Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe 2017 Day Two

Dispatches from the Victoria Fringe Day Two

The venue of choice for Day Two was the Metro Studio Theatre (Venue 3) where I watched a puppet eco-drama Beaver Dreams from Lost & Found Puppet Co, the Gift by two-spirit, mixed (settler and First Nations) performing artist John Aitken and Gail Noonan and LEER, a steam-punk themed, Hell-based, gender-bent adaptation from Shakespeare by David Elendune of Outpost 31.  (My review of LEER will be posted Sunday).   Find all my Victoria Fringe Festival 2017 coverage HERE.

Beaver Dreams by Lost & Found Puppet Co

Gather up the kids and grandkids for a trip to an amazing cottage hideaway deep in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, where generations of creator Maggie Winston’s family have spent vacations, connecting with nature, cavorting in the lake, in close proximity to beavers.

Winston allows her imagination to run wild in the creation of the cardboard set, with large and small elements, a backdrop for projections and shadow puppetry, and blue fabric to suggest the lake (scene of the eternal battle over one beaver dam that raises the level of the water substantially).

Among the legions of anthropomorphic animals, the two beavers (played by Winston and collaborator Mika Laulainen) rank off the scale for cute—they even have a snippet of theme song to signal their appearances.

The humans began to arrive in the 1930s—the passage of time, and memories of various family members, are related through beautiful painterly animations and recorded conversations (design by Molly Winston, Maggie’s sister) and then played out in miniature with cut-out conveyances according to the era (horse and buggy, sedan, mini-van).

Into this idyllic mini-paradise, comes the recurring nightmare, shared by family members, of development that looms.  What if the nightmare is also shared by the beavers?

The audience cheers as the beavers re-build the dam, over and over again, despite the best efforts of humans at dismantling it every summer.  A small pop-up lodge allows for closer glimpses at the life of the beaver family portrayed by smaller manipulated puppets.  Inside the miniature family cabin, people (played by fingers) chat back and forth. Mosquitoes and worms feature in an ingenious interlude.

Anyone who has ever found a secret hide-away, the perfect spot to while away the hours, days or weeks, will sit in stunned and horrified silence as shadowy excavators munch away on landscape.  Not all is gloomy, the nightmare does not mirror reality, the treasured family vacation spot remains, and the beavers still cavort.

Beaver Dreams is inventive and sure to tickle the funny bone of adults and children alike, with fantastic puppetry and a memorable soundtrack that transports the audience through time.

Interview with Maggie Winston

Beaver Dreams by Lost & Found Puppet Co
Venue 3 Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra Street
50 minutes. all ages. puppetry, clown, animation
Tickets $11/$9

Remaining shows:

Saturday August 26 10:15pm
Sunday August 27  1pm
Tuesday August 29 7:45pm
Friday September 1 8:15pm
Saturday September 2 12noon

The Gift by Surrounded by Owls Productions, performed by John Aitken and Shelley MacDonald

In the blink of an eye, John Aitken transforms from strong adult, wrapped in four-point blanket with drum in hand, to a shy mischievous child, peeking out. A sudden low rustling and rattling brings fear to his countenance; he scampers off. From the shadows, a lurking faceless ghoul moves slowly across the stage, breath heavy and sustained—a powerful embodiment of evil.

The Gift is visceral and at times harrowing, the emotional impact felt all the more heavily for being unmitigated by language.  Audience members will bring their own backstory forward into the interpretation of the sequences—trauma and abuse are vividly portrayed.  Darkness and light co-mingle—there are many moments of tenderness, the child rocked and lulled to sleep by a mother’s gentle singing. The carefully prescribed movements of the actors, sharp boom of drum and re-enactment of ceremonial smudging carry weight and demand attention.

Evil walks the earth yet love endures and happier memories can sustain. Aitken’s struggle with profound grief at the death of his mother, and conflicted state at the death of his father is elegantly enacted—will he be gobbled by the voracious energy of the dark, or move forward into light?

At the discussion after the show Aitken is quick to point out “I’m ok”, and speak of the responsibility to help audiences unpack the experience.

In this Year of Reconciliation, The Gift represents an important opportunity to bear witness and to move forward in the journey.  The story of this one small mixed First Nations/settler boy resonates deeply.  Sincere thanks and respect to the artists for taking painful personal experience and making impactful art.

The Gift’s last performance is Tuesday August 29th.  Don’t miss the chance to see this significant show.

Interview with John Aitken http://janislacouvee.com/gift-john-aitken-victoria-fringe-2017-interview/

The Gift, by Surrounded by Owls Productions, performed by John Aitken and Shelley MacDonald
Venue 3, Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra Street
90 minutes. PG 14+ adult themes, violence. physical theatre
Tickets $9

Remaining shows:

Saturday August 26 3:45pm
Sunday August 27 3:15 pm
Tuesday August 29 5pm

LEER by Outpost 31, written/created by David Elendune

LEER is a kick-ass, moody, atmospheric re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear with a titch of Macbeth added for good measure. Caroline Mackenzie DeKorte (who also plays a skittering and subjugated Fool) has outdone herself in creating steampunk-themed costumes and set; there’s a good possibility of a close-up look, since some of the action takes place among the audience.  Satan, the Queen of Hell (Wendy Magahay) sports knee high boots, a bustled-cut-away coat and fiery red wig.  Beelzebub (Amber Landry) struts about in trousers and jacket, manlier in her bearing than her two sisters, pregnant Asmodeus (Wendy Cornack) and the gentle Lilith (Ellen Law).  The three, of course, stand in for Regan, Gonerill and Cordelia. Playwright David Elendune plays with mythologies and meaning, also imagining the sisters as the three witches on the heath (Macbeth).

Magahay is imperious—“Hungry!” she shouts, and Fool rushes in. Gruesomeness ensues. Jason King’s sound design includes not only musical numbers one might expect—Highway to Hell—and allusions as well—Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down—but troubling sound effects that add a decided edge.  The action often takes place under ominous red light.

Age is creeping in, “nobody lives forever” wails a background song, and Satan has decided to divide her kingdom (“In peace and honour rest you here”).  Chuffed by the displays of filial love and allegiance from Beelzebub and Amodeus, and miffed at what she determines to be Lilith’s lacklustre declarations, Satan cuts her out of the proceedings and banishes her.

No sooner is the deed done than the two ungrateful daughters turn on their mother.  Landry, strong and determined, taking up Lady Macbeth’s cry “unsex me spirits”.

Belphegor (Leanne Allen) remains the stalwart and steadfast servant through thick and thin, as Satan succumbs to grief and madness, wandering the byways, attempting to find shelter with first one (Cornock wheedles convincingly as she whittles down the number of her mother’s retinue) and then the other.  Despite the serious nature of the conflict, Elendune injects levity with brief and clever one-liners–stay alert!

A battle royal brews, Lilith returns for the finale—furious crashing and clanging sounds from offstage—and smiling, sits on the throne. Who will be the victor?

Magahay, with remarkable intensity and focus, travels the character’s arc from terrifying to traumatized, a creature more to be pitied than feared as she crawls, unhinged, along the ground.

Leer is rich with possible interpretations; adept students of Shakespeare will appreciate and recognize the co-mingling of stories and the confident nature of major speeches and soliloquies; fans of steampunk will be thrilled at this created universe. Aficionados of hellish realms may quibble with the hierarchy assigned but will be pleased that demons get deserved appreciation.

Leer is a superior production with a hard-working and cohesive ensemble, design team and crew.

Succumb to Satan and let yourself be carried away with Leer.

LEER by Outpost 31, written/created by David Elendune
Venue 3, Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra Street
65 minutes. PG 14+ adult themes, violence. Drama.
Tickets $11

Remaining shows:

Sunday August 27 6:30pm
Monday August 28 8:45pm
Saturday September 2 3:45pm
Sunday September 3 1pm

About @lacouvee

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