The Vancouver International Fringe Festival runs until Sept. 16
Til Death Do We Part: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
At CBC Studio 700
Sept. 14, 15 and 16
If Monster Theatre had been teaching history when I was a girl, I might have grown up to be a historian rather than a scribbler. Solo performer Tara Travis-unforgivably not credited in the Fringe Guide-takes writer/director Ryan Gladstone's hilarious and mostly historically correct story of the six deceased wives of skirt-chasing Henry VIII and makes riotous havoc with it. Dressed in a bosom-revealing cotton nightgown, Travis portrays Henry's wives as each one arrives in a waiting room outside Heaven. A scream, a howl, and another body drops to the floor, beginning with haughty Catherine of Aragon and followed by headless Anne Boleyn, charmingly sweet Jane Seymour, ugly Anne of Cleves, ditzy Kathryn Howard and finally highly principled Katherine Parr. Travis makes each one so unique there's no problem tracking who's who especially Anne Boleyn whose head is tossed back and forth or tucked under one of the other queen's arm. St. Peter charges the sextet with determining which of them should accompany Henry-when he dies-into Royal Heaven (where the drinks are free) rather than Common Heaven. The brilliantly creative duo of Gladstone and Travis make this a highly entertaining-even educational-wild ride through the dusty old history books.
At CBC Studio 700
Sept. 13, 15, 1:30 and 9:30 p.m.
This courtroom drama by David Mamet and a cast of seven directed by Adam Henderson is enough to keep you on the straight and narrow forever. It requires a suspension of disbelief and insensitivity to coarse and politically incorrect language. But once you've done that, it's seriously funny. Embedded in all the outrageous slurs against democracy, the U.S. judicial system, Jews, Palestinians, homosexuals, rabbits and chiropractors, Mamet seems to be begging for a better America, a better world. He certainly does a fine job of skewering, in his usual rapid thrust-and-parry dialogue, everyone with admirable equality from the pharmaceuticals-addicted judge to the cheating-on-his-lover gay guy. The action takes place mostly in a courtroom but makes reference to bedrooms as far flung as Hawaii.
Given the current state of affairs, maybe a good realignment of various heads-of-state's spines would work, as the defendant-a chiropractor-argues. A viable alternative to expelling Iranian diplomats from Canada?
At Performance Works
Sept. 13, 14 and 16
The Fringe has increasingly become the place for writer/performer solo shows, and Mark Shyzer's Fishbowl is another unless you count Frank, the goldfish, as another body on stage. But Frank is plastic so he probably doesn't count. Shyzer wears costumes when he introduces each of his four characters and then immediately drops the props, relying on face, body language and voice. Geeky physics student Esther loses the plaid skirt; punskter Francis sheds the toque and the bad haircut; the sexy divorcee gets rid of the miniskirt and feather boa; and the old guy abandons the blanket. From that point on, it's just Shyzer in black jeans and T-shirt but we get it. Eventually the four stories get woven together and we understand we've been caught up in a time warp. The overall tone of Fishbowl is melancholy: all four are lost, swimming 'round and 'round-each isolated in his/her own lonely fishbowl. I found it too sad to laugh (but many did) and eventually the highly exaggerated voices became too much. I think Shyzer could risk differentiating this quartet with more subtlety. We'd still get it. But he certainly knows these characters-facial ticks, vocal eccentricities, fears, dreams and all.