Stage Left: Fringe reviews of Broadway Bash, Destiny, U.S.A., Robber Bridegroom

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The Victoria Fringe Festival is our city’s wonderfully lunatic love letter to theatre. The best way to tackle it is to stuff as many shows into an evening as possible. Don’t be afraid to take chances — that’s half the fun.

The festival runs to Sept. 2.

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Here’s a sampling of what’s on offer as the festival enters its final weekend. All reviews use a five-star rating system.

Broadway Bash

Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

Victoria comedian Steve Ivings has created a pocket-sized revue poking gentle fun at the Broadway musical. The humour — amusing and a touch cornball — is a throwback to variety TV shows of the ’70s. It’s a smartly turned out production — fans of classic musical theatre will likely enjoy it.

A tuxedo-clad Ivings MCs the proceedings and joins in the singing. Performing to pre-recorded music, five vocalists offer Mad magazine-style parodies of such songs as Getting to Know You, Food Glorious Food and I Could Have Danced All Night.

Some send-ups employ local references. The Rain in Spain takes aim at Victoria’s obsession with bike lanes with such lines as “Go gallop your goose please” and “Lisa Helps is just not helping.” Almost Like Falling in Love skewers politically correct jargon. The “favourite things” in My Favourite Things are Cartier, Hermes and Gucci.

Some of the humour seems dated. The Drinking Medley — which changes Hava Nagila to Have a Tequila — might have been exhumed from The Dean Martin Show. Overall, the singing achieves a satisfactory standard, with Julliard-trained Lena Palermo emerging as a stand-out.

Destiny, U.S.A.

Where: Wood Hall
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

If handled perceptively and with a fresh eye, any subject can be fascinating. Victoria native Laura Anne Harris proves this with Destiny, U.S.A. The autobiographical show examines her experiences at a relay call centre for the deaf and hard of hearing.

This may not sound like particularly compelling material. Yet in Harris’s hands, it absolutely is — her one-woman show is funny, poignant, cleverly crafted and well acted.

Harris moved from Toronto to Syracuse, New York, at a fraught period in her life: her mother was dying. Trump was just elected president. At the call centre, she was a telephone interpreter for deaf people who sent in typed messages. Harris was the conduit for a mind-boggling variety of human experience, passing on racist messages, expressions of love, lewd notes, ER emergencies and calls to suicide hot-lines.

This bird’s-eye view was a treasure trove for Harris, happily blessed with a writer’s eye. We also get an amusingly self-deprecating glimpse into her own struggles. She describes her experiences with empathy, displaying an ability to parse life’s paradoxes in a perceptive manner. Harris shifts from character to character cleverly, showing a knack for regional accents. The accomplished script is tightly written — overall it’s a fine show.

The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Where: Metro Studio
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

When a folk tale includes scenes of dismemberment and cannibalism, chances are the Brothers Grimm penned it.

Enter The Robber Bridegroom, adapted for stage by Kamloops-based Chimera Theatre. A girl is invited to her fiancé’s house in the woods; a bird warns her away and she escapes after witnessing flesh-eating horrors (this isn’t a play for kids). Not surprisingly, the wedding ceremony that follows is no barrel of laughs.

Chimera’s show is more fully produced than the typical fringe fare. The Robber Bridegroom is notable for its well-crafted life-size puppets, clever shadow puppetry, deft lighting and a truly haunting soundtrack.

Rather than speaking, the puppets communicate via grunts, hums, moans, etc. (there are also human characters who talk normally). The hum/grunting can get a bit self-conscious and tedious. Overall, this is a superior effort, well-crafted and detailed. The contemporary thematic link to violence against woman (the show ends with the words “Stand up and fight!”) works well, giving the fable extra potency.

TravelTheatrics

Where: Wood Hall
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

Solo performer Keara Barnes would make a terrific children’s performer. In TravelTheatrics, she performs with wide-eyed, high-octane gusto, giving every scene 150 per cent.

This well-rehearsed autobiographical show is something of a mixed bag. Sometimes delivered in rhyme (giving the proceedings a rather precious quality), TravelTheatrics follows Barnes’ global travels as a young woman. She journeyed to England, Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, and Morocco.

Travel stories are generally the most interesting to the traveller in question, as anyone who has suffered through a slide-show knows.

Such is the case with TravelTheatrics. Barnes certainly had adventures: a German cab driver turned out to be a sexual predator; in Malaysia, she skinny-dipped and thought she saw a tiger.

These are wonderful dinner-party anecdotes — but not especially remarkable in the grand scheme of things.

Barnes says she overcame shyness not only to travel, but to pursue her career in theatre.

The overarching theme of TravelTheatrics is that we must be brave and follow our dreams.

This is commendable, certainly — yet overall, the show doesn’t offer particularly original insights.

Crazy for Dick Tricks: A Dirk Darrow Investigation

Where: Downtown Activity Centre
When: Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 3 stars

There’s a strong following for Tim Motley’s Dirk Darrow shows, which spoof noir detective films while showcasing his skills as a magician.

The latest, Crazy for Dick Tricks, once again features Motley as a fedora-wearing private investigator channeling his inner Humphrey Bogart.

The narrative is mostly a platform for his magic.

We see a variety of tricks, often with audience participation, using handkerchiefs, decks of cards and balloons. One rather amazing sleight of hand with a rubber snake is worth the price of admission.

Not every trick worked perfectly on opening night, but there’s no question Motley is a highly skilled magician. His performance was slow to warm up, but to be fair, he had hurried to the theatre directly from the airport.

Arrive early if this interests you — Motley’s shows sell out quickly.

False Profits

Where: Victoria Event Centre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

In False Profits Jeff Leard takes razor-sharp aim at Libertarian poster boys Charles and David Koch (the latter died only a week ago).

Koch Industries, one of the biggest U.S. multinationals, is notorious for its money-grubbing pursuit of petroleum and other interests with no regard for human cost or environmental destruction. Leard takes direct inspiration from Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money which details the unscrupulous way the Kochs and other corporate baddies operate.

False Profits is an excellent primer for the uninitiated. Leard provides solid background, delving back to founder Fred Koch’s nefarious Third Reich connections. And he describes victims of the family’s heartlessness, such as the employee who died of cancer after years of cleaning out gasoline tanks (Koch failed to inform him of abnormal blood cell counts showing up in company physicals).

Leard’s script is intelligently penned (although the swash-buckling fantasy sequence at the end does run a bit long). What most impresses is the first-rate level of performance — his acting is forceful, sharp and incisive with wonderful use of gesture.

Josephine

Where: Langham Court Theatre
When: Continues Saturday and Sunday
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

If you’re lucky you can score a ticket to Josephine, Tymisha Harris’s popular one-woman show about the fascinating Josephine Baker.

Missouri-born Baker is among the most intriguing entertainers of the 20th century. Born into poverty, she became a Parisian superstar notorious for dancing covered only by a string of faux bananas. The so-called “Black Venus” later became a spy for the French resistance and a prominent civil rights activist.

A striking and strong stage presence, Harris — who co-wrote the play — recreates Baker’s life with saucy humour and warmth. She’s not shy about recreating Baker’s naughty dances and cavorting with the crowd (one audience member helped put on her brassiere). Highlights included her rendition of Strange Fruit and a starkly soulful version of Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’.

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