Monday, October 4, 2010

Back at it

This blog has lain fallow for many months not because I haven’t been seeing theatre but because seeing a lot of theatre and writing about a lot of theatre, when one has a 70 hour/week job and a young family, is frequently more than I can handle. But I can’t quite face giving up, so this fall - this time of beginning again - marks a new start for Irresistible Theatre.

It’s perhaps fitting that the first entry of my return to blogging celebrates my return to Fringing. I have not attended the Vancouver International Fringe Festival in many years. Living in the suburbs, combined with the intensity of September in the university calendar (particularly when I’m directing) make the Fringe schedule a challenge. But this year, I’m making it happen.

I’ve seen three shows so far, all one person offerings but otherwise very different.

Dirt by Robert Schneider, is a critically acclaimed offering from New York which receives its 100th performance during the VIFF. Christopher Domig plays Sad, an Iraqi immigrant in an unnamed city, who makes his living selling single roses, offering small tokens of romance to men and women on the streets. The roses are a fitting metaphor for Sad’s efforts to make his way – beautiful, fragile, having travelled such great distance that they have lost their defining scent.

Domig’s performance won him the best actor award at the New York fringe and the production claims accolades in Berlin, London, and Edinburgh as well. Although I can appreciate the performer’s talent, I can’t summon the same sympathies for the show. The script is so rambling and circular that it is almost completely lacking in story – the indefinable “what happens next” element that keeps us engaged. Given the show’s advance press and my natural sympathies for the subject, I expected to be riveted. Instead, I was bored.

I’m nervous admitting this. Given Dirt's many admirers, clearly it’s my problem. But I’m going out on a limb here because there might be someone else who felt as I did and who is afraid to speak up. I’m not fond of sacred cows in the theatre; too often I wonder if I’m the only one who noticed that the emperor has no clothes. This might be one of those times. But I can’t be sure since so many reputable others have seen something I did not. Is the show universally adored or are dissenters merely silent? (The woman in front of me who spent most of the performance on her IPhone doesn’t count as she didn’t try nearly as hard as I did to find a way in.)

The second show I saw was Stretch Dog by Vancouver actor/playwright Rob Olguin. Olguin has expanded his MFA solo project show into a one act revelation of fear and loathing, a rant about the trials of making a living as an actor, a lament about the incredible tensions theatre provides for a husband and new father. The writing is clever and filled with humour, weaving three independent stories together into a map of this man’s halting journey. The stories are both delightfully original and painfully familiar, signposts of self-discovery as recognizable as the faceless agent holding the actor’s future in his hands. The piece showcases Olguin’s physical and emotional flexibility, with particularly satisfying moments of complete vulnerability.

Confessions of a Paperboy is a reasonably well-known Canadian script, presented at this year’s Fringe by Vancouver newcomer Giovanni Mocibob. As ten-year-old paperboy, Christopher Columbus, Mocibob exudes energy and innocence not often found in someone midway through his third decade. The script and the performer are charming, drawing us into life in Calgary in the 70s, before big news companies replaced paperboys on bicycles with papermen in station wagons. Playing a range of customers as well as Christopher’s family, Mocibob chooses subtle changes of voice and manner to effectively communicate their pain and yearning. The set is more fully realized than many at the Fringe, testament to its transplant from an earlier mounting in Rosebud, Alberta, and it’s white picket fencing is mostly successful. Director Paul F. Muir has skillfully adapted the show to Pacific Theatre’s two-sided space.

I intended to post this two weeks ago but life interfered. It also got in the way of my hopes to see more at this year’s Fringe Festival but I am confident that next year I’ll head back.

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