Culinary discovery of the day

Yes, Virginia, that jar of peanut butter in the back of the fridge can go bad.

So much for my "whew, I'm not out of peanut butter my morning PB&J is saved."


35th Edmonton International Fringe Festival: That Was Then, This Is Fringe

(this post is "sticky" and will remain at the top until August 22nd. Scroll down for new content)

It's that time of year again, where the streets of Old Scona come alive with green onion cakes, lame busker shows, and 140 plays which promise to be edgy and counter-cultural (and at least 95 of them will contain one tired Donald Trump joke).

And that means it's also time for Third Edge of the Sword's annual collection of Fringe reviews, highlights, and photos.

Keep your eye on this page for the eleven days of the 2016 Fringe Festival as more and more content is loaded. You can also take a look at the content from the 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

And, naturally, it almost goes without saying at this point...

No fags.


2016 Edmonton Fringe: two plays with questionable politics

A couple years ago I opened up the Fringe by posting a list of plays I had no interest in seeing. While I'm not up to the same task this year, there are a couple of plays that are so boilerplate and ridiculous that they deserved to be made fun of.

The first, from Morgan Cranny (previously seen doing Jeff Who Lives At Home fan fiction [yes, this is an old joke -ed], is Vasily Djokavich: Russia's #1 State Approved Comedian. In the poster, you can even see a photo of Putin overlooking the depressed looking performer. Haha, how sad is a country that has state approved comedians and a narcissist as their leader. Oh, wait, that doesn't describe Russia in 2016. It describes Canada. A comedian named Mike Ward has been fined for being a non-state-approved comedian. This isn't a one-off-case either: comedian Guy Earle was also fined for his comedy. Now maybe Cranny-as-Vasily makes reference to these cases in the play, which would sort of help. However, its ridiculous to be continuing to make jokes about state enforcers denying the fundamental free speech rights in a far-off country when the same thing is happening on our very doorsteps. In fact, I'll bet you dollars-to-donuts that Cranny himself doesn't see a problem with Human Rights kangaroo courts forcing citizens to pay danegeld to people who's "right not to be offended" has been invaded. As a result, the play itself is entirely pointed the wrong direction. It should be at the same so-called "edgy" Fringe performers that Cranny cavorts with day and night.

Similarly, I was alerted to this play by a text message warning me that it's hateful towards Christianity (and that she had to walk out on it): Jesus Master Builder — A Divine Comedy. All I can say is that I can't wait for playwright Mark Allan Greene's followup next year: Mohammed the Mountain Mover - Koranilarious.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)

2016 Edmonton Fringe: Grounds review

At least they changed some of it this year.

One of the most interesting and ironic things about the Fringe grounds is for a festival whose plays are entirely anti-conservative, there's nothing in this universe more conservative than the layout of the Fringe grounds themselves. A couple weeks ago Martok and I were out on Whyte Ave for drinks just before the Fringe grounds were being setup, and he had great sport verbally describing the layout end-to-end. Ever since the year they had that "eco-carnival" I've been concerned with the incredible shrinking Fringe grounds, though Martok's complaint was that the grounds don't mix it up at all. (To be fair, his suggestion that we shut Whyte Avenue down for 12 days and expand the grounds to include the street itself is crazy and I want no part of it)

The taco in a bag stand? Exactly where he described it, along with the mini-donuts and the green onion cakes. That (Brown) Indian food place "Zarika" or whatever it's called is a few feet moved from its location last year. The same hippie bead places dot the landscape just north of the main only stage. The fences and barriers connecting the Orange Hall "line" with the walking path between the main only stage and south beer gardens are still illogically designed to create a massive bottleneck the moment more than one stroller is thrown into the mix. There are a couple food trucks north of the ATB Arts barns and the usual food "trailers" along Calgary Trail, and then Fat Franks is in front of the Walterdale. Bruce Jenner changes genders more often than the Fringe Festival changes its grounds layout.

Though they did make a couple notable changes this year. A whopping one of them is a reorganization. The rest are...wait for it...subtractions.

The north beer gardens has moved from its traditional spot to just north of the train tracks, and now you can sit next to trees but not under trees. Instead of getting some nice natural shade, instead you can do the same gag as the north beer garden: sit under a heavy (and noisy) tent if you want to avoid sun and/or rain, otherwise you're out in the sun almost the entire day. You get a bit of grass this way. I can't say I like it, though it's at least different. So what did they do with the old beer gardens area? Something cool? You should probably know better by now. They put the daily discount tent there, and a Subway food truck selling their lousy new Korean BBQ, and Telus has a mini-tent there, and...no, that's about it. They opened up some space and didn't do anything interesting with it. Maybe that will be next year?

There are some subtractions, of course, and I'm not sure if New Asian Village just chose not to take their traditional spot along Gateway Boulevard or if they were forced out. The "freak show" tent that was just north of the north beer gardens is definitely gone and that's definitely something the Fringe was responsible for. Don't tell me there weren't any bearded ladies available, one of them has been walking the grounds almost constantly.

So another year, another drop in the number of things to do and see at the Fringe grounds. I've already talked with one friend who, upon learning the Butter Chicken from New Asian Village is no longer available, decided to skip the Fringe this year. The site itself seems eerily reminiscent of the Republican Party in 2012: not wanting to rock the boat, they tepidly put forth a slightly smaller and more low key candidate than they tried the last time and hoped it would work better. And just like 2012, it didn't and left us with another four years of disaster. Say what you will about Trump, but he's the party swinging for the fences, being bold, and trying something different.

The Fringe Theatre Festival keeps telling us that's who they are. And then every year they give us the Fringe grounds equivalent of Mitt Romney.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)


2016 Edmonton Fringe Review: Led Zeppelin Was a Cover Band

Led Zeppelin recently made international news by winning a court case about the origins of "Stairway to Heaven".

The music industry, still reeling from the Blurred Lines verdict, will be relieved, said Larry Iser, a lawyer and copyright specialist who was not involved in either case. “Today’s verdict is a vindication of copyright, which only protects an original expression of music.” Led Zeppelin showed that the disputed chord progression was a common building block of classical and popular music dating back centuries, he said.
That notion, that Zeppelin was just building on the musical influences of the past, is the primary thesis of Zeppelin Was a Cover Band, a one-man show by Montreal's Stéfan Cédilot. Cédilot begins by reciting the history of Led Zeppelin's formation, from Jeff Beck joining the New Yardbirds after Jimmy Page turned it down, to the hiring of John Bonham and the infamous Keith Moon conversation that possibly never happened. Once Zeppelin formed though, Cédilot isn't interested much in the band itself: not the famous Page and Plant disagreements and reconciliations, not the loss of John Bonham, not the endless reunion rumours. From the formation to the present day, it's only about the music...and the musical influences.

As noted, the general thesis of the play is "Zeppelin didn't write most of their songs and we shouldn't expect them too." This open admission of copyright theft is a touchy one: unlike far-left extremist Pete Seeger the white boys from 'Zep don't get lionized (pun intended) for re-recording songs made by poor American blacks. There's a strong torrent in today's racially-charged society that these black artists deserved their share of the pie. Willie Dixon successfully sued Zeppelin for a chunk of that "Whole Lotta Love" money, and Howlin' Wolf got $45,123 for "The Lemon Song". However, Cédilot discounts that notion and "The Lemon Song" provides a great example of it. Howlin' Wolf wrote a song called "Killing Floor" which Led Zeppelin borrowed the tune from to make "The Lemon Song". However, "Killing Floor" doesn't mention lemon juice at all: the lyrics came from Robert Johnson's "Travelling Riverside Blues" which Robert Johnson wrote in...no, just kidding. Black blues legend Robert Johnson stole many of the lyrics from a song called "She Squeezed My Lemon" by Roosevelt Sykes. In fact, despite Zeppelin recording a "cover" of "Travelling Riverside Blues" it actually is a "version", which stole less of Johnson's original song than the original song itself stole from another blues artist.

For a good chunk in the middle of the play, Zeppelin almost takes a backseat to the history of blues/gospel/rhythm n' blues music as Cédilot defends (or at least lays in detail) the practice of "stealing" music. "In My Time of Dying" from the 1975 Physical Graffiti album is controversial for having writing credits to Zeppelin's four members despite Bob Dylan recording the song in 1962. But, of course, Bob Dylan didn't write it either. Josh White recorded it in 1933, but White also didn't write it. In 1929 Charlie Patton performed it, Blind Willie Johnson recorded it in 1927, but he stole large chunks of it from Reverend J.C. Burnett's 1926 song "Jesus Is Going to Make Up Your Dying Bed". While Burnett may (but probably didn't) have written parts of the tune, it's an even older gospel song of unknown origin and refer to Psalms 41:3 and despite what some 70s rockers might tell you, Led Zeppelin did not write the Holy Bible.

Throughout the play, Cédilot strips down physically (he starts in a nerdy tweed jacket, and eventually pulls off his dress shirt to reveal a Zeppelin tee underneath) as he strips back the origins of various Zeppelin songs. "Gallows Pole" was a cover of the 1939s Lead Belly song...but Lead Belly stole the song from...white people! The original "version" of the lyrics comes from "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" which dates back centuries. This is the strongest current of Cédilot's argument: that every couple three generations a song has to be re-done and re-"released" in order to be remembered into the future. He sort of ignores the differences caused by the recording era, which is a shame. He doesn't even pay lip service to the fact that a song from 1827 being "redone" by a band in 1875 is necessary for its survival in the cultural landscape, while a song from 1927 being redone in 1975 isn't. As a result, his argument suffers.

But this isn't just a musicology essay, it's a dramatic work in its own right: playing blues standards and Zeppelin tunes and playing "spot the similarities and influences", realizing that we can't enforce a "your copyright is sacrosanct" when it comes to Muddy Waters without extending the same courtesy to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and then back to whoever she "stole" from before recorded music existed. As the play winds down, Cédilot just starts up with the air guitar and explaining (whitesplaining?) that Zeppelin's versions are just better. Whatever the music's origin, Led Zeppelin was at the forefront of a new style of music: they mixed their albums in a new and nontraditional style. They recorded 3-8 minute versions of centuries-old slave work songs that typically only were a minute or so long and introduced music to a wider audience. They ultimately were later "stole/adapted" when Puff Daddy remixed "Kashmir" with his rap beats. They sang about Tolkien and dead 5-year olds.

And they fucking rocked.

The play moves at generally a good clip, and Cédilot's passion shines through. While he doesn't expand on some of the legitimate issues brought up by Zeppelin's copying in the recording era, and he riffs on the relatively ridiculous Spirit lawsuit without mentioning the numerous other and more successful ones, it's an entertaining foray into the world of music and might open a few eyes about the role of influence in music even as it leaves open the question of when that influence can be monetized. If you're a music fan, Zeppelin Was a Cover Band is a play worth a watch.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)

2016 Edmonton Fringe Review: Call Me Kirk: The Ultimate Trek

Adapting Star Trek to a Fringe play can't be easy. It just can't. Especially when you're covering an almost 50-year-old TV series than spawned a movie franchise that spawned another television series which spawned three more television series which spawned nothing...but then the 50-year-old TV series spawned a second movie franchise.

There are a few ways you can go with this: you can try telling a new story, which won't necessarily impress fans or non-fans but will at least let you be creative and do something different. The fan-made movies like Star Trek Horizon and the fan made series like Star Trek Hidden Frontier go this route. I can't say that I particularly like any of the series...whatever you can say about the questionable acting of Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, Wil Wheaton, and Robert Beltran they all can act rings around Larry LaVerne and Nick Cook. The ones that also feature Trek actors suffer this problem less (not that Chase Masterson is exactly a top-notch talent) and then have the questionable writing as well. The best you can say is now fans can make effects that easily match the stuff Desilu spent a fortune on in 1968.

The other route you can take is to pastiche and/or ripoff the existing property. Fans will recognize everything and non-fans will vaguely recognize everything and presumably send them all home happy. That's the route taken by Call Me Kirk: The Ultimate Trek, a one-man show by Michael Schaldemose. Schaldemose worked on One Man Star Wars, which took the "ripoff" ideas and twisted it: turning it into a line by line (with snide asides) reproduction. For that to work, however, a huge portion of the fanbase needs to know the existing property by heart. How long into Star Trek III do you think the average Joe could start rattling off the plot? I think they'd pretty much fizzle after "they search...for that Spock guy...". Instead, Call Me Kirk does the pastiche route, stealing huge chunks of plots/scenes from "Elaan of Troyius", "The Trouble With Tribbles", and "Journey to Babel" and a few extra plots/scenes from "A Taste of Armageddon", "Arena", "Space Seed", and "The Wrath of Khan". At various points he breaks from just reciting lines from episodes of the TV show and breaks into Shatner-inspired musical parodies.

The musical breaks are the best part, for two reasons: one, they let Schaldemose do his William Shatner impersonation with full gusto and not trying to play him off other characters. Secondly, and this cannot be stressed enough, they are new creations that don't involve actual Trek fans being sixteen steps ahead of the script. That's why the prose sections are so much weaker: they are the fringe theatre equivalent of Data at the beginning of "Elementary, My Dear Data" where he's just recreating all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries verbatim from the books. Kirk is going to fall in love with Elaan after touching her tear, he's going to use the command codes to beat Khan, he's going to fake being well enough to command the Enterprise so Spock can go into surgury to save his father, and Scott is going to fight Klingons after they call the legendary starship a garbage scow. You'd think the plot is going to bore hardcore fans but keep the masses happy, but they ultimately do neither. Call Me Kirk is stuck between a rock and a hard place due to their format, and they stumble across a "musical revue" escape route that they only tentatively step forward through. Having a few token plots ripped from the show that lead into musical theatre Star Trek parodies could have worked great. Unfortunately, the music parodies only occur twice and just remind you that you came to the show wanting to have fun.

The Shatner impersonating can only take you so far, and while it's entirely likely that you can crib his musical career for this more than his acting career, we're instead watching Schaldemose-as-Kirk talk about the horrors of nuclear war. In 2016. Rehashing slightly modified lines from the 60's TV show is a nice bit of nostalgia, and the script does a decent enough job of tying them into a single overarching plot (albeit one where plot threads appear and then vanish again without much fanfare), but essentially we're watching a partial one-man recreation of catchphrases. It literally ends with a re-telling of Shatner's "I Am Canadian" rant, driving home that we're watching the Star Trek equivalent of an Elvis impersonator. Also, as a brief aside we already "saw" Sulu take the Kobayashi Maru simulation, and he never even entered the neutral zone...

If you're looking for a rough "rating", let's call this equivalent to the episode "The Mark of Gideon". Not as bad as it could have been with a few good Shatner-ish moments, but hardly worth your time to watch.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)


2016 Edmonton Fringe Review: Breakneck Hamlet

Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Hamlet is in the upper pantheon of Shakespeare's works. Voted his best play by both Time Magazine readers and a Daily Telegraph survey of British artsy types, it's more palatable to modern pussified audiences than Othello or The Merchant of Venice (as I covered in last year's review of "Shylock"). While it doesn't speak to as universal a theme as Romeo and Juliet (or even Othello) it still ranks up there with Shakespeare's most "accessible" plays, a definition not always easy to define but generally considered the sort of play where you can easily identify with the central drama to the main character and the plot is easy to discern through the flowery writing. However our aversion to incest and the sheer unlikelihood of such a thing happening in a western nation in 2016, the notion of our uncle seizing our late father's wife is one that most of us can appreciate as being very un-kosher. His dilemma of how to find out the truth about what happened to his father and make everything right is the essence of the heroic drama. It also featured Shakespeare writing at his best: the dialogue snaps and sizzles in Hamlet more than any other play.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of it. Hamlet is 29,551 words (4042 lines), making it a third again longer than the average play in the Elizabethan era. Some stuff ends up having to be cut out to bring it to a length where a modern audience can fit it all in (the exception being the 1996 Kenneth Branagh version). So how much of Hamlet do you cut in order to bring the runtime down to three hours? Two hours? 135 minutes?

All of them are dubious propositions, so imagine the stress required to bring the play to a tick over 59 minutes. That was the challenge in adapting the play for Breakneck Hamlet, a one man show starring Timothy Mooney. Just to hammer the point home, with the first syllable from his mouth he hits a digital timer next to the throne and you almost literally engage in clock watching. But unlike the kind I do at work ("I'm 65/117ths done my day!") this helps you stay with the story, letting you benchmark the act and scene breaks and wondering "if Claudius is praying 36 minutes in, how can he fit in the Laertes mob?" and so on and so forth. Mooney covers just enough dialogue to propel the plot and provide basic character motivation for the star, leaving behind the backgrounds of the other characters. We never really feel the tension between Laertes and Ophelia over her relationship with Hamlet, we don't know much about Polonius's motivation at all, and (as is typical for a shortened version of Hamlet) Fortinbras is relegated to being just a plot element to resolve the tale. The gravediggers are portrayed for a scant fifteen seconds, Ophelia's suicide not shown at all, and Gertrude doesn't get much in the way of attention either. This is purely Hamlet's story, with brief aways to Claudius's plotting so that we understand the context.

And it works. While we never delve into the "is he mad or isn't he" that wasn't originally a big part of the play (we can blame the Goths and Freud for that one), we do see a prince trying to first determine if the ghostly apparition is telling him the truth and then determining (wrongly) how to properly remove Claudius and take back the throne he is so owed. The most famous of the Hamlet quotations still make their way forth, and only occasionally are Shakespeare's words dropped in favour of snide asides or brief explanations of the world of 1601 England for a modern audience's benefit. While they did provide the play's only laughs, and I understand the narrative need for them, I would have preferred they had been left out.

For the work they distract from is superb. Timothy Mooney vaguely resembled William H. Macy and really sounds like him, and his ability to subtly portray the different characters helps keep the play moving at...well...a breakneck pace, frankly. Naturally being Shakespeare the language is flowery and sublime, and Mooney's delivery expresses the beauty in the language of Shakespeare that so flustered Jim Hacker. For the Shakespeare aficionado to the Shakespeare neophyte (I wouldn't necessary recommend this to the Shakespeare purist) Breakneck Hamlet play is designed to delight and entertain both. And yes, indeed, it's done in under an hour. He has the clock to prove it.

(click here to return to the 2016 Fringe portal page)


The Road to Rio

The Games of the XXXI Olympiad begin tomorrow in beautiful (unless you live there) Rio de Janeiro.

As the games begin, consider this sobering thought: in 1936, everybody remembers Hitler refusing to shake the hand of Jesse Owens after he won gold in the 100m track. Owens won gold with an astounding time of 10.3 seconds.

Those 10.3 seconds today wouldn't even qualify you for the Olympics. You need a time of 10.16 seconds or lower to even be allowed into the stadium. You haven't been able to race with a 10.3s qualifying time in this millennium.

Everybody remembers it, which is hilarious because it didn't actually happen