Uno Fest: Weak Sauce, Hirsch well worth seeking out

Uno Fest — Victoria’s festival of solo performance —  runs to May 31 at the Metro Studio and Intrepid Theatre Club. For the full schedule and information, see intrepidtheatre.com.

 

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Weak Sauce

Where: Intrepid Theatre Club

When: Continues 9 p.m. today and 6 p.m. Sunday.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of five

 

Sam S. Mullens is a Vancouver writer/performer who’s hatched a sweet and funny coming-of-age story that’s worth seeking out.

His autobiographical Weak Sauce is about the summer he spent as a hockey camp counsellor. In quick succession, Mullens met an annoying British hockey player who’s a fellow counsellor, fell in love with a girl and (in the 60-minute show’s funniest sequence) battles a crazed baboon at a wildlife sanctuary.

Mullens is a likable and somewhat nebbish performer: curly hair, lop-sided grin, shorts, Converse high tops. As a writer, he has a keen eye for the telling detail. He notes, for example, that his new girlfriend’s eyes moist over when she laughs, almost like she’s about to cry. The characters he plays are sharply observed, well delineated and acted with commendable clarity (no director is credited in the program — but the direction is good).

Remember the old Bill Murray movie Meatballs? Weak Sauce is reminiscent of that. Mullens’ play is drawn more finely, yet it shares the same good-heartedness and genially subversive humour. This is a young talent to watch.

— Adrian Chamberlain

 

Hirsch

Where: Metro Studio

When: May 21, 22

Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of five

The late John Hirsch seems an unlikely hero of Canadian Theatre.

As noted in Alon Nashman’s sprawling, ambitious play Hirsch, the theatre director was a gay Hungarian Jew who escaped the Holocaust (which claimed his family) and immigrated to Canada as a teenaged refugee. The city he chose to settle in — Winnipeg — may have been the centre of the country geographically, but it was hardly a cultural centre.

Yet against all odds Hirsch, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989, managed to become wildly successful. He became the head of the CBC television’s drama department and artistic director of the Stratford Festival. Hirsch was one of those rare Canadian directors who also succeeds in the United States; his productions won an Obie and other top American theatre awards.

In Hirsch, co-created by Nashman with director Paul Thompson, he is depicted as a great artist and (often) a royal pain in the posterior. Nashman’s Hirsch is an exasperating study in opposites. He is passionate, prickly, intellectual, arrogant, brilliant, demanding, insulting, uncompromising.

Hirsch is, above all, hugely energetic. No one blinked an eye when Nashman did a somersault. Wednesday’s performance brought to mind Jack Kerouac’s quote: “ The only people for me are the mad ones... the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles...”

This isn’t easy theatre. Hirsch gives the impression of being whittled from a mass of workshopped material. The script is sometimes muddy and confusing, yet there are many more sequences of unabashed brilliance. And Nashman is a force of nature, so passionate and committed to his role — it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character.

Hirsch is a bona fide love note to theatre. And in this time of slashed art budgets, this dark period when Canadian theatre companies must make deals with the devils of commercialism in order to survive, a show such as Hirsch reminds us how exciting uncompromising theatre — or any art form striving for the highest standards — can be. — AC

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