Victoria Fringe Fest picks for the weekend: Field Zoology, Death, A Romantic Comedy

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Wondering what shows to see as the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival roars into its final weekend? The hot sellers (if you can find a ticket) include War of 1812, Fake Ghost Tours 2, 5-Step Guide to Being German, Fado, Death — A Romantic Comedy, Para Dos, Ernie and Bethy and The Fitting Room.

All of the shows reviewed below continue through the weekend. All reviews are on a five-star rating system.

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Field Zoology 101

Roxy Theatre, Continues today and Sunday

Rating: 4 stars

Victoria comedian/writer Shawn O’Hara has hatched a clever, funny little show with his self-penned Field Zoology 101. He plays Dr. Brad Gooseberry, a John-Cleese-style authority figure who delivers a lecture on his misadventures in field zoology.

Strutting about in cargo shorts and a fake mustache, the English-accented O’Hara offers absurdist bon mots such as: “Did you know the Panda bear is the only bear capable of pure hatred?”

There are amusing bits on the seduction habits of peacocks (they include vaping and frosted hair tips) and being chased by a raccoon. And there are funny, sophomoric jokes about Bengal Tiger virility cream and how African elephants resemble the male genitalia.

O’Hara is a promising performer with strong comedy-writing chops. At the end of the show, he bravely responds to written audience questions. On Thursday, his ad-libbed answers revealed a canny knack for improvisation.

As You Like It, Solo

Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, continues today and Sunday

Rating: 3 stars

Another Victoria-based performer, Jennifer Ciceri Doyle, has created a one-woman show (accompanied by a lute player) that shoehorns Shakespeare’s As You Like It into 60 minutes. The results are mixed. That said, devotees of the Bard and Elizabethan music might well enjoy it.

Doyle has both acting experience and a strong background as a singer. With this in mind, As You Like It would seem a sensible choice. After all, this comedy about the fractious romantic misadventures of Orlando and Rosalind contains more songs than any other Shakespeare play. Doyle sings well and is deftly accompanied by lutenist Douglas Hensley.

She also possesses acting ability. Doyle speaks with clarity and good projection — and in a recent performance even managed to impressively manage a few somersaults as the wrestler Charles. Ganymede’s famous speech about the seven ages of man was well delivered.

What stymies the proceedings somewhat is the fact As You Like It is replete with Shakespearean complexities about people disguising themselves, etc. There are also a lot of characters. In this adaptation, the twists and turns tend to get lost. And in terms of performance, Doyle enjoys only limited success in differentiating the characters.

Death — A Romantic Comedy

Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, continues today and Sunday

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

English comedian and spoken-word poet Rob Gee is a fringe favourite who has performed in Victoria for a decade. This time, he brings a new dark comedy exploring death and romance. Once again, the frenetically energetic Gee impresses, delivering a show chock-full of absurdist Brit irony, surrealism and the life-affirming big-heartedness that typifies his work.

Death — A Romantic Comedy offers a handful of story lines. An elderly man bequeaths his pacemaker to a friend; a gaggle of geezers beat up a pair of thugs; a young man is horrified to find himself handcuffed to a coffin shortly before an important date. Tangential bits are tossed in like garnishes — there’s a joke about awakening in a mortuary, a story about a hung-over Gee telling jokes to early morning commuters and a lovely tale about a milkman who accepts too many cocktails from customers.

Gee’s writing is dense and occasionally overly byzantine. One must listen hard and pay attention — if you do, the rewards are there. Beneath it all is a keenly observant interest in the human condition. We get, for instance, his touching and thoughtful ruminations on the sanguinity of a British generation that survived the Second World War. Throughout it all, bald-pated Gee dashes about the stage with gleeful subversiveness and joie de vivre.

Confessions of an Operatic Mute

Wood Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music, continues today and Sunday

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Toronto performer/writer Briane Nasimok had a long career as an opera performer. Unfortunately, a lack of vocal talent (so important in the world of opera, if you think about it) meant he was relegated to playing non-singing roles such as soldier, footman and waiter.

In Confessions of an Operatic Mute, Nasimok makes lemonade out of lemons with light-hearted reminiscences about his years in show-biz, many of them with the Canadian Opera Company. Some yarns, such as the time he pranked a production of Faust by replacing a shining cross with a Star of David, are amusing.

That said, Nasimok’s relentless “I’m-such-a-shmuck” theme can wear a bit thin at times. And there’s a certain borscht-belt vibe to the humour that seems a bit dated. Nonetheless, it’s a charming and unusual show, providing insight into the unsung heroes of opera.

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