Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe 2017 Day One

Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe 2017 Day One

Thanks to Bema Productions, I was able to attend a dress rehearsal of Horowitz and Mrs Washington.  On Day One, applying the scheduling theory of my long-time fringing buddy Arlene, I chose a venue—Fairfield Hall—and attended all the performances there.  The evening included three world premieres—Inauguration Vacation by Annette Roman, timely and topical storytelling from the life of a political activist in Trump-times; Birdhouse by The Birdmann and Egg, a whimsical tale of a bird and egg threatened with habitat destruction and Six Magicians by Andrew Brimstone, an evening of comedy, character and magic.

Horowitz and Mrs Washington, written in the late 1970s by Henry Denker, is, unfortunately, as timely today as it was then.  Sam Horowitz (David MacPherson) is a bigoted elderly New York Jew, mugged by a couple of black teenagers, who suffers a stroke while in the emergency room. To his dismay and anger, his son, Marvin Hammond (Graham Croft) hires a black practical nurse Mrs. Harriet Washington (Rosemary Jeffery) to assist in his rehabilitation.

Suffice to say, from the get-go, their relationship is forged on bitter resentment, bristling with tension and distrust.  Horowitz doesn’t hesitate to make his racist feelings known—“savages, they’re all savages”—in reaction to the infamous Harlem riots, while Mrs. Washington is haughty, crisp, terse and biting in her comments.

Gradually, as the two work on his rehabilitation, some trust develops, and they begin to share intimate details of their personal lives—Horowitz is disconnected from his successful children and grandchildren living far away; Mrs Washington has a widowed daughter and grandchildren who depend on her for child care.  MacPherson and Jeffery navigate these “troubled waters” carefully, allowing their relationship to build in a very natural way.

It’s a fine line to walk between stereotype and compelling character (the elderly kvetching Jew is a comedic staple)—directors Zelda Dean and Angela Henry find the balance that allows laughter to flow and small human victories—rehabilitation is arduous—to be celebrated.

Horowitz and Mrs Washington is an earnest work with a message—a young grandson (Cole Deo), momentarily led astray, becomes Sam’s protégé.  Christine Upright as the flighty and neurotic daughter Mona, provides an opportunity for laughter.  Alf Small makes a cameo appearance as Dr Tannenbaum.

At 90 minutes, this production is a complete work, with high quality design—Anne Swannell’s set is period-perfect and boasts a beautiful vignette of the New York skyline, situating the apartment (and Sam himself) in the tony neighbourhood of Central Park (he’s obviously very wealthy) while period accents like macramé hanging plant holders (props—Amber Woods) and sound design (Chris Rudram) anchor the time firmly in the seventies.  Diane Madill’s costumes, particularly Mona’s turban and flowing coat and Marvin’s plaid suit, represent the essence of the era’s fashion. Throughout Joshua Amendt-Moylan plays Bridge Over Troubled Waters during scene changes—is this in the stage instructions, or, a wonderfully coded message? Regardless, it’s extremely evocative.

Riots, the Blackout, racial tensions, the struggles of children and aging parents, worry over teenagers—Horowitz and Mrs Washington plays on a canvas both large and small, taking the overwhelming situation of the upheavals during this time, and reducing it to individual interactions makes it all the more compelling for viewers.

Remove topical references to WATTS lines and the rotary dial phone, and this play could, sadly, be written today.  In 2017, as in 1979, aging and fiercely independent elderly parents engage in a battle of wills with their adult children, racist bigotry still exists, and everyone, regardless of rank or station, is simply trying to do the best they can.

If only it were as easy to reach common ground as it is for these two.

Dramas are often in short supply at the Victoria Fringe.  Horowitz and Mrs. Washington is a fine example that deserves to be on everyone’s schedule.

Horowitz and Mrs. Washington, by Bema Productions
Site B, Congregations Emanu-El, 1461 Blanshard
90 minutes
Tickets $11/$9
Thursday August 24-7pm
Sunday August 27-2pm
Monday August 28-7pm
Tuesday August 29-7pm
Wednesday August 30-7pm
Thursday August 31-7pm
Sunday September 3-2pm

Inauguration Vacation by Annette Roman

Annette Roman is a Berkeley-based storyteller, compelled, as the daughter of a woman who was a  teenager in Hitler’s Germany, and a Hungarian Jewish father, to protest.

American politics are an obsession, even here in tranquil Victoria.  Faced with the current administration, what would any liberal leftie do?

Roman weaves tales of joy and hope–parading with millions of others at Obama’s inauguration–with those of quiet despair, as she joins the crowds to heckle attendees at Trump’s inaugural balls.

The infamous Battle of Berkeley (April 15 2017) where Patriot’s Day rally participants (and pro-Trump supporters) clashed with anti-fa factions, is recounted in intimate personal detail. It’s all the more chilling after Charlottesville since the first was a proving ground for the latter.

The audience chants along with Roman “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA”. She convinces a few to play Trump supporters and join her onstage where she attempts to win them over to her side, with no success.

It’s easy to feel defeated faced with the apparent juggernaut that is rolling over the world currently.

Roman’s an introvert, a part-time teacher of critical thinking at a community college.  She often succumbs to feeling ineffective—a sentiment those in the supportive crowd no doubt share. And yet, here she is, raising awareness and spreading the word to audiences far and wide through her storytelling.  “Fear is my cue to do it” she states with conviction. Not afraid to poke fun at herself “does this protest sign make me look fat?”, Roman is acutely self-aware.

Come along for an inside look at American politics played out on the ground for an ordinary citizen.  As she reminds us, it’s not hopeless for, in Ghandi’s words, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”

Inauguration Vacation is earnest and compelling, Roman’s calm delivery heightens the urgency of the message. When quiet teachers and Victoria past-poet-laureates knit pussy hats and march, it’s time to pay attention. The fringe circuit needs more storytellers like Annette Roman.

Inauguration Vacation by Annette Roman
Venue 6: Fairfield Hall
60 minutes. 11 years and up. Solo Comedy Drama
Tickets $11

Remaining Shows:

Friday August 25 9:15pm
Sunday August 27 6:30pm
Friday September 1 7:15pm
Saturday September 2 12:30pm
Sunday September 3 7:30pm

The Birdmann and Egg: BIRDHOUSE

In a departure from past solo performances (The Birdmann, Momentous Timing, I Forgot to Fly Today) performer Trent Baumann joins forces with Egg (Sachie Mikawa) in a whimsical tale of impending environmental destruction, as the Regurgitator threatens their peaceful forest.

From high in their birdhouse, they gaze out as trees are gobbled by the insatiable appetite of the monster.

How can a bird and an egg save the world? Do they simply give up?  The two decide to try fun as an antidote, engaging in silly word play and an inspired stuffie fight.  There are corny jokes and awkward moments, musical riffs and magic.

Victoria audiences love The Birdmann, having embraced his neo-vaudeville since the first Victoria performances in 2011—he’s been back every year on one stage or another. In fact, the duo chose the city for the world premiere of this latest work.

From a production perspective, BIRDHOUSE is definitely more complex with intricate animated and filmed sequences projected on a screen stage right.

Expect dead pan humour, run-on jokes, visual non-sequiturs and tugged heartstrings.  No one wants to contemplate the prospect of habitat wantonly destroyed for more concrete towers.

A recalcitrant cardboard robot is eventually persuaded to abandon his mission. Peace reigns once again.

The Birdmann and Egg: BIRDHOUSE delivers full-on crazy fringy fun with humour sure to appeal to the inner kid in everyone.

NOTE: It was a sold-out house for opening night. I’d advise advance tickets (or lining up early) if you want to be sure to get a seat.

The Birdmann returns with Greatest Hits for ONE NIGHT ONLY September Thursday September 7th at the Metro Studio. Tickets are on sale now.

The Birdmann and Egg: BIRDHOUSE
Venue 6: Fairfield Hall, 1303 Fairfield Road
40 minutes. All ages. Incredible comedy variety
Tickets $11/$9

Remaining shows:
Saturday August 26 4pm
Sunday August 27 2:30pm
Wednesday August 30 6:15pm
Saturday September 2 2:15pm
Sunday September 3 3:45pm

Six Magicians by Andrew Brimstone

The house was packed with appreciative fans for the opening night of Andrew Brimstone’s Six Magicians.  A regular with Paper Street Theatre (as Andrew Brimmell), he is a confident, personable and quick-witted performer—as befits his improv background—unrattled by missed technical cues or the occasional glitch with a trick.

In this solo tour-de-force he builds a narrative arc that not only recounts his personal journey with magic—he was smitten at age five by the skills of long-time magic community stalwart Tony Eng and performed Magic for Kids, by Kids with his partner Wes until entering high school—but also tells it with six distinct cameo performances.

Brimstone is the most professional of the bunch; Pierre Ponce, a Frenchman, enters to the sound of the accordion; Garth Bullseye, the cowboy, has an impressive yoke and sword trick; an Australian Modern Day Houdini_13 teaches magic via YouTube; Adam Jacobs is a Las Vegas based mentalist and the Great Montego is the doddering elder of the group.

It’s the tale of a love found, lost and embraced again, with audience participation, plenty of “wink and nod” jokes, and wonderfully silly tricks.

Andrew Brimstone is a stand-out in this re-imagined magic show.  The audience advisory is PG 14+ for coarse language but most kids would be unfazed.

NB: Given the sold-out crowd on opening night, and the fact the two other magic shows don’t arrive until later (from the Edmonton Fringe), I would advise either getting tickets in advance or lining up early to avoid disappointment.  Mind the gap—the show is front-end loaded with a gap from Monday to Friday.

Six Magicians by Andrew Brimstone
Venue 6: Fairfield Hall, 1303 Fairfield
50 minutes. PG 14+ coarse language. Comedy magic show.
Tickets: $11

Remaining shows:

Friday August 25 7:30pm
Saturday August 26 8:15 pm
Sunday August 27 4pm
Saturday September 2 10pm
Sunday September 3 5:45pm

About @lacouvee

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