Calgary Fringe Festival Shows Reviewed Here:
Charlie: A Hockey Story, Tinfoil Dinosaur and Preparation Hex (see previous posts for other reviews).
It was pretty quiet on the Calgary Fringe Festival grounds on Saturday after Inglewood’s Sunfest Festival closed down – perhaps everyone skipped town for the mountains after all, since it is one of the nicest long weekends we’ve had in Calgary since … well, maybe, ever. After working all afternoon schlepping Lunchbox Theatre programmes, I was a little weary and perhaps a little sun struck, but did have enough energy to get in three shows last night – and even a quick bite of dinner. All the same, I chose to forego the late-night improv show in favour of sleeping. When I awoke refreshed this morning, I knew I’d made the right choice.
Saturday’s selections just happened to all be one-man shows in a storytelling vein – with mixed reviews. Only the first of these had music, and only a little.
Charlie: A Hockey Story (Stash Needle Art Lounge)
In Charlie: A Hockey Story, Vancouver’s Jim Sands weaves storytelling with music to talk about his uncle Charlie Sands’ NHL hockey career in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, during the days of larger-than-life characters like Foster Hewitt, Conn Smythe, King Clancy and Eddie Shore. I’m not much of a hockey fan, but I quite enjoyed this show, largely due to Jim’s energetic delivery as he told tale after tale about some of the great moments in early hockey history, mixed with a little Shakespeare for good measure. These include the longest game in hockey and the on-ice altercation between Shore and Ace Bailey that nearly killed the latter and taught Jim lessons about forgiveness – and the power of marketing over morality. Between stories he played guitar and sang original music, and encouraged us to sing along, which was quite fun. I really liked the intimacy of the Stash Needle Point Art Lounge, one of the Fringe’s new Bring-Your-Own-Venues locations. Because they’re not running any other shows in that space, Charlie: A Hockey Story is on every night from 7:45PM to 8:55PM. This means you can still catch a show that ends at 7:30PM and take this one in. It would probably benefit the show, both artistically and commercially, if he were to cut the show by 5-10 minutes. As it is, you might be able to make it to the nearby Lantern Church for 9PM, but probably not to any of the other venues.
Tinfoil Dinosaur (Artpoint Gallery)
In Tinfoil Dinosaur, another Vancouver artist, Sam S. Mullins shares the struggle of his funny experiences with failure and anxiety as a young actor until his life and hopes were turned around when a new family came to the restaurant where he was a waiter. When he asked them for their order, much to his surprise, they asked for a tinfoil dinosaur, which he proceeded to create and deliver with great panache. The show, which won the Best of Fest award at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and a number of other awards, is a very intimate one – more storytelling than acting. While Sam does a good job of speaking directly to the audience in an authentic way, I can’t say that he held my attention. I liked the bit at the beginning where he makes the little tinfoil dinosaur, but then for the rest of the show, I kept asking myself, “OK, so when are we going to get to the dinosaur part of the story?” (not unlike I felt when I saw MUSEO in May – it must be the kid/geologist in me). Sam does eventually get there, but the 10 minutes I liked didn’t make up for the 50 minutes that mostly bored me. I think the show would have been even more interesting had he spent the whole time telling his story while slowly making the dinosaur from rolls of tinfoil until it was an impressive beast or at least leaving the dinosaur on stage for the entire show. This is one of the few General Audience shows at the Fringe, so there were a few kids there. The family I spoke to after the show gave it mixed reviews: the teenage girl felt like I did, the younger boy said he was completely drawn in, and the adults thought it was pretty good. I think Sam has the personality to be a great performer and I look forward to seeing him after he has a few more Fringes under his belt.
Preparation Hex (DaDe Art and Design Lab)
For my final show of the evening, I chose Preparation Hex, by New York’s Bob Brader, who was here last year with his award-winning show “Spitting in the Face of the Devil” (one of many I missed). In this show, he talks about the loves and lusts of his life in the lead-up to said show, starting with the breakup of a long-term live-in relationship and ending with the development of his love for his now-wife Suzanne Bachner who directed and developed the show with him. During this period he is struggling with a debilitating case of hemorrhoids – an especially painful condition for someone who makes a living sitting on his ass and telling funny stories and has a big show coming up. He visits some not-always-helpful doctors, loads himself up with medicinal creams and takes never-ending sitz baths, to no avail. He decides someone has put a hex on him, and calls up a Wiccan friend who advises him to burn dragon’s blood and it all works out in the end, of course (as it were). Of the three performers tonight, Bob is the most experienced and the strongest, with razor-sharp delivery and timing, and effective depiction of the various characters. I thought the show was OK, but on the whole, the plot didn’t work for me – hemorrhoid humour being a little too obvious. I also found Bob’s stories about the various women with whom he gets involved rather repetitive, and not all that funny – true perhaps, but I think he can do better. A lot of people clearly love(d) this show, so although it wasn’t my thing, it might be yours. Some of the proceeds from this production are going to Little Warriors, a Canadian charity focussing on the education and prevention of child sexual abuse, the subject of Bob’s last show.
That’s it for my Calgary Fringe Festival opening blitz, although I plan to get to several more shows – perhaps 1-2 a day like “normal” people – before the Fringe is over. Check back for more reviews through the rest of the week.
The Calgary Fringe Festival runs from August 3 to August 11. Tickets are $10-$15 per show plus your $5 Fringe button and most shows are about an hour long. For schedules and online tickets (well worth it for popular shows), go to Calgary Fringe Festival. If you want to see what I’m going to or find people to go with, check out the Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group.