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Fringe reviews: Plays tackle sickness and the surreal

Times Colonist reviewers Amy Smart, Cory Ruf and Adrian Chamberlain are covering the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, running to Sept. 2. All critiques use a five-star grading system. What: My Aim is True Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.

Times Colonist reviewers Amy Smart, Cory Ruf and Adrian Chamberlain are covering the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, running to Sept. 2. All critiques use a five-star grading system.

What: My Aim is True

Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.

When: Aug. 25, 27, 31; Sept. 1 and 2

Rating: 3

What constitutes good medicine?

It's a question My Aim is True, a play written by University of Victoria grad Meghan Bell, addresses, but never fully resolves.

Eighteen-year-old Alison, named after the title character of Elvis Costello's 1977 broody slow jam, tries to cajole her mother, Olivia, who's dying of throat cancer, into taking desperate measures to fight the disease.

Olivia, for her part, is content to lie on the couch in the company of her cherished smokes and booze, having accepted her fate.

And Alison's wet-behindthe-ears boyfriend, Jack, occupies the middle ground between the two women's opposing approaches.

It's a moody work - there are a lot of arguments. And the play's angst, unlike Costello's song, sometimes borders on melodramatic.

But there are welcome moments of levity, including a dream sequence in which Olivia muses in song

about slow dancing with her celebrity crush, Harrison Ford.

Ironically, she, unlike her storm cloud of a daughter, is able to derive at least some pleasure out of life.

It makes one wonder who's really the sick one, who's the caregiver and whose approach to wellness is actually best.

My Aim is True leaves it up to you to decide.

- Cory Ruf

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What: The Abyss Burrow

Where: Downtown Activity Centre, 755 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 25, 26, 27; Sept. 1 and 2

Rating: 3 1 /2

There's something all too familiar about the bizarro, other-dimensional world that Vanessa Quesnelle builds in The Abyss Burrow.

Our first sense is sound, as ambient noises and electronic music plays and Quesnelle stands centrestage with her head tilted, as though napping.

From the beginning, precise lighting plays a strong role in the audience's shared experience - here we're in that foggy, difficult-to-focus state between awake and dreaming.

She awakes at the bottom of a pit and what follows is a journey through someone's memories, as faulty as they seem.

Through transitions that verge on interpretative dance, we move in and out between distinct vignettes in time. We have a guide in Quesnelle, who introduces each one as our own: "You loved this place," and "This is a good one."

She narrates a setting - the kitchen with yellowspeckled floor in a kitchen that smells like potatoes and Mr. Clean and the apartment with the Scarface poster you hate - before assuming your role in the experience.

But, like a dream that you suddenly become lucid in and distrust, there's something off about each one. And by the final scene, the narrative fills out.

Quesnelle is a strong performer who successfully builds a world between conscious reality and something else.

- Amy Smart

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What: The Tenant Haimovitz

Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.

When: Aug. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27

Rating: 3

A weird and (occasionally) wonderful comedic satire all the way from Israel, The Tenant Haimovitz is a highly theatrical extravaganza that confounds as much as it entertains.

The protagonist is a young writer who rents an apartment.

He soon finds out he's not alone. He's joined by a strange, circus-like crew who tease, quiz and torment him.

The writer is informed that what lies outside is a wall. And beyond that, well, another wall. Yup, it's Kafka time, folks.

What follows is difficult to describe. Imagine neovaudevillian bedlam.

Colourfully-costumed folk dance, sing, and play guitars and xylophones.

The writer - in a state of continual amazement and despair - is oppressed by society, the government and his parents (who have chosen another fellow to be their new and improved son).

This is a grim, absurdist comedy in the tradition of folk like Kafka and Nikolai Gogol.

The eight-actor Zygota troupe has put much work into this piece (70 minutes long, not 60 as advertised in the program).

Its bristling physicality works awfully well - especially the sharply choreographed sections, which veer close to contemporary dance.

Unfortunately, The Tenant Haimovitz is also disjointed and rambling. The accents are sometimes difficult to decipher. Challenging - and perplexing.

Watch for Fringe Festival reviews and stories at timescolonist.com/ entertainment/fringefest