Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe 2016. Day One.

Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe 2016. Day One. Victoria Fringe Festival August 22-September 4, 2016.

Review of The Old Lady’s Guide to Survival: Site A–Congregational Emanu-el, 1461 Blanshard Street.

Reviews of The Jupiter Rebellion: A Zach Zultana Adventure by Jeff Leard, An Improvised Quentin Tarantino 2–The Playful 8 by Paper Street Theatre Co, Perpetural Wednesday by White Collar Crimes and Half the Battle by Owen Bishop.  All at venue 1–the Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad Street.

As always, my complete Victoria Fringe Festival 2016 coverage can be found HERE

Be sure to page through since there are dozens of entries–previews, and picks, as well as reviews. I have written 17 previews of shows I will either most likely not see, or will see too late in the festival to write reviews.  I hope to post reviews daily of shows I’ve seen the day/night before–some days are “show heavy” and it may take a day or two to catch up.  My final reviews will be posted Friday September 2nd.


  • The first few days of Fringe are a wonderful way to “front load” the Fringe experience–the last weekend (Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun) tends to be very busy, and many shows sell-out their advance tickets (although 50% of the tickets are reserved for sales at the venue IF you are prepared to line up well in advance).  If a show you really wanted to see is completely sold out, please–take a chance on a show by an unknown or lesser known artist.  That, to me, is the true joy of the Fringe–the unexpected and pleasant surprises.
  • Don’t forget–you need a Fringe button ($6). One of the guiding principles of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals CAFFTM is that all ticket sales go directly to the artists.  The sale of Fringe buttons helps Intrepid Theatre produce the festival.
  • Don’t be LATE–the show WILL start without you.
  • Embrace the line-up. Get to know your fellow Fringers. Many a friendship has been made as a result of a casual conversation.

The Old Lady’s Guide to Survival by Bema Productions, Victoria BC

Falling outside my schedule as it did, I was grateful for an invitation to the dress rehearsal of The Little Old Lady’s Guide to Survival by Bema Productions. Wendy Magahay and Christine Upright are two of my favourite actors—Magahay often portraying patrician or neurotic mothers and Upright the master of disguise (as seen by multiple characters over the years in Sin City the Live Improvised Serial).  I couldn’t wait to see what a collaboration would yield under the skillful direction of Zelda Dean (less well known to Victoria audiences but with a long career in theatre).  Dean always sees the abiding human side to a character’s story—a trait that keeps this play from falling into the oft-repeated caricature of “little old lady”.

Netty (Magahay) and Shprintzy (Upright) are two old women (although now being 62 I’m not sure 73 fits my definition of “old”), each facing the march of time—Netty, the more caustic and world-weary of the two, is losing her sight; Shprintzy (greenhorn in Yiddish), her mind.   Inhabitants of the same apartment building, their paths cross one morning at the bus stop.  How they combine forces—even if reluctantly on the part of Netty—is the essence of the story.

Given the odd-couple nature of their relationship, the script, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mayo Simon makes ample use of comedy to highlight the differences—Netty unfailing in her adherence to strict social convention and attire, Shprintzy ever the free-spirit in dress, her child-like love of life, and willingness to live in the moment.

Magahay and Upright lean in to their characters’ symbiotic need for one another, unafraid to wait through the uncomfortable moments—what results is terrific comedy and heart-breaking tragedy—deftly touched upon.  For any audience member over 60, the inevitable ravages of time can be either well understood or potentially terrifying territory—this cast and director create a space for both experiences.  The Old Lady’s Guide to Survival is funny, inspiring, and uplifting while holding to some of life’s hard truths.

Location: Congregation Emanu-El (Fringe Site A)
Created: Mayo Simon
Tickets: Advance price:  Regular $11/ St & Sr $9 + s/c* Door price: Regular $11/ St & Sr $9
Duration: 75 mins
Rating: 18+ Adult content
Genre: Dramedy

Remaining shows:
Sun Aug 28 – 2:00pm
Tue Aug 30 – 7:00pm
Wed Aug 31 – 7:00pm
Thu Sep 1 – 7:00pm
Sun Sep 4– 2:00pm

The Jupiter Rebellion created by Ron Fromstein & Jeff Leard, Vancouver BC
Also at the Vancouver Fringe September 8-18, 2016.

Jeff Leard, now a veteran of the Fringe circuit (Sperm Wars, Gametes and Gonads, the Show Must Go On), never fails to impress with his uncanny kinetic ability to portray multiple characters with voice inflections guaranteed to bring ready laughs.

The Jupiter Rebellion, written in collaboration with Ron Fromstein, takes Leard’s signature frenetic and highly physical style to another level with the introduction of advanced narration techniques, as he steps outside the action to draw highly detailed word pictures to situate the story.

Zach Zultana is a space miner on Jupiter—a drudge for whom the unassailable quiet of space, and the inevitable boredom brought on by mind-numbing routine, are abruptly broken one day when a mysterious and gorgeous woman, Alex(andra) makes eyes across the room at him in the local dive-bar The Milky Way Café.

Soon Zach is whisked away on a state-of-the-art space ship, deep in the thrall of hormones and Alex’s delicious scent of lavender.  Surrounded by space, for a few idyllic days they bond over a mutual hatred of Rocket Man and love of illicit sex—Alex is “working” on a divorce from her mysterious husband.

Back at work, it becomes all too apparent just who the mysterious husband is as Zach is demoted.  Discontent among the miners leads to talk of a strike and Zach becomes a figure head of the movement.

Perfect exposition, finely tuned portrayals—Nikolai the Slavic giant and Zach’s friend, Martin the crusty one-armed old-timer, Harlan Sanders—the evil boss, Frank Verner the sympathetic foreman—and high energy under girded with referential deference to the science fiction genre produce a story that is sure to please both aficionados of solo shows and sci-fi.

Leard is cheeky and adept—a winning combination for any Fringe show.

Location: Victoria Event Centre (Fringe Venue 1)
Tickets: Advance price: All Seats $11 + s/c* Door price: All Seats $11
Duration: 60 mins
Rating: PG 14+ Coarse Language /Adult Themes
Genre: Comedy

Remaining shows:
Sun Aug 28 – 8:45pm
Mon Aug 29 – 10:30pm
Fri Sept 2 – 8:45pm
Sat Sept 3 – 4:45pm
Sun Sept 4 – 6:45pm

An Improvised Quentin Tarantino 2–The Playful 8 by Paper Street Theatre Co Victoria BC

Hitting the Fringe circuit full-force in 2013 with the original improvised Quentin Tarantino in 2013—and going on to win Pick of the Fringe, Paper Street Theatre Co. returns, having honed their skills to perfection in the intervening three years.

This ensemble cast of nine excels at performing long-form improvisation in the style of a genre, author, or—in this case—film maker.  Channeling all of Tarantino’s motifs and themes—the violence, the language and the laconic nature of the characters—assisted by the mood-inducing improvised music (Dan Godlovich) and lighting (Carolyn Moon)—the story of The Speckled Groundhog (based on an audience suggestion) bristled with hurt, betrayal and terse quips.

Women protagonists are thrust to the fore-front—a deliberate choice this year–and in The Speckled Groundhog (remember, it’s a different story every night), Monica Ogden’s bitter character Freckles lays crafty traps in an attempt to avenge her papa’s (Dave Morris) untimely death at the hands of her sworn enemy—Groundhog (Scott Thompson).

In true Tarantino style there are episodes (complete with signature title cards).  The Awkward Saloon drew laughs as the actors chose to stumble around an out-of-plumb space (thanks to inept carpenter Chris Gabel) carefully apologizing to one another as they stepped on toes and squeezed through openings.

And, what would a western be without a romance (or two) gone wrong?  Freckles’ sister Priscilla (a particularly nasty and vicious Christina Patterson) simmers with long-standing resentment, convinced her sibling stole Rex (Andrew Brimmell) away from her and is now making eyes at her new paramour Groundhog.  What a double-cross.

Nimble and clever pop-culture references are sprinkled throughout—you’ll need to be quick and well-versed to catch them all.

Carefully drawing the story to its close, with ample bloodshot along the way, An Improvised Quentin Tarantino 2—The Playful 8—pays wonderful homage to a master film maker with Paper Street’s own equally masterful style of improv.

Tickets are sure to be a hot commodity—in 2013 the run sold out.  Don’t be disappointed—buy them in advance or be prepared to get in line very early.

Location: Victoria Event Centre (Fringe Venue 1)
Tickets: Advance price: All Seats $11 + s/c* Door price: All Seats $11
Duration: 50 mins
Rating: PG 14+ Coarse Language/ Extremely Coarse Language /Adult Themes/ Violence
Genre: Improv, Western, Comedy

Remaining shows:
Fri Aug 26 – 10:15pm
Sat Aug 27 – 2:30pm
Wed Aug 31 – 10:15pm
Thu Sept 1 – 8:15pm
Sat Sept 3 – 8:45pm

Perpetural Wednesday by White Collar Crimes Portland OR
Also at the Vancouver Fringe September 8-18, 2016.

Prepare for some high-octane razz-a-ma-tazz as master showmen Walter (Jacob Trillo) and Bruce (Anthony Arnista), dazzle with displays of physical prowess, attempted magic and appealing shadow-puppetry.

The quick and lively banter between the two (reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, Groucho and Chicho) hearkens back to the days of slapstick and vaudeville, as groaners pile up, one after the other. Trillo and Arnista (both graduates of the acclaimed Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater) have customized the material to reflect a contemporary Canadian (and even Victorian) culture, although there are also many more universal, even American-centric references.  Adept at changing gears if a joke fails to land (while poking fun at an audience that is not quite with it) these performers never stop improvising in this tight and fraught—after all, a murder has been committed, has it not?—routine that hints at every magic act or favourite cop show you’ve ever seen.

In the second half Perpetual Wednesday veers into decidedly weird and existential territory as the showmen try to explain how they came to this spot.  Prepare for some time-warping logic—complete with a masterful shadow puppet sequence.

The Fringe is all about taking risks. It’s not often that local audiences get a chance to experience absurdist physical theatre—Perpetual Wednesday definitely fills the bill.

Location: Victoria Event Centre (Fringe Venue 1)
Tickets: Advance price: All Seats $11 + s/c Door price: All Seats $11
Duration: 60 mins
Rating: PG 14+ Adult Themes
Genre: Comedy

Remaining shows:
Sat Aug 27 – 4:15pm
Sun Aug 28 – 7:00pm
Wed Aug 31 – 6:30pm
Sat Sept 3 – 10:30pm
Sun Sept 4 – 1:00pm

Half the Battle by Owen Bishop Edmonton, AB

What appears to be a simple physical gimmick, one actor divided in two–personalities duelling with one another–quickly becomes a sharp blend of comedy and drama, sure to tickle the audience’s funny bone one moment, and send them into musings about the nature of war the next.

Owen Bishop, a recent graduate of Langara College’s prestigious Studio 58, first conceived Half the Battle as a graduating exercise.  Now expanded, and under the astute direction of Joel Taras, this two-person one-hander had a first, well-received run at the Edmonton Fringe.

Bishop’s two characters—Adams and Bishop—fused together as the result of a horrific crash when the plane they are piloting is downed during a bombing run—share a common antipathy for one another.  It’s clear from the outset there is little love lost between the boozing Newfie, Adams, and the straight-as-an-arrow Alberta boy, Davis.

Over the course of the carefully crafted story arc, characters are developed and fleshed out—with flashbacks that explain the more complex nature of the two men.  Bishop delves into the very personal reasons they came to be pilots and couples this with detailed, and often forgotten, historical fact.  Who today understands the effects of the Mobilization Act, the expropriation of farm land under Eminent Domain, the reality of the Merchant Marine’s role in protecting the convoys between Canada and England?  From global to personal, in a short, incisive story Owens wields humour, physical comedy and tense drama to expose the horrors of war while bringing resolution to the men’s long-standing conflict.  Intelligently written and cleverly acted, with wonderful and often funny physicality throughout, Half the Battle evokes the horror of war on a relatable scale.

As the last of the men and women who served in World War II slowly pass away, it is always encouraging to see a younger generation take up the torch.  Half the Battle is a very fine tribute indeed.

Location: Victoria Event Centre (Fringe Venue 1)
Tickets: Advance price: Regular $11/ St & Sr $9 + s/c* Door price: Regular $11/ St & Sr $9
Duration: 45 mins
Rating: PG 14+ Coarse Language
Genre: Comedic Drama

Remaining shows:
Fri Aug 26 – 5:00pm
Sat Aug 27 – 8:30pm
Sun Aug 28 – 5:15pm
Mon Aug 29 – 7:15pm
Tue Aug 30 – 10:30pm

About @lacouvee

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