Vancouver Fringe 2013 logo

Here we go with another round-up of my Five Fave Fringe Shows So Far for 2014. This year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival has 98 artists, over 800 performances, and 11 days to take it all in.

This is my favourite time of the year to be in Vancouver (and it should be yours too!), with the Fringe Festival in full swing. Since moving to Canada nine years ago, I’ve been involved with the Fringe in one form or another.

There’s so much quality theatre that often gets overlooked due to larger productions, out-of-town talent that doesn’t make it out this way, or the frenzy of events that call our attention week in, week out. The Fringe circuit is an excellent chance to take in these shows, often allowing for several in the course of one evening.

Check the Fringe Festival schedule for what’s on. The Fringe Festival runs through September 14 on Granville Island and at assorted venues throughout the city. If you miss out, you can also catch the Public Market Pick of the Fringe from September 17 to 21 with shows at Performance Works. The shows will be announced during the Fringe Awards Night on September 14. Tickets will go on sale at midnight on the 14th and will cost $25 (including tax and fees). Also check out Pick Plus!

As in years past, I reserved a (large) handful of shows ahead of time and as of this post have seen a dozen shows.

Little One
[Daniel Arnold and Marisa Smith in Little One; photo by Kaarina Venalainen]

Alley Theatre’s Little One is a sheer delight to watch for its two tremendously talented actors, Daniel Arnold and Marisa Smith, in a macabre, well-layered script by playwright Hanna Moscovitch. Find out what happens to Aaron and his parents when a four-year-old girl with psychopathic tendencies is adopted into their home. A very basic Cultch Lab stage set consisting of a chair or two, yet the tales told by these two are packed with humour, love, and tales of Ottawan life in the ‘ave’. Things are not what they seem. And what’s that pounding noise into the night? This one-act play of twisted love and traumatic build-up will leave you transformed by the end of the hour—guaranteed.

Martin Dockery
[Martin Dockery tripping through The Dark Fantastic; photo by khphotographics]

New York-based actor Martin Dockery returns to the Fringe with The Dark Fantastic. Stories of the desert are set to a one-hour soundscape, including Boards of Canada (yay! one of our fave electronic music groups). The audience is asked to close their eyes and imagine the landscape, as Martin is seated at a table in the dark, donning a cowboy hat. “I am not the man you think I am.” The hat eventually comes off and the stories grow more twisted and perverse. Martin is a master storyteller, and the tales interweave and come full circle by the time the show’s over. He’s larger than life seated up on that stage, and his timing and gestures…classic Martin.

This is Dockery’s fifth solo Fringe performance. Previous shows we were wowed by include The Surprise, Wanderlust, The Bike Trip, and Bursting Into Flames.

Jon Paterson and Kurt Fitzpatrick
[Jon Paterson and Kurt Fitzpatrick; photo by Richard Gilmor]

Take three fine actors, put ‘em on the Havana Theatre stage, and let ‘em rip through 89 Oscar-winning films in one hour. This is Best Picture, a fast-paced gem from Vancouver-based RibbitRePublic Theatre Company. Watch Tara Travis (Monster Theatre), Jon Paterson (Hockey Night at the Puck and Pickle Pub), and Kurt Fitzpatrick (52 Pick-Up performed in NYC) work their craft at a robust speed. The transitions are wicked and all three actors do the production equal justice. I followed along with the program (aka Oscar film list) in hand, and yes, they’re all covered. The show’s hilarious and will appeal to film buffs and comedy fans alike. Jon and Kurt get into character long before the show begins. Arrive early outside Havana and watch the antics unfold.

Dr Frightful Presents: Dead Air
[Dr. Frightful Presents: Dead Air; cast photo]

Dr. Frightful Presents: Dead Air. Now here’s something a bit different.

Picture a radio play-within-a-play set in Alaska, 1958 with four very distinct characters. Jack’s a washed-up star, Christopher is a young up-and-comer, Burt is a sound effects engineer wiz who never mutters a word, and Allison’s just trying to work her way out of this town. Thoughts circulating during this era: is your next door neighbour a Communist? Are flesh-eating zombies just outside your home? When one of the actors loses their main character, all hell breaks loose and the show takes on a new ending.

The story: Dr. Ethan Strange and his wife Lily experience the start of a mysterious flu outbreak. At least that’s what the characters are led to believe. Soon enough, they’re fighting for their lives as the world’s gone mad and the walking dead population begins to gain momentum. It sounds pretty crazy, but the show’s wonderfully executed and features in-house sound effects (picture a table filled with props!), period costumes, lots of cigarettes, and a bang-up improvisation job. Adding to the fun: spontaneous advertising jingles are peppered throughout the one-hour live air show.

Junk! The Musical cast photo
[Junk! The Musical]
Number five’s pick comes from our theater reviewer, Cora Li, who was enthralled by Junk! The Musical.

Multi-talented Paul Snider wrote, directed, and stars in Junk! The Musical. This original show, playing at Firehall Arts Centre, is littered with catchy ballads, toe-tapping tunes, and stirring melodies, delivered flawlessly by its sonorous cast. All instruments drummed, strummed, tapped, blown, and manipulated by the accomplished musicians are assembled from recycled odds and ends. Junk! is an auditory, visual, and sensory cornucopia. There’s lots happening onstage as each artist expertly wields their meticulously crafted instrument while belting out pleasing tunes. The show also carries the message that not only is “one man’s junk another man’s treasure”, but that junk can be an imprint of our past and a warning for our future. Undoubtedly, this show proves that the beauty of music can be unearthed—even in a junkyard.

Greatest Monkey Show
[Ross Travis in Greatest Monkey Show on Earth; photo by Mark Kitaoka]

Other excellent Vancouver Fringe shows worth catching: Greatest Monkey Show on Earth, featuring a monkey from Zaire with incredible agility (starring in a circus spectacle with a message); Poor, one rich and guilt-ridden woman’s attempt to disguise herself as a bag lady in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; and Moonlight After Midnight, a beautifully performed love story written by Martin Dockery and dramaturged by Vanessa Quesnelle.


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