High-octane romp, feminist political theatre among Victoria Fringe offerings

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Fanboy (or girl) art/performance is a bit like a club. If you’re a devotee of whatever it is — perhaps Harry Potter, My Little Pony or Hellboy — it can be invigorating and affirming. And if you’re not, it can be a touch mystifying.

Enter I’m Batman: 89-97, the creation of Victoria actor/writer Rod Peter Jr. The one-man show, now playing at the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, is a frenetic love letter to the Batman movie franchise. Caped crusader aficionados may find considerable enjoyment in Peter’s high-octane romp, which explores his childhood obsession with Batman movies, costumery and merchandise.

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Even those who aren’t Batman fans will admire the performer’s physicality — Peter’s relentless energy is like a month of cardio workouts shoehorned into 70 minutes. Others will leave the theatre wondering exactly what the appeal of comic book super heroes is.

The Victoria Fringe is back in pared-down form after cancelling its 2020 festival due to COVID-19. The Metro Studio — host venue for I’m Batman: 89- 97 — has been reconfigured to comply with social-distancing measures. The audience sits at nightclub-style tables around flickering tealights.

The return of the Victoria Fringe is cause for celebration — and at one point on Thursday night Peter happily quipped: “Who’s mentally ready for live theatre?” The crowd yelled its approval.

I’m Batman: 89-97 takes us on a whirlwind tour of such films as Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever. Dressed in black, prowling the stage in sneakers, Peters offers hyperkinetic observations on these celluloid offerings, vacillating between wryness and uncontained adoration. His patter is punctuated by screen projections and the occasional film clip (including a too-long compilation of funny grimaces/sounds Tommy Lee Jones made as a villain in Batman Forever).

Woven in are Peter’s childhood memories of his Batman fandom. His grandmother once made him a too-large Batman costume; his dad converted his bed into a Batmobile in two short days. The most compelling recollection is the time his mother determinedly searched a department store to find her son a Batmobile toy (the staff insisted they were sold out; she discovered one hidden behind a glassware display).

Any true obsession has the potential to be fascinating and in I’m Batman: 89-97 the raw material appears to be there. However, the biographical details are offered in disconcertingly scattered snippets; there is no through-line narrative to latch onto. Peters provides little insight as to what lies behind his super-hero fixation — or why his parents indulged him to the level they did.

To carry us through, he relies on his ability to generate sufficient energy to power a small town. My notebook included such phrases as “very physical!” “Robin Williams maniacal,” and “a firework that’s continually exploding.” While I’m Batman: 89-97 is an impressive performance, increased attention to pacing and dynamics would make it more compelling.

I’m Batman: 89-97 continues at the Metro Studio on tonight at 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 6 p.m. and Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

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SEETHERED explores everything from wandering wombs to period sex to female sterilization. VICTORIA FRINGE FESTIVAL

Five University of Victoria theatre graduates teamed up in Vancouver to create SEETHERED, an exploration of how women are mistreated in a society with a patriarchal medical system.

A Fringe program blurb offers an encapsulation of what’s on offer: “Exploring everything from wandering wombs to period sex to female sterilization, SEETHERED is an unapologetically bloody and beautiful battle cry for the acknowledgement of women’s pain.”

The 70-minute show, written and directed by Zoë Wessler, is told by four female characters in a medical waiting room (Emma Newton, Arielle Permack, Kapila Rego and Rahat Saini). We hear from Ruby, who’s about to undergo a hysterectomy after having endured terrible pelvic pain since adolescence due to endometriosis. Scarlett, coerced into sex by an abusive husband, seeks an abortion; Cerise wants a tubal ligation; Carmine struggles with her own infertility and the fact her husband, a trans man, will carry their child.

There’s also a history of gynecology describing the emotional toll endured by women whose reproduction systems are overseen by misogynistic male doctors.

SEETHERED (pronounced “see the red”) is feminist political theatre — intended as unapologetic push-back against generations of mistreatment and pain. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted.

The show has some strengths — it’s well rehearsed and briskly directed with promising performances from a young cast. Switching back and forth between four stories, sometimes in a meandering way, does fragment the narrative thrust. (Focusing on one woman’s tale might have provided stronger engagement with the audience.) And while there are moments of humour, the unrelenting rage and earnestness powering SEETHERED makes for an experience some will find as daunting as it is illuminating.

The show continues at the Metro Theatre tonighty at 6 p.m., Sunday at 8:30 and Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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