To go to a show or not go? Read all Fringe reviews here

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: Burnt at the Steak

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Where: Langham Court Theatre

When: Aug. 30 to Sept. 2

Rating: **** 1/2

Carolann Valentino’s one-woman musical-comedy Burnt at the Steak throws into sharp relief what should already be common knowledge: While dining out, never mistreat your servers.

In addition to spitting on your foie gras, disgruntled waiters, many of whom moonlight as creative types, might later roast you in their art.

Valentino has done just that. Burnt at the Steak recalls her time as a highly paid manager at an elite New York steakhouse, a job she held while pursuing her dream of performing on Broadway.

During the 75-minute romp, the Texas-raised writer, singer and actor oscillates between playing her beleaguered former self and 18 other personalities, most notably the cast of cretins she encountered during her tenure at the ritzy resto. The caricatures range from her greasy, dictatorial boss, to a randy, boozed-to-oblivion customer, to a coquettish Brit who had a taste for wearing short skirts and, perilously, “no knickers.”

It’s remarkable how dramatically — and how quickly — Valentino shifts her voice, gait and facial expressions to assume each over-the-top impression.

Adding to the hilarity, she periodically belts absurdist show tunes about her former workplace. A fake instructional number about how to assess how well a cut of meat is cooked — set to the melody of The Sound of Music sing-along Do-Re-Mi — was a definite highlight.

A warning for sheepish theatergoers: Valentino occasionally ropes audience members into her gut-busting charade. If you’re picked, she’ll embarrass you, to the audience’s delight.

But unlike the lowlifes she skewers, you’ll at least have the benefit of being in on the joke.

—Cory Ruf

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What: Borg, Cranny, Delamont: Comedy Fun Pack

Where: Langham Court Theatre

When: Aug. 30 to Sept. 2

Rating: *** 1/2

As its name suggests, this soirée of standup comedy is a mixed bag, both in terms of the quality and the style of its acts.

Victoria-based comics Wes Borg and Morgan Cranny each purvey a distinct take on well-trodden comedic territory. While strumming his acoustic guitar, Borg sings satirical songs about the doldrums of relationships and the hypocrisy of self-righteous hippies. More closely resembling a classic standup routine, Cranny’s bit relies too heavily on comedy clichés, including his allegedly lacklustre sex life and the travails of raising children.

This isn’t to say the two opening acts failed to inspire hearty laughs. They did, at times. But their sets paled in comparison to Mike Delamont’s, the true highlight of the night.

Appearing comfortable and loose on stage, the now-Toronto-based funnyman is a master at weaving together weird, disparate topics — from outmoded playground equipment, to his attempts to lose weight, to the popularity of wilderness camping — together into a seamless comedic package.

Just how talented is he? Let’s put it this way: If you think a treatise about which species of bear is most deserving of human protection is bound to be unfunny, prepare for Delamont to prove you wrong.

—CR

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What: Significant Me

Where: Downtown Activity Centre, 755 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 30, 31, Sept. 1, 2

Rating: ****

Can’t find a suitable soulmate? Well, why not settle down with someone you truly love … yourself?

This notion (reminiscent of Woody Allen’s famous masturbation quip from Annie Hall) is the comic premise behind Significant Me, a new solo show by Toronto’s Christel Bartelse.

Her character, Caroline, is a 1950s-style “hostess with the mostest” who, behind her bright and brittle exterior, seems a little lonely and lost. After a string of failed relationships, she decides to tie the knot with herself. Naturally, being a perfectionist, Caroline attempts to excel at married-lady-type activities, such as driving kids to school and making delicious meals for dinner parties … which no one seems to attend.

The being-married-to-yourself idea does yield some comic fruit. Caroline, seemingly split into two people, often chides herself in the manner of one partner scolding another. When she gets drunk one night, she says: “I asked myself where I had been. And I couldn’t remember.”

That said, over 60 minutes the premise wears a bit thin. The script is clever and well structured, but not always outrageously funny. What saves the day are Bartelse’s superior performance skills. Her extensive dance training surfaces in Caroline’s wonderful physicality. The character is continually twirling, moving in a crisp, precise manner that jibes perfectly with Caroline’s June-Cleaver-esque aspirations. And Bartelse, a skilled comedian, is clever with facial expressions and comic timing. The show’s look is also terrific, from her retro dress (decorated with seahorses!) to boldly painted props of martini glasses and mixing bowls.

— AC

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What: Jem Rolls: Ten Starts and an End

When: Aug. 30, 31; Sept. 1, 2

Where: St. Ann’s Academy

(835 Humboldt St.)

Rating: *** 1/2

As the audience waits under dim lighting for the action to start on stage, a voice booms from the back of the theatre: “In the beginning, there was the word.”

From there, Fringe favourite Jem Rolls unleashes an arsenal of proof that the word still runs rampant. Covering everything from never-changing cycle of intergenerational warfare, through a “100-kmh” recitation of as many Canadian places as possible in the space of one minute, Rolls returns with his trademark high-energy performance poetry.

There’s no obvious theme unifying these 11 pieces of poetry — among them is one about he bills as “the nicest thing anyone’s ever written about Toronto,” while another is about the worst birthday present he ever received. But there is some kind of post-modern self-awareness throughout. He injects the voice of a child into one piece: “Mom? When’s he going to start? He’s just talking.”

It can be a bit exhausting maintaining the consistent attention required to follow the web Rolls spins at rapid speed — and the sometimes avant-garde nature of performance poetry means it may not please everyone. It also may not be the strongest collection that the cheeky Brit has offered to Victoria audiences, but it is nonetheless an imaginative one.

— AS

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What: Redheaded Stepchild

When: Aug. 30, Sept. 1

Where: St. Ann’s Academy

(835 Humboldt St.)

Rating: ****

There’s being bullied and then there’s learning about a Facebook group called, “Let’s Beat Nicholas Like He’s a Redheaded Stepchild,” with five of your classmates already confirmed to attack you.

Few people know the feeling of being a redheaded stepchild like Nicholas, who carries the title in a literal sense. The 12-year-old, performed by Toronto’s Johnnie Walker, is the kind of kid who wears Stratford Festival T-shirts, listens to Gilbert & Sullivan records and counts Rita Hayworth among his idols. He doesn’t quite fit in. To cope, he turns to his fabulous alter-ego Rufus Vermillion, who is the kind of guy who uses words like “boudoir,” and after taking a bit sip from a juice box declares, “Hair of the dog! Am I right?” While the show is silly from the start, it develops a heavier weight as the root of the bullying is revealed and Nicholas’s make-believe confidence-boosters show signs of weakness.

The show’s only real blemish is the similar way Walker performs each role — Nicholas’ cigarette-smoking, track-suit wearing stepmother isn’t too different from Vermillion or Nicholas himself, but for a gasping laugh. But the storyline is forgiving, since that may be attributed to Nicholas himself, rather than Walker — he is the one assuming each role to tell his own story, after all.

— AS

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What: First Day Back

When: Aug. 30, 31; Sept. 1

Where: St. Ann’s Academy (835 Humboldt St.)

Stars: ***

In First Day Back, Toronto’s Rob Salerno takes an about-turn from the satirical humour of F***ing Stephen Harper and screwball comedy Big in Germany, by tackling the more difficult material of teen suicide.

Fourteen-year-old Ollie kills himself after enduring months of abuse from bullies for being gay. This story takes place in the “safe space” set up for members of a high school community looking for answers.

Salerno assumes the role of various high schoolers struggling with their own sense of guilt and confusion, as well as the art teacher leading the session with sensitivity. But his acting chops may be better suited for comedy, with characters such as self-promoting class president Joanna Fairchild carrying caricature-like qualities, despite the heavy material. That doesn’t mean it’s funny by any means, just that it would be strengthened with a more confident move away from stereotypes.

While the truths revealed aren’t anything new (bullying often stems from pressures in the aggressor’s own life), the subject matter is important and Salerno’s choice to leave his characters without answers is an appropriate one. It’s also timely. Though Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign continues to spread and we see more and more positive representations of gay characters in pop culture, the war on homophobia isn’t over.

— AS

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What: She Has a Name

Where: Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, 907 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 26, 27; Sept. 2

Rating: ***

Despite fundamental flaws, She Has a Name has its heart in the right place.

This 90-minute drama is inspired by a true human trafficking incident: the 2008 discovery of a storage locker in Thailand containing Burmese workers, half of them dead from suffocation.

She Has a Name is the story of an American lawyer, Jason, who goes undercover to investigate human trafficking in Bangkok brothels. He meets a 15-year-old prostitute, known only as “Number 18”. The soul-crushing depravity and hopelessness of the situation eventually causes Jason to unhinge. He finds himself resorting to the base violence favoured by the bad guys.

Andrew Kooman’s play aspires to moral complexity. This is admirable, since single-minded didacticism is the coffin nail in political theatre. Unfortunately, She Has a Name is plagued by melodramatic — and just plain bad — cop-show dialogue.

He: “Just cut the perverts’ balls off and shove them down their throats.” She: “No … justice doesn’t work that way.” Hmmm.

Kooman’s decision to introduce a Greek chorus of mysterious hooded figures who waft around chattering about angels doesn’t help. Neither do the implausible plot twists.

That said, some of the main characters — including Evelyn Chew as the prostitute and Carl Kennedy as Jason — have their moments.

— AC

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What: Cougar Annie Tales

Where: St. Andrew’s School Gymnasium, 1002 Pandora Ave.

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

Rating: ****

You can study history books all you want, but nothing quite brings the past to life like a dramatic performance.

In Cougar Annie Tales, Sooke’s Katrina Kadoski introduces us to one of the province’s most resilient characters by assuming the role herself.

Cougar Annie, born Ada Anne Jordan, survived to 96 on an isolated piece of land near Hesquiat Harbour, 50 km north of Tofino.

The woman’s tough as nails — outliving four husbands, giving birth to 11 children and killing more than 70 cougars.

But as Kadoski guides the audience along her life path, Jordan’s loneliness, humour and heart of gold make her

a truly endearing character.

This is the kind of show that’s made for Fringe and will appeal to a wide audience.

It’s multidisciplinary and well paced — Kadoski tells her story by performing real-life letters between Jordan and others, talking directly to the audience as various characters, as well as song.

Her folk ballads intimate some of the more tender emotions of sadness and loss that Jordan herself may not have spoken about directly. And the subject matter is what the musical form is made for — she covers everything from dissatisfying husbands, an unforgiving life in the wild and the heartbreak of losing a child.

All the while, projections of historical photos, letters and documents fill out the narrative on screen.

Kadoski is a confident performer who has created a well-polished cultural addition to Vancouver Island’s heritage.

— Amy Smart

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What: Earth Leader: Son of ‘Bub

Where: Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, 907 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 26, 31; Sept. 1, 2

Rating: **1⁄2

Victoria musician/comedian Richard Leon Gauthier has stepped out with his quirky, comedic look at a man struggling with mental illness.

It’s a peculiar piece. Certainly, as a performer, Gauthier has strengths. He’s a superior singer and guitarist — the songs he offers are the show’s highlights. Although he seemed a touch nervous (this was the inaugural performance), Gauthier spoke well, sometimes displaying an off-beat charisma.

Where Earth Leader: Son of ‘Bub falters is the material. Gauthier struggles to find humour in dark subjects. For instance, a stand-up routine includes an ill-conceived bit about getting raped as a child by a relative. And Gauthier’s riffs on mental illness (the protagonist believes he’s receiving “thought transmissions” via TV programs) are puzzling and just plain strange.

There is potential here. Gauthier has musicianship, natural charm and a rare ability to convey vulnerability. The show needs reworking, however.

— AC

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What: slut (r)evolution (no one gets there overnight)

Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.

When: Aug. 26, 29, 31; Sept. 1

Rating: ***1/2

In her one-woman confessional work slut (r)evolution, Boston-based storyteller Cameryn Moore chronicles her slow ascent from her days as a nerdy Mormon teen who mined paperback novels for steamy content to a life of sexual prolificacy.

Using out-of-order vignettes, she details her escapades as an exchange student in Russia; an eight-year, highly domestic lesbian relationship; her return to sleeping with men; and her initiation into sado-masochistic kink at Burning Man, the annual festival of hippie hedonism in the Nevada desert.

Though expectedly crass, the show offers more than a few moments of sweetness and vulnerability.

And it’s empowering. Moore is a brassy, full-figured, short-haired, bisexual woman. Her tale of sexual empowerment will surely hearten viewers whose body types and personal narratives don’t usually pop up in mainstream TV show and film.

Unfortunately, unlike many of the trysts Moore describes, slut (r)evolution doesn’t afford audiences the knee-shaking climax they might have been hoping for.

—Cory Ruf

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What: The Wyf of Bathe

Where: Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, 907 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 26, 28, 31; Sept. 1

Rating: ***

Julian Cervello’s Canterbury Cocktails was a hit with Fringe audiences. The Victoria actor is back with another Chaucer performance, his interpretation of The Wife of Bath tale.

We’re tipped to Cervello’s intent by the archaic spelling of the title: The Wyf of Bathe. Yes folks, this one is performed in Chaucer’s original Middle English (as was Canterbury Cocktails). While admirable in some respects, it’s also a great way to alienate audiences. I confess to not being versed in Middle English, and so had no idea what was going on 80 per cent of the time. The glossary in Cervello’s program didn’t particularly help.

His notion seems to be that performing a contemporary translation of the text would dilute it. Cervello states (in his program): “I am distrustful of the way ‘accessibility’ has become a buzzword in classical theatre.”

Again, that’s admirable. But for most audience members (the exception, perhaps, being Plantagenet era scholars) the experience will be that of attending a play offered in mostly incomprehensible lingo.

It’s a shame, because Cervello, dressed in Wife of Bath drag, is a good actor. As well, the show is well directed. Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism may find this an absolute hoot. Others, perhaps not so much.

— AC

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What: Henry V

Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.

When: Today, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2

Rating: ***

Henry V isn’t usually what people bargain for when attending the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. Too heavy, too … Shakespeare-y.

Well, don’t despair. This lively, unpretentious little production from Victoria’s KeepItSimple Theatre Productions is worth a look. The solid direction wisely stresses the essentials and some of the acting is good.

Although abridged to 100 minutes, we’re still talking serious Shakespeare here. Henry V is one of the Bard’s history plays, in which Henry — formerly a Falstaffian rapscallion — is now all grown up and ready to invade France. Unrelentingly brave and determined to overcome tremendous odds, Hal is an Elizabethan superhero — a bit like Batman or Spiderman, but without the goofy mask.

Director David Christopher (who plays several roles) has focused on the basics, and it pays off. The cast articulates its lines clearly and with gusto. On Thursday night some actors — notably Chris Harris and Andrew Axhorn — mustered up real fire, making their performances exciting and real. As Henry, Ryan Levis didn’t entirely capture the charisma and Machiavellian drive the role requires. Yet he certainly had fine moments. Levis’s football-team heartiness and humour when delivering the famous St. Crispan’s Day speech (when Henry inspires his troops to battle despite being outnumbered) worked very well, with a naturalistic charm all its own.

The show’s biggest misstep is the awful French accents. The king of France sounded Irish; members of his court sounded Spanish. Yet, overall, this is a strong community-theatre effort from a promising company.

— Adrian Chamberlain

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What: Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups

Where: St. Ann’s Academy

When: Aug. 24, 25, 26, 31, Sept. 2

Rating: **** 1/2

To preface his opening-night performance of Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups, Toronto comedian James Gangl dropped the following confession: “I’m actually doing this show because I’m looking for love.”

Touring an autobiographical one-man work about how his ardent Catholicism and needling insecurities prevented him from losing his virginity until he was 28 is hardly a conventional approach to wooing the ladies. But hey, stranger bids for affection have yielded results.

Mercifully for the audience, Sex, Religion and Other Hang-ups is more tender-hearted and thoughtful than the average let’s-lose-our-virginity-on-prom-night comedy flick, due in significant part to the fact the Gangl doesn’t rely heavily on gross-out humour to score cheap laughs. He’s too gifted at physical comedy, storytelling and using the occasional improv bit to require them. It doesn’t hurt that the 33-year-old comes off as an extremely likable guy, who apparently prefers his coitus served with cuddling and conversation.

Whether or not the show will achieve his stated objective — snagging him a sweetheart — is anybody’s guess.

But judging by the guffaws he induced on Thursday night, and the critical raves his romp has received in other cities, Gangl has already scored admirers in spades.

— Cory Ruf

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What: Spark

Where: Downtown Activity Centre (755 Pandora)

When: Aug. 24, 25, 26, 27; Sept. 1

Rating: **1/2

One of Victoria’s newest dance companies, Broken Rhythms, has made a promising start with its première piece.

The opening of the evolution-inspired work is strong in its starkness: A single figure lights a sparkler, raises it above her head in the dark and we watch it slip down the stick before extinguishing itself. From here we move through various scenes woven together with animalistic transitions. Some are lovely, like the acrobatic duet on twin ladders, while others fly a bit close to interpretive dance.

Creator Dyana Sonik-Henderson has defined the style as “rhythmical contemporary,” a blend of jazz, contemporary, hip hop and anything else that inspires her. But the mish-mash style is a double-edged sword. It gives the group a wonderful uniqueness but it’s hard to excel in technique without diving deep into one discipline.

This show will make its community proud — the dancers earned a standing ovation at Thursday’s show. But it may not be appreciated by outsiders.

— Amy Smart

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What: Fear Factor: Canine Edition

Where: Victoria Conservatory of Music, Wood Hall, 907 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug. 25, 26, 29, 30; Sept. 1

Rating: ****1⁄2

New York actor, writer and former Blue Man Group performer John Grady stars in this funny, touching solo piece about his dog, Abbie.

After introductory shtick about his infatuation with TV’s Fear Factor, Grady gets into what his show’s really about. He absolutely adores his dog. He loves Abbie more than his highly attractive — but rather annoying — model girlfriend. In fact, Grady loves Abbie more than any human being. So when his best friend becomes seriously ill, his life is affected more than one might think possible.

This may sound like another mushy, Hallmark-card mess. It is not. For starters, Grady, snappy in his crisp grey suit, is an accomplished actor. He moves beautifully; he speaks well And this is a beautifully directed effort; the pacing and subtle lighting are expertly rendered.

Grady strikes the right wry, heartfelt tone. He, the protagonist, is a regular, slightly nebbish guy. A smart fellow, the sort who listens to NPR. We realize, as the show concludes, that his show is really about love and how we die. Hopefully with dignity; hopefully surrounded by loved ones. Don’t miss this.

— AC

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What: Alone

Where: St. Andrew's School Gymnasium, 1002 Pandora Ave.

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

Rating: ***1/2

You don’t come across horror plays too often in general, so if you’ve been craving an encounter with some demons, Alone delivers.

The new play by Victoria playwright R. Matthew S. harkens back to the classic setting of the Catholic Church — and the minds of those within it, searching for answers in a lonely world. The story centres on a boy, found curled and bloody at the foot of an altar, who has been acting unusually ever since. Neighbours report that the flowers in his yard are dead, animals have been disappearing in his midst and he’s developed a crippling fear of darkness. Exorcist Elliot Lynch (Alex Frankson) is called in to investigate and faces an opponent in Father Daniels, the boy’s friend and confidante, who insists his problems are mental and should be dealt with by doctors.

Though the play is still in the workshop stage (don’t be surprised by scripts in hand and some timing kinks to work out in line delivery), the cast put on an impressive performance. Frankson stands out, with natural storytelling abilities that shine in his sermon delivery. Some themes are predictable — exorcism and creepy priests who call 14-year-old boys their special “friends” aren’t new ground for Catholic Church lore. But the script is strong and the story engaging.

— AS

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What: Hip.Bang! Improv

Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.

When: Aug. 26, 28, 29; Sept. 1, 2

Rating: ***1/2

Attending an improvisational comedy show shares at least a few things in common with watching a sword-juggling circus act.

In both cases, the spectre of complete and utter failure keeps the audience wracked with suspense.

Though the two-man improv troupe Hip.Bang! Improv, composed of Vancouver's Devin Mackenzie and Tom Hill, never dropped any figurative daggers during their Friday night show, they came close a couple of times, only adding to the crowd's excitement.

At the beginning of the show, they asked the crowd to shout out a descriptive word. “Gargantuan,” one man yelled. And the comics went from there, inventing on the spot scene after preposterous scene based upon the shouted suggestion.

Yogic giants, eccentric New York restaurateurs, vengeful sparrows, wannabe escapees from Alcatraz all came up. Each bit was bizarre; some were funnier than others.

What was most impressive is how, closer to the end, Mackenzie and Hill followed their trail of thematic breadcrumbs back through scenes they’d already imagined, embellishing them as they retraced their steps.

It was a fine trick, but if they really wish to dazzle, they’d be well advised to add another element of danger into the mix — more audience participation.

— CR

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What: My Aim is True

Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.

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

Rating: ***

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-behind-the-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. 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: ***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 yellow-speckled 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.

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— Amy Smart

What: The Tenant Haimovitz

Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.

When: Aug. 24, 25, 26, 27

Rating: ***

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. Beyond that, another wall. Yup, it’s Kafka time.

What follows is difficult to describe. Imagine neo-vaudevillian 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.

— Adrian Chamberlain

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What: In/side the box

Where: Downtown Activity Centre, 755 Pandora Ave.

When: Aug 24, 25, 26, 31; Sept. 2

Rating: ***

Putting a label on this one seems to go against the very message it sends, but we’ll stick with the one Sinead Cormack gave it herself and call it “multimedia performance art.”

A woman in a white, A-line dress appears at the centre of a media player projected on screen. She’s standing at the centre of a square metal structure webbed with rope. A moment later, the same woman steps from behind the screen — same red lipstick, same vapid gaze, same Stepford smile.

As the stage woman begins constructing the same webbed structure with circus performer-like discipline, the future seems inevitable, with a sneak preview a few moments ahead on the screen.

But there are glitches in the plan — the tape freezes, speeds and goes slow-mo, as does the stage woman. The women on screen multiply, but continue their robotic, systematic dance together. The screen splits. And the stage woman finally breaks her smile when faced with looks of scrutiny on her screen selves’ faces.

Cormack delivers a provocative message about the demands we put on ourselves, the inevitability of certain outcomes and dissatisfaction with conformity.

It’s charming and intriguing to start — and the repetition is beautiful and necessary — but once she makes her point clear, it could wrap more concisely.

— AS

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