Victoria’s biggest and wildest theatre festival roars into high gear this weekend. The Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, now in its 32nd season, offers 47 shows from around the world at a dozen downtown venues.
The unjuried festival hosts shows on a first-come, first served basis. This allows theatrical newcomers to strut their stuff as well as road-hardened veterans. There’s always marvellous theatre, although so-so offerings (and the occasional clunker) are typically part of gumbo as well. Tickets are a bargain at $11 or less. You must also make the one-time purchase of a $6 fringe button.
The best way to join the 20,000 theatre lovers expected this year is simply to dive in.
Check out the program (online at victoriafringe.com) and select what’s appealing. Take a chance.
This week, I attended the Fringe Eve Preview in Market Square, in which performers have two minutes each to offer a sample of their shows. These were some of the best:
Kalamazoo by Bema Productions: Victoria actors Ira Shorr and Angela Henry offered a nicely performed snippet of Kalamazoo, a play about a pair of aging baby boomers who meet via an online dating service. This seems a solid bet.
Para Dos by Montreal’s Pointetango: Two dancers impressed the crowd with a remarkably precise display of Argentinian tango mixed with a pinch of ballet. The female partner, in a sparkling gold dress, danced en pointe at times. The performance was capped with a remarkable one-handed lift.
The Boy in the Chrysalis: This dramatic monologue by Liam Monaghan is about a man who’s a schoolteacher by day and a drag queen at night. Produced by a new Victoria company, Hapax Theatre, it stars promising newcomer Vaughn Naylor, who confidently delivered a speech from what appears to be an intriguing and sometimes humorous show.
Fado: Victoria’s Puente Theatre is staging Fado, an evening of drama and music created by Elaine Avila. Fado is a Portuguese music with lyrics that typically suggest melancholia and loss (it can be loosely thought of as European soul/blues). At the preview, singer Sara Marreiros sang with stunning power and beauty.
More fringe: Tonight, Trent Baumann brings his show Birdmann and Egg: Finale to St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall, where it runs to Sept. 1. The remarkable-looking Australian performer, who has dubbed himself Birdmann — six-foot-plus with a towering greased pompadour — is a longtime Victoria Fringe favourite. He is joined, as usual, by his mysterious sidekick Egg, a smiling moon-faced woman costumed as an enormous egg who wields a mean melodica.
While I loved the show, it’s likely the Birdmann’s hipster humour is not for everyone. It’s whimsical and slightly surreal, as though a giant-sized Pee-wee Herman took the stage after a weekend of reading Sartre and Camus.
On Thursday night, Baumann offered oddball jokes worthy of Stephen Wright and Mitch Hedberg, such as “I have a time machine — it’s a watch.” Some of his act was a send-up of show-biz staples such as jugglers, magicians and buskers. He juggles plastic bags; he balances an umbrella and chair on his chin. In between, Baumann did curious, mincing dances and moved in a risibly choreographed manner with elaborate precision.
He offered at least one heart-stopping surprise — involving an audience member called Azula — that had the crowd genuinely mystified. One of Finale’s grand finales is Baumann’s hysterical mime-dance to Cher’s kitsch classic If I Could Turn Back Time, for which he dons a pair of high-heeled shoes. Egg, meanwhile, served as his accompanist on melodica, electric piano and a tiny cornet. Occasionally, she took centre stage, singing a song while clutching a stuffed dolphin.
At his best, Baumann transcends mere weirdo comedy, suggesting that life is mysterious, wonderful and miraculous. For $11, this is mighty good value.
Less impressive was Recovery Show, being staged at St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall until Sept. 2. The 60-minute monologue is written and performed by Clara Madrenas, a young woman from London, Ont.
Recovery Show is based on Madrenas’s experiences visiting Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide while a boyfriend lies in hospital with a life-threatening illness. Along the way, she describes bizarre fantasies — elves emerging from a wall, strange beings with “rainbow-coloured water-colour” wings — that intrude disturbingly. What’s real and not real is unclear.
Some of the raw material is unusually dramatic and potentially compelling. For instance, Madrenas — barefoot and dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt — spoke of seeing corpses in lime still left in an abandoned African classroom (although one wonders whether that was a hallucination). The problem is, the monologue is terribly fragmented as well as being overly dense, abstract and verbose. Half the time I wondered what on Earth was going on.
Theatre examining personal trauma is a sub-genre that appeals to many. Recovery may hold limited interest for those who enjoy such fare; others will find it less enthralling.