After a few unsuccessful attempts to score tickets to Grim & Fischer’s sold-out 2011 Vancouver Fringe Festival run, I was finally able to catch up with Wonderheads Theatre for their masterful show’s opening at The Cultch Theatre last night.

Though the storyline mirrors those earlier Vancouver shows, a few elements of the production have been tweaked for its 10-day run at The Cultch’s intimate Vancity Culture Lab space.

Seating is general admission, and if you’re up front, you’ll really get a feel for the size of the masks as they’re nearly three sizes larger than your average head. The three masks were created by Kate Braidwood and contain a lot of expression in them, perfectly suited for a 50 minute performance without a word muttered on stage. Music, sound effects, and sound bites augment the one act play.

Grim and Fischer stage shots

Together with Andrew Phoenix, the Wonderheads duo have taken this charming, comedic, and tender tale of love and loss across the US and Canada, winning the hearts of theatre goers along the way.

This full-face mask production created in 2009 combines European larval mask traditions with character mask styles, something not often seen on this side of the pond.

A series of overhead amber spotlights vividly heightens the masks as well as the simple stage set containing a rocking chair, end table, and coat rack. On the coat rack sits one of Mrs. Fischer’s prized possessions: her dearly departed husband’s blazer. This sets the mood for the sweet musical interludes that show how much a part of her life he was. Both her daily aerobics attempts and this jacket are what’s keeping her alive.

Mrs. Fischer is an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home, spending her days playing pranks on the male nurse who does the daily rounds. Scenes involving a dream sequence, an outdoor romp through a busy city, and the droning of daytime television are all cleverly depicted within the space of the story.

When Mrs. Fischer finally meets the Grim Reaper, she realizes that though death is at her doorstep, she keeps her cool and tries to thwart Grim’s moves with frying pans, forks, even a can of room deodorizing mist! It’s all she can do to stay alive. Cue the Bee Gees song, where she and Grim actually have a lovely scene together before the inevitable finally occurs.

Grim & Fischer is soulful and brilliant, and proof that so much can be said through actions not words. This play won the 2011 Pick of the Fringe and deservedly so. Grim & Fischer continues at the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab through January 13.

Victoria, you’re up next! After its run at the The Cultch, Wonderheads will take Grim & Fischer to the Intrepid Theatre (from January 23 to February 3) before heading home to Portland to prepare their alternate show, Loon, for a run at Fresno, California’s Rogue Festival.

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