Fringe reviews: Quirky family comedy set in Ukraine and more

Times Colonist reviewers Amy Smart, Adrian Chamberlain and Cory Ruf are covering the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, running to Sept. 2.

All critiques use a five-star grading system.

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What: Beautiful Obedient Wife

Where: St. Andrew's School Gymnasium (1002 Pandora)

When: Aug. 31; Sept. 1, 2

Rating: 4 stars

Beautiful Obedient Wife takes the classic family comedy — replete with a cast of quirky neighbours and the shenanigans that ensue from poorly conceived money-making plans — and places it in the unconventional setting of lower-class Ukraine.

The title character is Masha, an 18-year-old ardent feminist who is dead-set against the idea of premature marriage, having seen the consequences for her single mother. Unfortunately, that mother conspires to earn some extra hryvnias by signing Masha up with a mail-order bride agency. Getting wind of the plan and hoping for a cut of the dough, Masha's goofy boyfriend Vlad offers his English skills and knowledge of North American pop culture (he does have a Mötley Crüe T-shirt, after all). But unfortunately again, "Canada Man" arrives for a visit.

It's potentially dark territory, with the mother spending money on vodka instead of rent and putting Masha in a tight spot with their sleazy landlord, for example.

But this is less about mimicking life than putting on an entertaining show — and the characters are so fundamentally good-natured and well-intending that none of it seems so bad. This is a fun one.

— Amy Smart


What: Pump Trolley Comedy Presents

When: Aug. 28, 31; Sept. 1, 2

Where: Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad St.)

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

You can typically count on sketch comedy to deliver a mixed bag and Vancouver-based collective Pump Trolley Comedy brings the goods.

The troupe of young writers and performers has a healthy taste for the absurd, whether diving straight into a fantasy world or giving the more real setting of elementary school reading time an imaginative twist.

Sometimes they merge the two.

Turns out purgatory may be an endless loop of printer error messages. And most people can relate to wanting to impress their new lover's roommates — but probably don't have experience with a games night of Taboo that turns up a string of politically incorrect clue cards ("It's a type of milk and people").

Though Pump Trolley's humour can be racy, it's accessible in the way that there aren't too many pop culture or topical references that would alienate anyone who's a bit out-of-touch.

Even the sketch inspired by the Kony 2012 campaign and an adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), re-written for bears ("Live in North Vancouver at least once, but leave before you get shot for eating garbage") can be appreciated without an understanding of their roots.

Blended transitions see one sketch begin before the last ends, making for a fluid pace that keeps things moving.

— AS


What: Two Corpses Go Dancing

Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.

When: Aug. 27, 31, Sept. 1

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

One of the pleasures of the Fringe festival is experiencing bizarre theatre. Enter Two Corpses Go Dancing, a stage adaptation of a 1943 short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Mounted by Saskatoon's Two Unruly Gentlemen troupe, this peculiar yarn tells of an evil demon who brings a corpse, Itche, back to life. Naturally, this is a real surprise to his wife who — to Itche's disgust — has taken up with another gentleman.

He also resurrects Finkle, a woman who'd been ill for months and appears to have died. The demon's notion is that it'll be tremendous fun if the couple marries and has some kind of corpse-y child.

This show has strengths. The acting is lively; some of it is quite good. Live music (singing, piano, guitars, accordion) adds to the fun. However, it appears the stage adaptation has hugged the original story too hard. The narrative is laborious and overly long. It's also repetitive and, at times, confusing. And Itche and Finkle seem two-dimensional, so we never make an emotional connection.

Still, aficionados of zombie lore may get pleasure out of watching this pair — white faced and sunken eyed — staggering about struggling to make sense of their twilight existence. In its own strange way, Two Corpses Go Dancing makes a macabre point about how we live our lives.

—Adrian Chamberlain


What: Dirk Darrow: NCSSI (Not Completely Serious Supernatural Investigator)

Where: Downtown Activity Centre, 755 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 27, 28, Sept. 1

Rating: 4 stars

The Sam Spade-style noir detective has been done to death in pop culture. It's to the point where, every time I see a guy in a fedora and a trenchcoat walk on stage to make funny, I feel my will to live ebbing.

Aussie-American performer Tim Motley has resurrected the private dick shtick, but happily, with a twist. Motley's also a magician. So for instance, when he asks the audience to pick a suspect for a fictitious murder, Motley is able to show how he miraculously guessed the theatregoer's choice beforehand. Some of his tricks are truly impressive — there's a great finale involving real razor blades that'll make you squirm in your sweaty little seat (no air conditioning in Fringe venues).

It's a also a comedy show. This part of Motley's routine isn't quite as strong. Most of his jokes are groaners, such as: "She was a little rough around the edges. That wasn't her fault, it was the eczema." Elsewhere, Motley "kills time" by shooting a wristwatch with a toy pistol.

Most of his one-liners are intentionally bad . . . but they're still bad.

The show isn't perfect; however, Motley unquestionably has something going here. Certainly it's proving popular in Victoria, where it's selling out. If you're planning to attend, arrive early.

— AC


What: The Damned Girl

Where: Langham Court Theatre

When: Sept. 1, 2

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Jealousy and forgiveness. Sin and redemption. Damnation and salvation.

Each of these binaries is explored in The Damned Girl, even though the show possesses not a shred of dialogue.

Essentially a work of contemporary dance, it depicts a tale of two women, perhaps sisters, friends or dual spirits, who come into conflict after an interaction with a roving gang of ghost-children.

Over the course of the impressionistic piece, each suffers greatly as a result of rift, like fallen Greek gods receiving punishment for their major misdeeds.

The peace is further disrupted by the appearance of a demonic child, who entrances her victims by wrapping their hands with red ropes.

Matilda Cobanli is menacing in the title role, writhing and contorting her body as if she were possessed by the devil.

To boost the intensity, the production makes generous use of moody tribal music, pulsing lights and a three-voice chorus, whose eerie, wordless harmonies function to indicate changes in scene.

All of these factors, in combination with the impassioned dancing on stage, render The Damned Girl a compelling narrative with a distinct beginning, middle and end. No dialogue required.

—Cory Ruf


What: Honesty Hour

Where: Langham Court Theatre

When: Sept. 1,2

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Penned by University of Victoria writing grad Kayla Hart and performed by Marleis Bowering, Honesty Hour is series of dramatic monologues on an eminently relatable topic: secrets and the helpful lies people tell to conceal them.

To start the 45-minute work, Bowering assumes the role of a 15-year-old girl who laments she has nothing to hide from the world — except for her wish to lead a more scandalous, romantic life.

The actor then delivers a succession of characters who have considerably more to hide. Their circumstances might be familiar to you: a woman whose fiancé reminds her of a friend she secretly adores, but could never marry; a devout Catholic who privately believes that God spoke to her through the television; a job applicant who sings her own praises to a potential employer, but in reality, doubts she's cut out for the position.

These bombshells aren't criminal or even horrific, which raises the question: If secrets of this ilk are so ordinary, why do we feel compelled to keep them secret?

Unfortunately, like the characters it depicts, the play has its underlying flaws. Bowering flubbed the occasional line during Saturday's performance. And the vignettes, each an insightful take on the larger theme, don't combine to form a riveting narrative.

But despite its missteps, Honesty Hour succeeds at fulfilling its ostensible purpose — inspiring deep self-reflection.

— CR

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