've ever interacted with. He was a serious pain in the ass to deal with and the less than three hours he was there seemed like an eternity in hell. Just about ruined any fond childhood memories of Star Wars I once had. I've always wanted to say this in public and now I get to do it: C-3PO is a total dick.
Daniels is an adjunct professor at that program where I received my graduate degree. He comes by once or twice a year for a week and rips everybody's projects to shreds all while having a holier-than-thou attitude. He's an awful person and I completely agree, C3PO is a major dick.


Edmonton photo radar operators deserve to be hit in the face with rocks

A true Albertan hero has fought back against the photo radar assholes who deserve 1000 times worse.
It was reported to police that a male suspect was heading west on the Whitemud on Wednesday, August 1 at around 12:40 p.m. when he allegedly threw a large rock at a photo radar vehicle parked on the medium.

The EPS says the rock hit the driver’s side panel and dented the door, causing more than $2,000 in damages.

Police believe the suspect vehicle was either a black or dark blue Pontiac Torrent. The vehicle did not have a licence plate on it at the time of the incident.
I've long been advising that, especially with the news that Edmonton's useless pissheads on City Council are planning to expand their freedom-hating assault on the liberty of drivers, all drivers should obscure their license plates.

Fortunately, corrupt Edmonton cops are all so clueless that in practice you can have no plate (or, better yet, an invalid one) for weeks or months without any danger of being caught.

What's annoying is that as more and more people are caught doing something that isn't dangerous and in fact keeps the roads moving and minimizing congestion, corrupt Edmonton cops are demanding more powers and more enforcement. Edmonton's top corrupt cop wants the power to impound vehicles when drivers are driving at the speed the road is capable of supporting, not the random number posted on the side of the road.

When cops and politicians have attitudes like that, then anybody who takes a job sitting in that photo radar van is an enemy of a free society, an enemy of liberty, an agent of a corrupt and out-of-control state.

They deserve rocks thrown at them every single day. Good work, whoever made sure that at least one of them paid for their disgusting role in the City of Edmonton's assault on drivers.


Edmonton International Fringe Festival: SupercaliFRINGEilistic, 2015

(this post is sticky until August 25th. scroll below for new content)

It's that time of year again. Just like always, when the Fringe Festival comes to town you can trust Third Edge of the Sword to be here with reviews, analysis, and more. Be sure to bookmark this portal page over the next ten days to see all there is to offer.

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

Play Reviews:Other Content:


2015 Edmonton Fringe Review: AmIJane

AmIJane is the college-aged bad-girl version of Fight Club.

If you were in a hurry, or wanted a review you could just tweet, the above should be pretty much all you need. Caley Suliak plays Amy, and also Amy, in this one woman show.

It starts with an explosion. Boom! Bam! Kablamo! Because a play has to start with an explosion. Well, a shooting in this case, but as Plinkett would say we needed something to get the plot going.

Amy Sands and her best friend Amy Jane grew up in the same town together, and when AmyJane moved into the big city (I'm going to use that formulation where applicable to refer to said character) Amy went with her. We see quite a bit of the bad girl AmyJane, especially in the opening: she's snorting coke, flashing her panties at men in the bar, getting a waitressing job, and dating drug dealers and fooling around with the boys in the band. She's basically my cousin from Vancouver. We get a glimpse of AmyJane's party lifestyle and how she's dragging her more straighlaced friend Amy along for the ride.

Unfortunately, one day Amy gets a knock on the door: the cops are here to talk about Rob, the aforementioned drug dealing boyfriend. The play then cuts to several back and forths, with scenes in the past (when Suliak stands, typically playing AmyJane) and scenes in the interrogation (when Suliak sits, typically playing Amy). Some of the scenes in the past were scenes that occurred at the start of the play as well: we see some snapshots of the events without fully understanding the context. Most of AmyJane's backstory isn't, oddly enough, expressed in the scenes where AmyJane is talking/dancing/fucking. It's flushed out the most when meek little Amy is explaining things to the cops: AmyJane's rehab stint, her relationship with Rob, her influence on getting Amy a job at the bar. Most of the AmyJane scenes are just covering AmyJane's personality, and showing how her overwhelming style can sometimes push Amy towards a path she isn't able to handle. AmyJane also discusses her family life only briefly, mainly the conflicts created when she starts having to lean on them to support her increasingly expensive and destructive lifestyle. AmyJane has to turn to them after Amy becomes unavailable for help -- I believe the intent was to show that Amy was either drifting away from AmyJane or was herself starting to suffer the limitations of the party girl lifestyle, though I may be giving the play too much credit -- and pretty soon the entire operation starts crashing down around her.

In the police interrogation, timed to coincide with AmyJane's drug problems leaving her in danger of being physically harmed by an angry Rob [I see what you did there... -ed], Amy starts to get more and more concerned that AmyJane hasn't checked in lately. She seems to play the role of Joan Watson on Elementary: a "sober companion" (or more sober companion, strictly speaking) after AmyJane finishes rehab: she took AmyJane in when the partying and the drugs started to consume her, and is there to temper AmyJane's impulses. "She's supposed to tell me before she freaks out and does something crazy" Amy tells the cops, unaware of how ridiculous such an arrangement with a drug addict whose ex-boyfriend is her dealer would be. So somewhat predictably, AmyJane is nowhere to be found, and Amy gets steadily more and more concerned and antsy and...well, AmyJane-like...as the probing questions (which we never hear) continue.

Caley Suliak (who, by the by, is awfully easy on the eyes) definitely keeps the energy level up for her entire 45 minute performance. While there are a couple cases where it's obvious a "Amy scene" has been written to give the actress a chance to sit down and conserve her energy (she's visibly out of breath after a run of AmyJane's ass-showing dance routines and bad girl mannerisms) in general the action flows organically as the actress switches between Amy and AmyJane. In general, however, I would have preferred two actresses, one playing Amy and another AmyJane. This way they could have switched between characters more effectively (there are a few moments where what Suliak is saying is missed as we in the audience struggle to figure out which character we're listening to). Still, Suliak does some pretty good work here despite rather uninspiring dialogue and a bit too frantic a script.

I'm going to spoil the ending now.

I don't usually give spoiler warnings when I do these reviews: quite often I go right to the end, the hook, the twist. Halfway through reading the review and -- boom! -- I've gone and told you the entire plot. This time, though, I thought I'd give you a spoiler warning. So if you look up, there it is. No, not the "I'm going to spoil the ending now". Look further up. Way way waaaaayyyyy further up.

AmIJane is the college-aged bad-girl version of Fight Club.
You may not have noticed...but your brain did. I'm not the only one to spoil it though, by the way. Here's the official synopsis in the play.
This new one woman show is based on the true story of the tumultuous friendship between Amy Sands and her unstable friend AmiJane. Not only do they share a name, but a dangerous and exciting lifestyle. Their friendship walks a fine line, teetering on the brink of madness and lucidity.
Okay, that isn't quite as explicit, nor is the teaser poster for the play which shows a cherub faced innocent high school yearbook photo next to a wild child at the bar with her hair all crazy and too much makeup and eye shadow and the look like she's about to do a line and let a rock band gangbang her. But the clever pun in the show's title -- Am I Jane? -- and the opening out of sync scenes (each of which come out during the play from the two different women, but in the opening seem to come from the same one) make it pretty clear right away that AmyJane is Amy, particularly the "what do you mean there's no evidence of a roommate" line that Amy says as the charade starts to unravel. One of the cops asks to use the bathroom, that old canard, and immediately manages to find no evidence of a roommate? Did he test every hair sample or something? Anyways, at that point the gig is basically up, though all the mysterious texts to Amy asking about the wild house party also should have clued in any viewers that weren't quite up to speed on the affair. Just in case you didn't get it, though, the cops call AmyJane's number and Amy's phone keeps ringing. At the time I thought it weird that a cellphone could receive it's own number as a separate contact, but crazy enough I just tried it on my Samsung and it works. Anyways, the cops agree to Amy/AmyJane going to the party, even though we saw the shooting to start off this play. You see, Rob is there and Amy wants to go there to be with AmyJane and keep her away from Rob...though the duality leads to tragedy because that action is what puts AmyJane and Rob together finally. Unfortunately Rob has just been let out of prison, AmyJane owes him money that he owes higher up the drug dealer chain, and it's strongly implied that Rob shoots her.

Seeing how the police are asking about Rob so soon after his release, and how they know now that Rob will be very interested in harming AmyJane and how Amy Sands is AmyJane (okay, they may not know that last part), how do they let Amy go to the party? She gave them the address and told them to go bust Rob...wouldn't they just do this? Anyways, Amy does go to the party with the cops in tow, and Rob manages to shoot her anyways. I know druggies and dealers aren't the most sensible folks on earth, but this still seems like a horrible miscalculation on Rob's part. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, I think it was a horrible miscalculation to have Suliak play both parts. It seemed that the play wanted to hold the reveal of Amy/AmyJane until near the end (the cellphone scene) and just drop clues throughout the piece. However, the clues were a little too obvious, and the same actress playing "both" roles didn't at all help. Having the Amy and AmyJane lines be delivered separately by separate actresses would help the audience get a feel for the two unique characters and preserve the mystery. The reveal could be then the cellphone scene with some hints dropped in (say, a single line delivered by one actress in the opening where all the future lines are dropped in without reference, then by the other actress in the main body of the play, just enough confusion to hint at the conclusion). As we discover the two women are the same, AmyJane could start muttering Amy's lines in union and progressively get louder until the end, or the actress could simply back off set or be shrouded in darkness and speaking with the light on Amy...there are all sorts of neat directorial tricks that could achieve this.

Instead, we get a mystery-adventure that gives away the mystery too early and then just keeps going, ultimately feeling padded despite the 45 minute runtime.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)



A quick reminder that this story alone lays bare the silly attention paid to the Mike Duffy Trial.

Meanwhile the Angry Beard plans to waste five billion dollars a year. Shouldn't that bother more people?


Obviously not. I was also awake in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

Not that I wasn't awake in 2007, mind you but a recurring gag has to start somewhere.

This day in (blog) history

It was a year ago today that fudge packing fringe performers and their pro-sodomite allies in the media got together to make a news story out of the Fringe reviews done every year on Third Edge of the Sword.

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.
Since this post last year, the media hasn't even pretended to cover up their biases. From pederast Metro Calgary columnist Mike Morrisson to cowardly lesbo Edmonton Journal columnist Mariam Ibrahim, the media has made no effort hiding their biases on this subject.

We've seen their desire to push the sodomite agenda in the public sphere: just look at how they covered Faggot-Familiar Alliances and how they covered free speech. Look at how they fight to make any anti-poofter candidate persona non grata by removing not only political ads by their opponents, but even reader comments complaining that they did so. Global Edmonton, having done a blatant political hit piece on me, blocked me on Twitter after I demanded they ask me for my take when they did another poof puff piece on University of Alberta uranist Kristopher Wells (who, in the usual appeal to fagthority, was asked to talk about me a year ago today).

A year later, the important thing for pillow biters and their familiar allies to know is this: I'm not stopping. I never will stop, but I will stop you. I'll change your mind before you change mine, and I'm prepared to go further than you to achieve that.


2015 Edmonton Fringe (first half) photo album

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)

2015 Edmonton Fringe review: Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire

Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire is a new original work about a time traveling "detective" and the case that he takes to save the world.

A good high energy romp with a couple of strong performances and an admittedly impressive pair of sequences, the work suffers mainly due to the dialogue. The plotting and action scenes are all crafted very well, making the weakness really stand out. Still, it's an entertaining and engaging work that really plays well to it's time travel aspects.

Annie Sinclair (Carina Morton) is looking to hire a time traveler named Rigby Muldoon. His bookmarmish secretary McGill (Laena Anderson) is collecting the details of the case, making special mention of the pay-up requirement. In the first of many nods to the paradoxes of time travel, it's explained to Annie that if Rigby Muldoon goes back in time and fixes her problem, then present-day Annie won't have known the consequences and therefore refused to pay up, which hints that there's a hilarious "Young Rigby Muldoon" adventure where he risks life and limb to change the past only to find his client refuses to pay him because Hitler Who? Annie balks at this, and is kicked out of Muldoon's office. The secretary advises Annie to "go to the bar down the street" in what seems like a "piss off" moment made slightly more surreal when Annie actually does this and kicks off the plot. Rigby Muldoon (Joshua Lee Coss) decides to take her case, which involves going back to the year 1995 and...

...no, wait, he's changed his mind again. You see, time travel only goes back a year or so. You can go back and change your vote in the Alberta election, but you can't make Grant Notley a more forceful personal voice for abortions-on-demand. This restriction is similar to the one in The Dead Past, an Issac Asimov story discussed on my blog in 2009, and Muldoon apologizes but he cannot take Annie's case. He's about to bid her farewell when the bartender is revealed to be a time agent with a sinister government agency (S.P.I.R.I.T.T.) who tries to apprehend them, meaning that this case must be bigger than Annie has let on (or, perhaps, knows).

Fortunately, hey remember that you can't travel to 1995 that was just brought up five minutes ago? Nevermind! Rigby has also cleverly modified the time agent's technology and actually possesses the only time travel device in the world that can take you more than a couple years back. This comes out as a little too convenient for our characters, and seeing how Annie Sinclair's character is a cellphone app programmer, and seeing how this skill of hers will literally come into play later in the story, it's a shame that this wasn't used earlier on to make a more plausible result. After all, the characters (as they lampshade) have all the time in the world: Muldoon visits a hotel that has an "hourly" room that keeps its inhabitants in a time loop away from the inside world.

It's in here that we learn the plot. Earlier we've been cutting to clips from Annie's past as a teenager, playing videogames with her nerdy best friend Ryan (Robyn Slack). As they play videogames together they finally act on the attraction they've been denying all this time, gettin' it on and progressing to the next level of Mario all at the same time. Unfortunately, as they become young adults Annie wants to do more than sit on the prairies playing Sega. She wants to move to the coast, take computer programming courses, and have a career. But Ryan decides to stay behind, and ever since Annie moved she's been finding herself pining more for the past she left in Saskatchewan (and, she hates the smell of the ocean). She had, in another bizarrely amazing coincidence, one of the world's most expensive Pog's, which in the 90s she sold for $19,000 that financed her pursuit of dreams. If Rigby can steal that pog from her past self, she can't go to the coast, will stay with Ryan, and have the happy ever after romance that has been missing from her underachieving life.

The emotional aspects of the Annie role is where Morton's skill really lies: while she's passable as a videogame loving teenager, decent enough at a Linda Hamilton-esque on the run fugitive character, and less than impressive as a Took a Level in Badass world-saver at the end. But in these scenes where she harkens to the love she once had and a certainty that it was what she needed in this world, she absolutely nailed the performances. She's that right mix of determined and hopeful and mournful and naive, and along with the later phone call to Ryan is her best work in the entire play. By contrast, Joshua Lee Coss has a rather steady performance: playing Muldoon in the tough film noir gumshoe style with a voice that occasionally goes too Christian Bale, it means as long as he stays in character it will be a steady and strong but not particularly impressive turn. That's just how a character like that works, unfortunately. He's mainly the plot driver and action guy, so that's okay. Definitely more than okay is Robyn Slack, who absolutely nails almost every role he's in (excepting Ryan, oddly enough), particularly time agent Hinkley. His range is rather impressive, and really helps to sell the differing characters he plays (only Morton plays a single character throughout, though Coss only plays Muldoon and Muldoon's alternate-history double). This does unfortunately contrast with Laena Anderson's tendency to play her characters as over-the-top archetypes who also happen to be relatively androgenic. It's awfully hard to invest in her characters like we can with Slack's. Each of his is clearly a different person and almost seems each to be in a different work entirely, all thrown into this one and given the keys to the time machine as it were.

As for the time travel, the time agents have also figured out a way to follow Muldoon into 1996 on the tech that even he didn't seem to know he had until just before the plot required him to remember about it. For some reason Annie got there first, and Muldoon has to track her down at the lasertag place (which is a nice piece of '90s kitsch). After defeating the final lasertag boss (Muldoon faces off against two preteens who shout out his characterization in a partially funny and partially lazy moment that could have driven home Muldoon plot points if they hadn't already been driven) they are able to retrieve the--oh, sorry. The makers of this play cringed for a second thinking I might miss complimenting one of the highlights of the play: Slack dressed in a giant robot dinosaur costume to play the lasertag "final boss". He had lights all over his body, a great costume design, convincing robot dinosaur movements (well, in theory at least), and worked really really well. Gold star for that one, surely. They manage to retrieve the pog but the timecops catch them and bring them to S.P.I.R.I.T.T. headquarters. Unfortunately, they've confiscated Muldoon's amazing futuretech and are going to use it to rule the world. This is a chance for the Joker/Loki/Silva/Khan style "caught on purpose" trope that will eventually lead to the highlights to this work.

There's a scene that I need to tell you about. It's a single scene worth the price of admission. If you get a ticket a the discount tent then it's worth the price of two admissions. It's really that good. We have two heros (Muldoon and Annie) and two villains (the two timecops) are fighting over the future of the world. There are two guns, each of which causes a person to freeze in stone when hit by them and then unfrozen when hit again. One hero and one villain each have a gun. There's your setup. You can probably imagine what happens next from my description, as all four characters run around and the guns are continually firing: Muldoon will shoot Agent Hinkley and the androgynous agent will shoot him to unfreeze him, and also shoot Annie but then Muldoon will shoot Annie to unfreeze her as she snatches the gun from Muldoon's hand as the androgynous agent freezes Muldoon and so on and so forth. What results is an amazingly well choreographed and engaging action scene, all the more impressive by the skill the actors all demonstrate in the execution. Each of the guns makes a noise when fired, but it's the same noise for both guns. It makes sense in a story perspective, but must have made the task exponentially more challenging to the actors, since many of the shots were made outside the actor's field of view. Yet without fail the actor the gun was pointed at started or stopped their motion the moment they heard the sound of the gun going off. It was really really amazing, featuring by far the most movement in the play (a brief seen with Muldoon brawling earlier, and the lasertag dinosaur battle is all else there was) and leads to the high tech and time-bending conclusion.

There are several good time-travelling gags and plot elements worked into this play, and most of them are well executed. It's nice to see a piece of work willing to work with the potential given in its source material. There's some really strong performances as mentioned earlier (and, though I don't want to give away too much, Annie's phone call near the end was very powerful stuff), and a solid story that keeps you moving. There are a few bits that could be improved, but a good technical performance really helps steal the show here.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)

2015 Edmonton Fringe Review: Becoming Banksy

It's an old story, really. Thanks to a mistaken identity, a man gets a chance to pretend to be somebody who has achieved everything he always wished he could, and we watch as the world of lies starts snowballing out of control.

It's the plot of The Secret of My Success, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, half the episodes of Fawlty Towers, and several scenes in Twelfth Night. It's also the central theme to Becoming Banksy, where a failed British painter travels to New York City at the same time as one the world's most famous guerrilla artist, and hilarity ensues.

We meet Michael Banks (David Michaels) in England, where everybody from his boss to his mother phones him up to kick him when he's down. His wife has left him, and just as the divorce papers are finalized he decides to run away to New York for 31 days (we're unsure why he doesn't just say "a month") and rediscover himself as a person, or as an artist, or whatever. He even takes his (mounted on canvas) landscape painting with him on the trip, the Travelocity Gnome to his sad and lonely existence. Unfortunately for Michael, he's not the only British painter Stateside for 31 days: Banksy himself is doing a "31 day" art tour of New York City where he plans to paint on random buildings and make his mark on Gotham. Immediately at the hotel, the Banksy fangirl at the counter wonders if "Mr. Banks" isn't the famed anarchist here on the sly. Unfortunately, Banks hates Banksy and loves landscapes, a sensible position which the modern world of art doesn't agree with. He hates Banksy's style, his approach, his art, and (more critically) his success.

Banks has a horrible time in New York City, which is a staple of fiction and makes me wonder who all these people are who have a horrible time in NYC. Banks even talks about the horrors of Times Square, and while it's definitely not my favourite place in town (last time I was hauled into the M&M Store, for crying out loud) it's not a cesspool of human despair. Was this play written in the 1970s when NYC was a dangerous hellhole, Times Square was a disgusting place of hookers and human misery, and Banksy didn't exist yet? It might have been, I suppose. Also a weird cab ride from the airport immediately set my spidey senses ablaze, as the cab driver described the Freedom Tower as being "to your left". The Freedom Tower is in the southwest corner of Manhattan Island and typically far from any hotels. Even if Banks landed at JFK and decided not to take the A line (don't laugh, I've seen it) how does the World Trade Center end up on his left? Did the cab driver take the Shore Parkway? That's literally the only way you'd see it to your left (even on the Brooklyn Bridge headed to Park Row you'd only see the tip of it incredibly briefly). Little details like that will kill the show when it makes its New York debut later this year. Trust me, I won't be the only person confused by the geography.

Late one night, a drunken Banks stumbles upon a wall and decides to deface it by drawing a landscape on it. The next day, the same wall has a complete Banksy piece of artwork on it, and an edited video hits YouTube showing Banks -- but not Banksy, who the audience sees previously writing on the same wall -- putting the final touches on the newest piece of guerrilla street art. This being the day of the human search engine (as Trudeau's coat hanger loving MP wannabe also discovered this week) by the time Banks even knows he's was videotaped, the press know everything about him. Back in England, his mother has started capitalizing on his mistaken identity to the point of selling his belongings to cover her gambling problem. Michael Bank's life will never be the same again.

This is the point of the mistaken identity plot where the character has to choose between coming clean right away and clearing the air, or running with the opportunity to see what personal benefits he can extract from them. That's where I tend to not like these mistaken identity plots. Obviously, anybody even vaguely rational would chose the former, as the odds of getting away with this for the rest of history (or at least, your life) is roughly zero. There may be some hugely successful con men who have never been discovered (therefore, no way for us to know about them), but it's hard to envision a mechanism by which it will always work. By contrast, we know lots of failed con men. In a sense, we've just had one this year with Bill Cosby, or (to a lesser extent) Shaun King and Rachel Dolezal. Whether by fluke or by design, they are believed to be somebody they aren't and eventually don't get away with it. The sensible option for any person in the real world is to reject the mistaken identity as fast as possible. Unfortunately, if the character in a dramatic work picks this option, the story is over. The nightly news guy calls about being Banksy, Banks says "no, I was just drunk and did some graffiti", and the play's over. Banks probably wouldn't even have to pay a fine. All this play would have been is a little ten minute skit about a British guy stuck in NYC getting over his wife leaving him and being miserable. Therefore, for the story to progress at all, the character has to take the other fork in the road. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, this decision is a really really dumb one; the story requires our characters to act in a way that isn't particularly well motivated, and I for one am uncomfortable watching characters who act in a stupid nearsighted way just to keep the plot contrivances going. It's why I don't like Friends and why The Big Bang Theory went downhill fast in Season 4. Therefore, as in all mistaken identity plots, I had to resist the urge to scream down to David Michaels (who, by the way, looks a lot like Patrick McKenna) "no! don't do it! you can't possibly get away with this!"

At this point it goes on the usual little roller coaster: he starts getting treated differently, getting the Derek Jeter treatment at the local deli and the chance to bone the horny hotel clerk. He's a media darling, getting to talk about his favourite subject (landscape paintings) and experiencing the fame and fortune he thought he deserved. His boss will pay him just to send a tweet about women's perfume. Everything goes swimmingly except that his mother is racking up more and more debts as she sells everything "Banksy" ever had...except for the landscape paintings, which hilariously nobody still wants to buy. It's an enjoyable enough little segment, and Michael really puts a bit of entitlement-fuelled joy into his performance here. We really get the sense that Banks is letting himself get caught up in believing that he really is the famous transgressive artist. Unfortunately, the real Banksy is still out there, and briefly appears to declare war on the imposter.

And so, Michael Banks is exposed...Banksy creates another art exhibit on the walls of Yankee Stadium while Banks and the TV reporter are drinking at a bar. The expose starts up immediately: Banks gets a "gotcha" interview of "you aren't really Banksy" while Banks' mother humiliates him in a separate interview in the U.K. As Banks' 31 days in New York come to a bitter conclusion, he's a broken man. His wife phones to have a heartfelt moment, but at the end reminds him that she isn't coming back. He's a broken man: fired from his job, in worse financial state than he started at, and now his own mother wants nothing to do with him (now that he's outlived his usefulness to her). Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Banks just isn't a good enough artist, "good enough" here being commercial viable. He's no Banksy.

But what of Banksy? For a play with his name in the title, the work doesn't really have much -- if anything -- to say about the man or his craft. He's mysterious and famous, his fame and his mystery feeding upon each other to build the legend that leaves him well known enough that 5/7 people I was out with over the weekend knew who he was. As for his political and social commentary though...nothing was really said at all. Being as somebody who isn't even remotely a fan of the artist and who is obviously uninterested in playing up a left-wing graffiti artist. We have enough of those already, and scum of the earth doesn't seem to properly encapsulate it. Banksy isn't really important to this story, other than the fact that he's well known and anonymous. This script could be changed to Becoming Feynman and Coulter's Love Child with not a whole lot of rewriting required. If there was a Tory Banksy somewhere in England, this play could have been about him word for word: the politics of the real Banksy are irrelevent. It could be a play about becoming any anonymous individual, really: from Math Bass to Arkas. Since Banksy makes no difference to the structure of the play (save the gag at the very end) the play ends up a disappointing missed opportunity. Banksy serves more as a lure to get the audience in the door than a foil against Banks and a way to explore anything related to the themes in Banksy's art: whether to praise it or critique it. Personally, I'd critique the hell out of it: Banksy's famous Simpsons "couch gag" slammed capitalism and South Korean sweatshops which the "sweatshop" workers themselves scoffed at as unrealistic propganda more resembling the "anti-corporate" and "anti-fascist" world of North Korea. Like so many wealthy liberals, Banksy wouldn't want to live in (and wouldn't succeed under) the world he apparently wants to create. In fact, like all graffiti Banksy isn't even particularly original: The Simpsons made the South Korean sweatshop joke in 1992, and with way more bite and (perhaps worth mentioning) being actually funny. Banksy it appears has a giant issue with taking himself far too seriously, as L'Affaire John Robertson goes to show, and it would have been very fun and subversive for the play to poke that character flaw with a giant stick. Instead, the play does nothing with Banksy at all, and it's weaker for it (though I'm unsure if praising him more than it already does would make it any better).

As a result this is a fairly basic rise and fall story involving our protagonist. Michaels is fairly steady with this character, though he doesn't do much to elevate the material except when he's griping about New York. He also makes the appropriate facial contortions when he's shown listening to the variety of increasingly wacky voicemails he receives from his mother. Of course, Banks is the straight man in this story which leaves it up to his costar, Jamil Chokachi, to ham the other roles up. More on him in a moment. The problem with Michaels' straight-man take on the role is that we not only expect him to be a creative (though straight-laced) painter but also able to at least semi-convincingly be believable as Banksy. It also requires Chokachi to work twice as hard at putting energy into his characters, with occasionally disastrous results. Chokachi plays the female hotel clerk like the absolutely most flaming fudge packer on the planet, his hilariously faggy body expressions and his lisp that makes the "steam escaping" scene from Blazing Saddles look like nothing. He does do decent work with a couple of the characters, particularly Banks' mother and the guy who runs the New York Yankee themed deli. Others are fairly blatant caricatures which again only exist to contrast and entertain in reaction to Michaels' dull portrayal of...Michael. Chokachi does get a couple chances to work with the other recurring gags: breaking the fourth wall as Banks receives voicemails regarding plot points that have just occurred which the phoning character should have no way of knowing about, drawing attention to the low budget effects such as the airplane and the taxicab, and a decent joke that Michaels will walk off stage entirely only for the director to force Chokachi to go move some furniture around while the "talent" remains off-stage...and typically the furniture is moved such a small distance to be only there to torture the actor. It's a little bit of this that helps this play have some life, but the disappointment in the way it handles the potential of its setup and Chokachi's bizarre method of playing the female characters (lampshaded when Chokachi plays a male character who is also an effeminate desk clerk at the hotel) keeps this play from being anything more than a disappointment. Almost a dozen people walked out in the first 20 minutes, if that helps give you a sense of how this play isn't what people hoped for.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)


In doing some quick research for my Fringe review of "Shylock" I included a link to this Mark Steyn article from last year about free speech.

Accompanying the article is a photo, of which I can't figure out. Screenshot is included. It also contains the following text:

DIRECTINPUT~ This image has been directly inputted by the user. The photo desk has not viewed this image or cleared rights to the image. Subject: Video: Jena Malone emotional performance "aint going to follow no google maps" Jena Malone ( Donnie Darko, The Hunger Games) performs her song ìIím okayî for National Post Sessions. Iím guessing that if she followed Google maps sheíd be okay but she "aint going to follow no google mapsî so sheís crying by the end of her performance. NP Sessions: The Shoe, Iím okay Video ID 0_fye6v3gp Preview http://cdnapi.kaltura.com/index.php/extwidget/openGraph/wid
Weird, eh?

This is the time on Third Edge of the Sword where we juxtapose!

CBC, August 18: A story about the disgusting piece of human garbage who harrassed the poor media by swearing at them for their biased anti-Harper coverage.

CBC, August 19: A heartwarming story about a poor man harrassed by the cops for driving around with a "Fuck Harper" sign


2015 Edmonton Fringe Review: Shylock

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He lived from approximately April 26, 1564 to April 23, 1616, during England's Elizabethan times. Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories, and these are regarded as some of the best work ever produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. This entire paragraph was shamelessly cribbed from his Wikipedia page.

The key thing to remember is that Shakespeare is:
a) hugely successful
b) an old dead white male

His works are eternally popular due to (a), but because of (b) he's attracted more than his share of controversy, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries, and especially brutal in the modern age of social-justice-warrior demagoguery. Implicit in the fact of (b), his plays were written a long long time ago which means that the issues of societal changes I discussed back in 2008 (regarding the Reform Party and Eddie Murphy) cause some of his works to be far more controversial than they were in the past.

Shylock is a one-man show starring John D. Huston discussing Shylock the character, The Merchant of Venice the play, and SJW outrage the societal scourage. Huston (who I previously described as looking like Dean Stockwell, who was also in Screwtape last year where I compared him to Sir Humphrey; he incorporates both again here) plays an actor named Jonathon Davies who has recently "completed" a turn as Shylock at the local festival theatre company.

He starts off in full dress, with the full Jewish nose prosthetic and rattling off various lines from Merchant of Venice:
I am a Jew.
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not
If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge.
If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?
Why, revenge.
The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.
He then addresses the audience. This is the "talk back" section of the play, where (now that it's over) typically actors and other people involved in the production get out of character, sit back, and answer audience questions and talk about the work. Davies isn't a huge fan of this part of the modern play-going experience, and in fact got it written into his contract that he doesn't have to participate.

This time is different, though, tonight he absolutely has to talk to us about The Merchant of Venice because as is hinted early on, tonight was the last show (and it wasn't intended to be). Curiously, the other people involved in putting on the play didn't want to come out and address the crowd, so it's up to Davies to explain to us why they put on that "antisemitic" play. To say that Shylock is a tough character for the modern audience to relate to is an understatement. He represents most of the worst of the Jewish stereotypes: he's unable to experience any charity and loves only money. Davies explains that Shakespeare probably wasn't the world's biggest fan of Jews (though, in fairness, 1600s England's second biggest fan of Jews just might cast one as the villain in a play taking place in Venice). Still, Shylock is a character, and seeing how most of his lines are the ones people remember from the play (indeed, Klingon General Chang recites them in The Undiscovered Country) he's not just a peripheral part of the performance. Despite what some of the more sensitive arts students think later on in the story, you can't do Merchant without Shylock. It would be like...I don't know...changing Muslim terrorists to Christian terrorists in the shadow of 9/11... The question then becomes what to do with Shylock.

Davies recounts the history of Shylock. In most of the early-to-mid 20th century portrayals, the ones that were preserved on celluloid, he was a clown, an oaf. He's more a pantomime villain rather than a scary and legitimate threat. He demands a pound of flesh, yeah sure, but he'd really settle for a good fish smacking or something instead. He's also nowhere near in a position to actually get his pound, and his hilarious protests to the contrary basically get him laughed out of court. The problem, of course, is that if you play the central villain as a joke, the quality of the story suffers. Defeating paper-thin villains is child's play, it's not worth your time. Go ask Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Merchant of Venice may not be Shakespeare's best work, but we can probably agree four hundred years later that it holds up better than this. (Also, Shakespeare didn't write his play in order to make a cheap play for federal government anti-drug funding dollars). So Shylock the clown is out.

Shylock the victim of persecution, however, has been (obviously) popular since the Second World War. Davies explains the appeal: Shylock can still have his cruel moments, he's certainly not going to be the hero, but he's living in a world where the motivations for his actions are clear. Jews have been expelled from most of Europe (including Britain). In Venice they are forced to wear distinguishing colours in public so they can't trick people using their Jew-ways. The culture at large has been at war with him. Antonio has been at war with him (Lori my crazy Injun #ursurysucks Twitter follower patron aside Shylock's income does come via the interest he receives loaning out his money, and by lending money for free Antonio is basically cutting into his business model and depriving him of the only livelihood a Jew in Venice is permitted). Is it any surprise that poor beleaguered Shylock might just decide to fight back, and enjoy the opportunity offered by Fate Herself to turn the tables on his oppressor(s)? Antonio came to him, and signed an agreement (as unfair as it was) in good faith, so when the Christian God Antonio worships sees fit to destroy his fleet and leave him at Shylock's mercy can he not, pace Chang, fire a photon torpedo or two of his own? Then, thrown into the court of a Catholic country and made to swear fealty on the Christian Bible, Shylock is denied his due process by a couple of bitches involved in identity theft. His own daughter has abandoned his age-old culture. Is a pound of flesh, all things considered, really that much to ask? Davies talks about all the good things about this portrayal: it gives the character strong motivation ("every man is the hero of his own story"), puts the negative Jewish sterotypes into a stronger historical context, and forces the audience to "check their privileges" as the saying goes and consider how badly this Jew -- cruel though he was -- fared in Shakespeare's time. It's got everything going for it except for that minor hiccup of its complete inaccuracy.

so Davies, slowly stripping down his clothes, goes into the story. A left-wing moral crusading university professor (of course) goes all #YesAllJews on Davies at a bar after the inaugural performance. Writing a very harsh letter to the paper (what's that like?), and organizing boo-ins and cancellations of season tickets, she pushes to get the production shut down. Davies recants the shame in seeing how fast his fellow actors leap to get on board with censorship by chastizing his portrayal of Shylock the villain as...you know...a villain. The very portrayal they had seized upon as being honest to the source material was now in jeopardy.

Davies occasionally (briefly) plays some of the supporting cast of this story from the soap opera star turned Nerissa or the guff Theatre Director who of course did this in the community interest and believes so strongly in the arts or the university professor herself. But most of it is his voice, telling his side of the story to an audience that mostly is (in the conceit of the play) in on the controversy. As a character we do learn a fair bit about Davies: he is Jewish, which at least to the social-justice-warrior class usually provides a fair bit of defense. He also is a little bit tone deaf: later on in the play he figures he can also play Othello, presumably not in blackface. I don't know, maybe in the modern age of Rachel Dolezal and her "transracial" movement a "transracial" white guy could play Othello and then make the social-justice-warriors heads spin (much like Rachel did herself). Davies could possibly pull of dark middle-eastern-ish, so maybe they just had to portray Othello as Turkish rather than black. But despite the real Othello being not really black, modern-day Othello is the "black" Shakespeare character. When you think about it, of course, even if Othello was black the arguments for Davies playing him are the same arguments hold that he uses to defend Shylock. They're the same arguments used to defend Idris Elba as James Bond in fact: not that "good for the gander is good for the goose" is a principle that the social-justice-warriors hold particularly dear.

The strongest parts of the work are the total dismay and shock as Davies is betrayed by his own: theatre-goers, artistic types, leftwing university professors. He naively believed that they were on his side, and cannot believe that they want their kneejerk reactions dictating how theatre speaks to people. The leftwing university professor spit on him -- a reaction that Mom wouldn't find unfamiliar -- and the theatre director succumbed to the pressure in five seconds flat. Familiar arguments about whether or not the play could incite violence in others is one that readers of this blog may find familiar. Putting Shakespeare's work in context seems equally abhorrent to him: his belief is that audiences, even modern ones, should be able to discern the beauty in the art on their own accord; without margin notes or helpful asides or (ironically) post-play question and answer sessions. Like Mark Steyn wrote about poor "homophobic" stand-up comedian Guy Earle, he discovered that when the chips were down the 'brave transgressionary arts community' would rather kick him until his ribs were broken than reach down and help him up. Anti-Semitic individuals or events would be immediately blamed upon the play. Hitler was brought up, implying that Shakespeare is responsible for the holocaust. When in a university class, Davies asks the students if the play turned them into Jew-haters. Of course they always are immune, it's the other you have to worry about.

At the end, Davies goes into the University class and tries to argue his case but for naught. As is typical on left-wing college campuses, logical arguments don't work (though he should be glad I suppose that he was even allowed to be heard). It turned out, he discovered, that the next generation of left-wing censors didn't even oppose book burnings.

Shylock brings up major and important issues, and it's probably too much to ask that the work fails to resolve them. After all, if it did, we could get every free-speech hating (and, Rachel Arab supporting, a condition that probably is close to 1-to-1) leftist a ticket to this play and solve all of our problems forever. It is a fairly good exploration of some of the themes, though Davies occasionally is a little too superficial in his analysis of the problems. You get the feeling that if this was about, say, another viewpoint the play wouldn't pull its punches quite so hard. The play also goes on a little longer than it has to: about 10 minutes before the conclusion you get the sense that it has run out of things to say, and the parts at the end which emphasize how the new censorship destroys critical thought in young minds deserves a more attentive audience, which means the little hints from midway through the work could easily have gone. It's also interesting how the playwright via Davies internalizes some of the social-justice-warrior arguments. It's a reminder of how they can neuter art (even art such as video games, or even the media that covers video games). It's why ultimately these are still "their people".

If I wrote a Fringe play about sodomites and won the annual lottery, how long do you think the famous "uncensored and unjuried" policy would last? The fictional world of Shylock may just give you the answer.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)

2015 Edmonton Fringe Review: Two Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dick Darrow Investigation

I'm trying very hard to remember if I've seen this play before. I know last year I tried to see it on the final weekend of the festival, but the tickets were sold out or I had a schedule conflict or something. This year, I made sure to see the play a little bit earlier, but whether it was familiar because I've gone before or because it's just so breezy it seems like you're a regular I cannot say.

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick: A Dirk Darrow Investigation is an excellent and breezy sort of adventure with a magic show thrown into the mix. Due to the iprov-ish nature of the show, I won't get into too much of the details. The audience members that Dick Darrow (Tim Motley) picks are going to differ with each show, so my personal experience won't really matter. Whether or not they follow stage direction easily, their responses to his questions, how good looking they are, etc. etc. etc. isn't really appropriate.

The one constant in all shows is Motley. His one-man performance (tragically, no girl with Ruby Knockers ever appears on stage) encapsulates almost all of the performances save for a couple recorded voice actors at the very end. With only a couple exceptions, he keeps to the style almost effortlessly. He can deliver his lines (including the dorky 60's Batman era sight gags and puns) with aplomb, staying in character very effectively and not being afraid to react to audience reaction to his jokes (he got a lot of cheers with a Stephen Harper crack, oddly the only one I've experienced this festival, I'd be curious to see if he's willing to slam Angry Beard).

The jokes were all good, the performance was stellar, and the magic tricks were all pretty cool, though the last half was a little magic-heavy and I'm sure that it could have been more effective when spread throughout the performance. I also hate to spoil part of the joke, but the reason the serial number on the bill matched the rest of the show is because Motley replaced the one given by an audience member with the one matching the "elements" of his show.

Apologies in advance, as by the nature of this show it doesn't lend particularly well to review, and I had tried to do something bigger and more elaborate with this blogpost. It wasn't working well, and there's more Fringe to cover.

Still, if you like the chance to watch a smooth talker up on stage who makes jokes about Prime Minister Harper and makes money disappear, you have two options: this, or Two Ruby Knockers and One Jaded Dick.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)


2015 Edmonton Fringe review and recap: Eating Pasta Off the Floor

Maria Grazia Affinito has an uncomfortable relationship with her mother.

In Eating Pasta Off the Floor, her one-woman show about the hassles she experiences in dealing with a woman who seems at times larger than life, "Grazia" (her mother is also named Maria) and her mother go from awkward scenarios around the town to a soul-searching trip to Italy for a relative's wedding. Along the way, their relationship is pushed, fractures, gets redeemed, totally shatters, and is pushed to its limits. While this seems an odd character arc, and it is, that the story doesn't follow a strictly linear timeline allows for us to see more facets into their relationship.

Affinito of course plays all the characters here, usually female family members but occasionally some supporting players as well, especially early when we need to see a "day in the life" of Grazia and her mother: Maria (I'll use her mother's first name here) jokingly offers Grazia as a wife-for-sale in Safeway, heckles her performance in Twelfth Night, and manages to talk her way past an otherwise burly and unflappable security guard into the backstage area.

Their relationship seems tender (though slightly strained by her mother's bombastic style and deplorable fashion sense) and early on you get a sense that the two of them both love each other more out of familial obligation than any strong bond. When the relationship is later strained, this early portrayal seems inconsistent, but we'll get to that later.

The main plot is that Maria and Grazia are off to Italy for a cousin's(?) wedding. It's their first such journey together, and early on Grazia understands the beauty of southern Italy, amazed and impressed by this old world charm that once produced her crazy mother. We also get an early sense, however, that Maria isn't going to be automatically at home in her old home: a fashionable clothing sales girl chases the women out of the store after seeing Maria's gaudy outfit, and Grazia's embarrassment over her mother's style accidentally finds a voice. The Italian trip is barely underway, and already things are eroding between the two. At the wedding, their backstory comes to the forefront: the old world belief in divorce is still strong enough that Maria pretends her husband has died rather than admit that he's now an ex-husband (even though it seems this has been the case for quite some time). Grazia is requested to lie about their living arrangement as well, as the Italian notion that honesty takes a back seat to positively portraying their family as a traditional one pushes Grazia into implicitly defending her mother. Being pushed doesn't suit Grazia well, it seems. Maria's old cousins still love her, though we discover that the younger family members have been told she's a bit batty. Grazia of course knows full well this is the case, but clearly is defensive when her mother is attacked by outsiders (blood relation outsiders they may be). Grazia sings for the bride and groom and endears herself to the audience, while by contrast Maria tries reading her poetry and the crowd goes about their business.

Out in the olive tree fields of rural Italy, Grazia contrasts her mother's happy playing with her old cousin with the discovery that in perhaps this exact same field, years ago during WWII, these two women were young girls trying to escape the oncoming front. One had to sacrifice herself to save the other, and Maria was the one who paid the price...

We're a long way from funny socks over sandals and pushy security guards and Safeway, kids.

Maria's life, it seems, isn't at all a happy one: in Italy she was raped as a young child. Traveling to America, she married a man with a temper, was kidnapped by unknown men for unknown reasons and finally was tired of the physical and mental abuse and chased him out of the house. Unfortunately, as was foreshadowed earlier in the play, Grazia inherited her father's temper. The two women come to blows in Grazia's teenaged years, and her ploy to call the cops and have social services intervene backfires when she repeatedly threatens to murder her mother. Grazia had a tough family life in a tough neighbourhood, and it seems at this point like she and her mother are destined to never speak again. But somehow, "offscreen", they do, well before the first scene of this play. How Grazia and Maria reconcile after a psychiatrist evaluates Grazia's intense matricidal desires is material for a dozen more scenes we don't see. Unfortunately, though the play teases us with a couple of different happy endings, we see the characters finish the play much as they started. Grazia is only a little more public in how she chastizes her mother's numerous character flaws.

It certainly works on a dramatic (and, more importantly, realistic) level that we see throughout time these two characters in flux. It seems that Grazia is the most important part of Maria's life, and vice versa. After Grazia's father is out of the picture it appears that these two have no particular interest or even skill in branching out and attracting a new mate. The two women are inexorably linked, their personal gravities (linked, as noted earlier, by more of a social dynamic than a strong interpersonal bond) forcing them to slowly move in orbit around each other [figuring out the two-body problem solution for these two, appropriately enough, would require us to work out a value for the eccentricity. The barycenter will almost certainly fall within Maria. -ed] They will eventually separate, though, and it's likely that Maria's death (tragic as that would be to Grazia) will also represent her freedom. Assuming that most if not all of the play is autobiographical rather than representing an "idealized" form of these two characters, we know a little bit about how Grazia has coped with the tragedy. She is, after all, Maria Grazia Affinito, our actress. We know that she turned to the theatre, to the world of fiction and make believe. A way for her to live different lives and probably work out a few of the personal demons that result in police putting her in a rubber room.

These emotional connections aren't helped by the fact that characters don't arc so much as they engage in a series of random walks, seemingly rising and falling between scenes. Again it works from a realistic point of view better than a story point of view: at one of the happy endings Affinito actually apologizes to the crowd that there's still another scene to go through. It doesn't help that this scene occurs pretty much where the work feels like a natural conclusion, but again, that's life. As with the rest of the play, it's the performance here that really carries it. Affinito pulls off the characters almost flawlessly, putting a real sense of a deep (and, often, tortured) soul into Maria's use of language both verbal and nonverbal. You can almost picture the wild grey Italian mane of her hair swinging around the stage with every physical twerk of Affinito's shoulders. The expanded universe around her is also well defined, with each character giving a little hint of the larger story that Grazia is only dimly able to see from spending time with them. It's Affinitos' ability to portray all of these characters so well (with the possible exception, oddly enough, of teen murdering Grazia who comes across as a caricature, though assuming Affinito actually was institutionalized and later released I can understand the difficulty in even writing the character of her violent former self, let alone convincingly expressing it on stage) that entertains and delights the audience. She's able to explore this world through their eyes to the extent you almost think you're hunting for truffles in Naples.

Eating Pasta Off the Floor isn't the perfect play: the structure occasionally shifts around too much and the work ends without a real sense that the primary conflict between these two has been resolved, but that's the problem with any autobiography of course. The story by definition is still going on at the time of the "ending". In this case, at least we have been able to be entertained as Maria and Grazia let us be caught up, however briefly, in their tragic orbit.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)

2015 Edmonton Fringe Review and Recap: Pacific Time

What if the Sugarbowl had a magic time travel portal in the back?

That's the premise behind the ambitious but ultimately flawed Pacific Time, where the absolutely most stale and generic of love stories turns out to be a bittersweet moment transcending time.

NDP government worker Brian Topp Grant has been coming to this cafe a lot lately, mostly due to the fact it's the only place he ever gets to meet the charming Polly (either Leah Beaudry or Heidi MacDonald, depending on which viewing you attend). Unfortunately, she's from Victoria, and you know what Victoria people are like, do you know what I'm saying do you know what I'm saying?

Okay, you probably don't, but there are a few good early gags where Grant (Joel Dinocola) and cafe wait(ress?) Jess (Kevin Brian Huang) talk about people from Victoria as if they're space aliens from another world: they don't tend to own cell phones, those Luddite Bohemian bastards. They're always late because they apparently never set their watch to Mountain Standard Time. On top of that, the Victoria wing of the local writer's group is always the weird and quirky ones. Must be the sea breeze, guffaws Jess, which seems doubly odd since Kevin Brian Huang looks like an effeminate asian version of Bruno Gerussi. Anyways, we get a good chance to poke some innocent fun at the "otherness" of Vancouver Island people.

This is also where the play sets up some of the mysteries, lays some of the foreshadowing, and grinds to a complete fucking halt. Dinocola's stilted delivery of the admittedly clunky dialog really lays bare how much the runtime is being padded with this world-building scene, and about 10 minutes in it's revealed that Jess is an aspiring actor which Huang uses as an excuse to desperately try to chew up scenery at every opportunity, bringing a giant sense of life and animation to the character that completely mismatches the other two performances and doesn't work with the limited characterization to a character where we literally don't know if he's playing a woman or not. This mainly looks like a chance to show off some stage work -- hey look kids! acting! -- and it's an early indication of the limits to David Haas' script: he knows the world of writers and actors and NDP activists, and hey look those seem to be the only people who inhabit the world. To be fair, spend too much time listening to the types who sit around the Sugarbowl all the time and this insular view of world seems at least partially justified.

Still, we're basically killing time waiting for Polly and setting up that we're in Edmonton. very very very Edmonton! Grant's NDP candidate won her seat, and hey isn't there an Edmonton Premier whose father's name was Grant? There's an accident on the Henday, something must be done about that road, says Grant. (Actually, something was done about that road: it was built. In fact, it's build ahead of schedule and at extra money thanks in part to the opposition at the time which included that same NDP. What else does Grant want done about it? Kill the local economy so all those lanes will no longer be filled with people going to work or doing otherwise productive activity? Actually, wait, I shouldn't be putting ideas into these people's heads). There's the Edmonton writers and the Victoria writers. Victoria is so stuffy and conservative and behind the times, aren't they?

It's almost 20 minutes into the 60 minute play when Polly finally appears, and sadly at first it's dropped down as well. Dinocola looks like Sir Laurence Oliver once MacDonald takes her seat, decked out in her best impersonation of Heather Graham pretending to be from the 1960s a decade and a half ago. The two of them have a bit of awkward dialogue, which in fairness does work fairly well in the context that they're dating...or at the least, feeling each other out. A couple years ago I watched a couple coworkers involved in this same little dynamic, and while I wasn't involved for as many of the initial conversations or any nearly as intimate as two people who think nobody's watching, there was a lot of this same back and forth testing and uncertainty as two people who are physically attracted to each other play that game where they try to see how compatible in each others lives they will be, all while making sure their best sides are put forward. It's a shame, really, that we don't ever learn specifically how long they've been meeting like this. If it's a second or third date it makes sense, but the play occasionally makes it seem like a first "date" date and occasionally like this is the latest in a long series of dates where neither side has made their move.

Regardless, some of the early conversation leaves some seeds for the later revelation that the program, the playbill, and this review have already told you: there's time travel afoot here, and Polly makes an early sort-of-typing hand gesture when she mentions the "internet", while she slips that she didn't fly from Victoria but instead walked most of the time, which Grant calls her on but doesn't quite let the pieces all add up. Anyways, in a scene that doesn't seem at all weird and stalkerishly creepy, Grant reveals that he did some research on Polly and discovered that her Grandmother (probably!) wrote a book back in the late 60s. He even, after some effort, tracked the novel down. Since Polly was a budding writer working on her seminal novel, he thought it would make a sweet present. Polly seems shocked and confused that he would have a book by a woman with her name who looked like her, but finds the "Grandma" story seems pretty solid so runs with it and Polly is a time traveler from the 1960s.

Oh, sorry about that. It's just that dancing around this and leaving clues, the play overplayed [pun not intended. -ed] its hand and by now even the most obtuse of viewers has figured it out. In-universe I suppose that it's understandable that Grant hasn't, but the play keeps the "what's this crazy Polly mystery" vibe that no longer holds our interest. We've even figured out that the back is where the time portal is, since she always comes in through the back door. She's overly coy about this point, and when Grant runs to the pisser and may or may not check on her back passage [pun definitely intended. -ed], Jess comes out with coffee and we have what we think is the chance for the two characters who clearly know what's going on to discuss things without being secretive in a way that we the audience can learn more of what they know and Grant cannot. Instead, it continues to be secretive, with Jess asking if he should be the one to tell Grant "about the secret of this place" and Polly really wanting to be the one who gives him the crazy news.

when Grant comes back, the actors get to do some physical theatre with the front door, as Polly demonstrates to Grant that she physically cannot be pulled out of the cafe doors. Indeed, once Grant steps outside she can no longer even communicate with him, the sound waves from inside the cafe don't propagate to the world outside. (Light does, for some reason that doesn't really track. The idea is that the cafe is a "bubble" neither in the 1964 nor in 2015, but if light can travel into and out of the bubble then why not sound? We see that Polly can't physically leave the cafe, but photons bouncing off of her can, and her voice as a sound wave no longer becomes a physical part of her body but rather oscillations in the air surrounding her. The air within the cafe can go in and out of the front door, so oscillating air shouldn't be an exception anymore than a photon of light that happened to touch her should).

After showing him that she can't leave, she then invites Grant to use her back passage [pun is absolutely, without question, intended. -ed] and report back on the results. Grant goes out to become the absolute last person in the building to discover there's a back door to 1964, and when he's finally convinced (for some reason, he's not entirely convinced stepping back into 1964 but only when he sees that the 2015 cafe doesn't have a back door when viewed from the exterior) we get to hear some of the mechanics of this time portal. According to Jess, it's not the only place that has a time portal but this bizarre dynamic is never explored or even mentioned again. Apparently this world is filled with businesses with time travel doors that are always kept perfectly secret in the age of the internet. For contrast, Being John Malkovich took place in 1999 (the dawn of Google) and it took roughly 63 femtoseconds before the characters in it decided to start monetizing a portal into the head of an actor. A time portal, even one where you can't change your fate (as we're soon to discover) would seem to be more useful than just an opportunity to meet up and hold a trans-generational book club.

This is, fortunately, the part where the play starts to get interesting: the interplay between Grant and Polly once the secret of the time traveling cafe is revealed. There is an absolutely hilarious line that caused me to guffaw out loud (minor apologies to the actors) even though it skimmed over the rest of the crowd's head. Apparently after a few time travelers at the 'Sugarbowl' shared their experiences with a physics professor, he "did the math" and figured out the universe's rules. The notion that somewhere a physics prof is looking at a half-completed time travel formula that depends on some personal anecdotes to figure out the sign conventions is hilarious. I just pictured an old Dutch guy muttering oh, you played the stock market but the broker kept losing your file? aha, that must mean it's a cube root not a square root...Diana couldn't step into 2015 and her older self is still alive? oh! x is in the numerator then, not the denominator! I'm not sure why him "doing the math" was even thrown in...the rules of the universe are the rules of the universe, and even if physicists have theories they wouldn't be "doing the math". Anyways, I seriously had to stifle my laughter.

Again the play really found its footing now that the agonizingly slow reveal is finally over, and we can start connecting some of the earlier threads. Most of the clues dropped earlier in the play start paying off (though, frankly, a 1964 girl from BC should probably be more incredulous that Alberta -- or BC for that matter -- isn't run by the SoCreds but rather by a disgustingly offensive Premier who denies parental rights and promotes sodomy). Brian's "amazing research skills" come into play as he reveals he found more than Polly's book (sorry, if you haven't gotten up to speed on that, Polly is the author of the book because Polly is a time traveler from the 1960s), he now also knows her future. We already know that Polly is still alive in 2015 because she's unable to walk out the front door: 1964 time travelers who have already died are able to step into 2015, and 2015 time travelers are only able to enter 1964 if they haven't been born yet but will disappear if they are still in the past at the moment of their birth (not conception, which means we can probably discern playwright David Haas' views of abortion). For a brief moment, it looks like the play is about to take a dark turn. In post-play discussions, it turns out I'm not the only one who was wondering if Polly and Brian would decide to have her 2015 version killed so that Polly and Brian could be together in 2015. Instead the debate is whether or not she should use the finished book to shortcut her work; she ultimately decides not to, she learns from Brian that her hero and inspiration Margaret Laurence had remembered meeting her and even mourned that Polly only wrote a single novel, so she felt she needed to do the hard work to "live up to" Laurence's ideals, which is a nice and fitting dramatic way to avoid an ontological paradox.

By rejecting the "short-cut" method of the book, Polly gets a chance to do what otherwise is also missing from the play which is an avenue to express her own cultural mores. Despite all the hero worship for Margaret Laurence in the play, there's nothing groundbreaking even in 1964 about a female Canadian author writing a book. Both Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood won the Governor General's Award in 1966, and Gabrielle Roy had won the award in 1957. Polly (or anybody else, for that matter) was hardly required to "change the face of Canadian literature", even in the far more literate era of the 1960s. Back in the 1980s Ted Byfield famously scoffed that you're more likely to meet a person on the street with AIDS than somebody who has bought a Canadian fiction book in the past year. But still, there's a more critical thing at play here than being groundbreaking or making a difference: being true to yourself and doing what you should do. It's deeply ingrained into the cultural situation of the 1960s, and it's nice to even implicitly hold Polly to a moral standard that no present-day NDP supporter could ever live up to or even fully understand. Grant's cold "do whatever evil gets you ahead" mentality, the same one that produced the fake NDP global warming survey, contrasts well with Polly's self-respecting desire to do the right thing even if its personally unpleasant.

Indeed, the current running through the later half of the play is that Polly has decided to put everything on hold, including her love life, to finish her first work and become a published author. It's implied, whether true or not, that she's confident that after her first work comes out then she'll have time for everything else in her life. I don't know enough about the publishing industry to know if it's true or not, but it seems a little simplistically naive similar to Natalie Portman's stuttered attempts to characterize her character in the Star Wars prequels. Grant is welcome to come back to 1964 to be with her, but until the book is finished she can't fit him in, and after it's finished...well, she and Grant aren't able to be together either. The potential lovers are torn between their two worlds, and though they have come in contact, they cannot neatly intertwine. Something has to give.

The slogan to the coffee shop is "Sticky Buns to Die For", and at one point the characters literally talk about how "they got lured in by the sign". I felt much the same during the first 25 minutes of the play, that I was lured in by this time travel story that seemed to be going nowhere. It finally did get its legs and progress once the plot was underway. Haas' strength seems to be in writing plot-advancing rather than character-building dialogue, and Dinocola isn't able to give the material extra life. The flat performances make it hard to get into the characters, and while fortunately they are ultimately part of an interesting story the inability to connect with them despite all the time painfully spent "getting to know them" (again, which date is this exactly?), the personal sacrifices they make at the end seem more abstract than concrete. Peppered in with a non-comical comic relief character who has a "boring waitress"/"giant unbridled personality waiting to burst through" switch that seemingly is flipped at random, and it's a bit of a mess redeemed by the strength of its clever construct.

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