Tara Travis, Stefano Giulianetti, Simon Webb

Axis Theatre, renowned for the acclaimed Number 14, premiered its first new creation for adult audiences in over a decade, RIP! A Winkle in Time. Conceptualized by playwright KC Brown, the show and its title is loosely based on Washington Irving’s short story of Rip Van Winkle. The only idea shared by these two very different works is the concept of a vanished man who resurfaces into a world he no longer recognizes. In Irving’s tale, Rip sleeps for 20 years; in Brown’s adaptation, Randall is frozen for over 100. 

RIP! begins in the Yukon, at the make-believe town of Parsonsville, during the height of the Klondike gold rush. The choice of setting was a bit curious given that there is an actual town named Van Winkle which was part of the Cariboo gold rush in BC. Much of the show mimics a spaghetti Western, with an anti-hero, a greedy villain, a saloon, and a damsel. Also, much like the title of a famous Western, there are good, bad, and ugly bits about this production.

The Good

The creative set and period costumes, à la Naomi Sider, boasted a magical Northern skyline, a fanciful ice cave, and a practicable 2D moving puppet board. The efficient designs allowed the props to perform double duty in both present and past timelines. 
The wolf-puppet, devised by the masterful Dusty Hagerud, was playful and ingenious. The inanimate creation was imbued with whimsical vitality in the skillful hands of Tara Travis. The audience was delighted from the first moment the lifelike Wolf bounded on stage.

Stefano Giulianetti, Simon Webb
[Stefano Giulianetti, Simon Webb]
The show opens with an eerie spectacle of fluid mime and charming acrobatics. The cast, consisting of Annette Devick (the Moon/Frankie), Tara Travis (Lillian), Simon Webb (Randall IV), and Stefano Giulianetti (RIP) did an outstanding job on stage amongst all their various roles. Axis, true to its proclamation of being a physical theatre company, incorporated various elements of mime, dance, music, acrobatics, slapstick, and puppetry throughout the piece. The players slip-slide from each role with animated professionalism. However, like the 2013 super-natural comedy flop of a similar name, R.I.P.D., there are elements of the show that didn’t shine as brightly as the star-studded cast.

The Bad

The versatile Simon Webb augments his already vast artistic scope by embracing the new techniques of physical theatre. However, his mostly meticulous performance was marred by a disagreeable attempt at a French accent. The articulation was flawed and so the dialogue was also hard to hear.

The Ugly

RIP! was to be the crowning swan song for Wayne Specht, founder of Axis Theatre, before his planned retirement in 2015. With this pretext and the looming shadow of the remarkably successful Number 14, expectations for RIP! were understandably high. However, the muddled storyline and roughhewn subplots failed to award the audience with an engaging enactment.
To begin with, the title, RIP! A Winkle in Time, was enigmatic at best. Although it’s revealed that RIP stood for the protagonist’s name, Randall Irving Parsons, what is a “winkle”? Is it a play on words to Madeleine L’Engle’s award-winning science fiction novel, A Wrinkle in Time, where a young heroine searches for her vanished father? Or is it a nod to Mr. Winkle, a character in a kindergarten book by Lara Jo Regan, who portrays historic underdogs and unsung heroes?   

Stefano Giulianetti
[Stefano Giulianetti]
Secondly, the play embraces a mishmash of themes that are eventually cast aside and undeveloped. As unfruitful as RIP’s prospect for gold, the play skims topics of global warming, crude oil expansion, cryogenics exploitation, and past nostalgia versus future shock. There was only a sprinkling of comical tidbits revolving around modern technology, RIP’s long departed, nagging wife, and recollections of the old Klondike. At one time or another, each character is also involved in a curious, ongoing conversation with the Moon. 
Lastly, the abduction of RIP, a crucial moment in the play, was confusing and unnecessarily drawn out. In Irving’s original fable, Van Winkle happens upon the ghost of Henry Hudson, gets drunk with his crew, and falls into a 20 year slumber. In the adaptation of RIP!, Randall encounters men in red masks who are the lost seafarers from Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition. However, no explanation is given as to why they want to snatch RIP and entomb him in ice. 

Conversely, the equally bewildering re-appearance of RIP was too readily accepted by all those he encountered. The plot advancement necessitated that his lineage was not questioned beyond a few protests and exultations.
The solid anticipation for RIP! thawed into a watery reception amidst this dubious combination of suspended disbelief, one-dimensional characters, and a patchwork of unresolved topics. However, with some adjustments, this pastiche piece, with its robust cast and high-energy antics, could be charming for younger audiences, where the realm of fairy tales and Wonderland still exist. RIP! A Winkle in Time continues at the Waterfront Theatre through May 17.

Photos by Pink Monkey Studios.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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