The Dreamer Examines His Pillow: review

[Addendum at bottom]

dreamer posterThe language in a play is like language nowhere else in life. You get eloquent soliloquys out of nowhere; tight dialogue batted back and forth without the ums, ahs and hesitations; you get ordinary, bumbling real life boiled down to killing intensity and presented in three acts that build like ladder rungs, elevating you to a view you don’t ordinarily get.

It was good to hear this language, and three brave local actors delivering it, on stage at Clayoquot Community Theatre last night, in the opener of The Dreamer Examines His Pillow. Continue reading “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow: review”

The shadow show

Well, that was interesting fun! After a crazy-making few days cutting up cereal boxes with an Xacto knife, and piecing together a screen (bedsheet over a wooden frame) and backstage framework, i gave my first shadow puppet show ever at last Sunday’s Lantern Festival at the Tofino Botanical Gardens.

It had turned into an entirely last-minute exercise. The previous days of damp overcast and/or pouring rain were not a motivating factor and, wondering whether the whole Lantern Fest might be a washout, i procrastinated right up till the last minute. Continue reading “The shadow show”

Elegant Heathens

Elegant Heathens, Trial and Eros company (Montreal), choreography by Deborah Dunn

Wow — that was probably the best modern dance performance i’ve even seen. 

Dancers tend to have big egos, it occurrs to me, and the usual approach is for one or two to take the stage, command all eyes, and proceed to impress. Or not, depending. It’s a tall order, and few dancers have the chops and stage presence to pull it off alone. Even when they do, it’s necessarily a spare performance. 

This show was the opposite. Five dancers (three female, two male) went at it in every combination, onesies, twosies, three, four, five, in a spinning visual feast that never had a dull moment, not one. There was no star, no centrepiece, but there was concerted movement on stage, all over the stage, scene after scene that melted into one another for the whole hour — lush variety, poignancy, surprise, humour from wry to slapstick. I never thought my gosh, what next? I didn’t think at all; i just watched. Theatre at its best.

The costumes were a good part of the show’s character. Nothing outrageous, but just outre enough that they too were participants in the effect. And the lighting was stunning: a wash of light purple, almost ultraviolet, shooting forward from high in the back of the stage (i still don’t know what precise effect it had), a maze of tight spots from unusual angles, occasional striking washes of deep colour. The end scene, with the five dancer/actors in a line across a blacked-out stage, with five tight spots on their faces … it felt like good cuddling after sex. Great stuff.

The dancers were sharply on cue all through, as was the lighting-and-sound tech, and i said after the show that they must have done it a hundred times before, it was so tight. This morning i see on choregrapher Deborah Dunn’s Trial and Eros website that the show toured New York exactly a year ago, and many places in between since. 

Ahh, i’m a believer again. We went on spec for something to do and we came away feeling light and invigorated for the rest of the night — exactly what art at its best can do. 

Sadly, Elegant Heathens is only in Vic one more night (Jan. 11). Too bad — once word gets around they could pack the Metro Studio Theatre for a week.

There’s a short video of one of the show’s amusing scenes on this page of their website. 

Fringe wrap

Okay, so i did five volunteer shifts (4 hours each) at the Winnipeg Fringe (July 16-27),  and ended up seeing 14 shows out of a possible 140.

Shows i saw, in addition to the ones reviewed below:

  • The Green Zone — I saw Winnipeg modern dance icon Jolene Bailie‘s solo show at the Vancouver Fringe years ago, and i just didn’t get it. All those shrugs, dramatic pauses, flailing limbs … i just didn’t have the movement vocabulary to make any sense of it. This time around, though: gorgeous. The movement was riveting, the lighting highly dramatic (something missing from every other Fringe show i saw), and it all somehow made sense. Jo has matured as a performer, and maybe i have too as an audience. Five stars.
  • Totem Figures — Vancouver’s TJ Dawe, perennial Fringe workhorse, tells how it’s been for ten years of Fringing, in 90 minutes of wide-ranging, rapid-fire monologue that’ll make you listen closely and think hard to keep up. Impressive, but i’d like to have see a bit more theatricality (i.e. motion, lighting, variations in tone of voice). * * * * nonetheless.
  • sucker — Truly creepy show about pedophilia, but not like you’re thinking, you fucking pervert. Men, stay away if you are anywhere near mid-life crisis. My gut wants to say two, but four stars for Fringeworthy impact.
  • The Red Handkerchief — an ambitious pas de deux (quatre if you count the mannequins). Relationship story with ingenious theatrical twists — maybe too much so. Three stars.
  • Manners for Men — I have to acknowledge this was well acted, by Justin Sage-Passant; it takes skill to maintain such a d-e-a-d   s-l-o-w pace throughout, along with such rock-steady characterization of a wingeing momma’s boy. Not much of a story, though. I wanted to shake the piss out of the guy after five minutes. 3 stars.
  • American Squatter — American humourist Barry Smith basically gives a PowerPoint show about his growing-up years, including living in a London squat. The delivery was smooth, the PowerPoint slides were okay, but really … PowerPoint? 2 or 3 stars, depending.
Fringe line-up, from the Mondragon Cafe
Fringe line-up, from the Mondragon Cafe

And more importantly, shows i want to see at the Vancouver Fringe, based on reviews and scuttlebutt heard on the Winipeggy streets:

  • jem rolls: How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall — the best of spoken word and storytelling
  • The Tricky Part — a tough subject (child abuse from the abusee’s point of view), but powerfully written and superbly acted. Played to rave reviews.
  • Guernica — Deep, dark dance, a.k.a. physical theatre.
  • The Aethernomicon — it’s got puppets. Can’t resist that!
  • The Shakespeare Show or, How an illiterate son of a glover became the greatest playwright in the world — because it ain’t da Fringe unless there’s a Shakespeare angle.
  • Yorick! See mandatory Shakespeare reference above.
  • Crude Love — “a cynical eco-warrior falls in love with a Newfie woman dump truck driver in the harsh Alberta oil sands”
  • How to Fake Clinical Depression — ’cause i might need to know about this sometime.
  • ImproVision: Fast, Loose & Lovely — had the best posters, and ya gotta see at least one improv.
  • The Wrong Hole — because i can’t resist the title. Sketch comedy.
  • Sherlock Holmes & the Saline Solution — top marks from critics and audience.
  • Demons of the Mind — ‘Cause i’m a sucker for dance.
  • Spiral Dive — cousin Jim liked it.
  • It’s a Gay Gay Gay Gay World. Maybe if i’m in a gay mood.

Plus about 30 others, of course. It’s the Fringe, it’s s’posed to be a crapshoot. Be adventurous.

Most of these shows are heading west for the Calgary Fringe (Aug. 1-10), Edmonton Fringe (Aug. 14-24), Victoria Fringe (Aug. 21-31), and Vancouver Fringe (Sept. 3-14). Catch them — and a dozen more — when you can!

Fringe street meditators
Fringe street meditators

3-cornered fringe

Whew. Four hours of volunteering (parking duty, ugh) at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, followed by three plays, then an hour’s bus ride back to Mom’s place. The line-up tonight:

  • Skin Flick — three 20-somethings, all still living in their parents’ basements, get involved in making their first porno movie. Enthusiastic acting by young cast, fine comic timing, and beefy, witty writing by neophyte U of Winnipeg playwright Gonzalo Riede.
  • Inferno Sonata, written and acted by Scott Sharplin (right) — Wow, a tour de force of acting in this highly eccentric, classical one-man show. Both annoying and riveting, it unfolds like a piece of origami on black paper. Sit up front. Best set you’ll see on a Fringe production.
  • Old Growth — Had to see this one because it’s set in Haida Gwai — the demise of the Golden Spruce. Overly preachy, but a strong tale pulled, nay, dragged me through it. Alex Eddington wrote and stars, along with accomplished flautist Aura Giles (and i don’t even like flute). Passion! Drums! Nudity! Important Message! That’s what Fringe is all about, folks.

Okay, good night. It’s 12:16 a.m. and i have to get up at 7 to catch my 10-to-2 shift tomorrow morning — plus another couple of plays, of course!

Question: How come no older guys ‘n’ gals in the Fringe (so far)?