At The Firehall Arts Centre until Feb. 2
Tickets: 604-689-0926, firehallartscentre.ca
If he were walking down the street, says TJ Dawe, he’d just look like an ordinary guy. But those of us who have been following TJ’s career as a Fringe solo performer/writer would say there’s nothing ordinary about him. He’s far too smart, too articulate and too entertaining to be called ordinary.
Going back to 1994, all his early Fringe shows like Slip Knot, Labrador, Tired Cliches and Tracks were tremendously popular. But some interesting writing was on the TJ Dawe wall as early as the 2010 Fringe with Lucky 9; I was worried then that TJ was ready to hang up his metaphorical tights. In that show he explored the Enneagram, a nine-type personality analysis system, and it was obvious then that he was going through some heavy-duty introspection.
That exploration is ongoing and led him to Dr. Gabor Mate, an addictions counselor. Addictions, Maté says, are not limited to substance abuse but also to adaptive behaviours that are no longer useful to the individual. These patterns are often laid down in childhood as survival techniques but can be carried through into our adult lives where they jam us up. TJ was ready to take a look at his demons.
Consequently, he joined a week-long, Maté-guided, group experience where he was prepared to drink ayahuasca (pronounced “eye-a-waska”), a brewed concoction of two Amazonian plants that, in addition to causing severe nausea in some, produces visions that can be highly instructive.
“Mother Ayahuasca, show me my childhood,” asked TJ, and she did.
Medicine is a riveting account of his experience shot through with his customary intelligent, irony-loaded self-deprecation. It is so nakedly honest, you could weep for him.
And, lest you worry that it’s just another account of a 1960s-style hallucinogenic trip to nirvana, you can stop there. TJ knows ayahuasca is just one more station along the road to his self-knowledge and he’s not suggesting we all partake of the brew. But the show is a fascinating and moving account of his personal attempt to look at what blocks him. Some of those coping mechanisms might look a lot like our own.
Grim and Fischer
No more performances
Described by co-creators/performers Kate Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix as “a new dish made of old ingredients,” Grim and Fischer won five “Best of Fest” awards in 2012, including the Vancouver Fringe Festival. It recently returned, slightly reworked, to the Arts Club Granville Island Stage.
What sets this masked, mimed performance apart from other masked works is the combined use of “larval masks,” which originated as carnival masks in Basel, Switzerland and “character masks.” Oversized and simple, they are masks virtually waiting to be put on and have personality breathed into them.
But the show is much more than the masks. Grim (played by Phoenix) is the Grim Reaper who has come to collect old Mrs. Fischer (Braidwood). But the old gal isn’t ready to go and she throws Grim and her nurse Doug (also Phoenix) off the trail by hiding out in the bathroom. Not to be put off, Grim gets serious about delivering his black envelope which, when opened, bursts forth with Mozart’s Requiem. Mrs. Fischer fights Grim off with an arsenal of kitchen cutlery, an aerosol can and a frying pan.
Grim’s mask is grim — long, grey and scowling while Mrs. Fischer’s mask is both sad and quizzical. It’s amazing how eloquent the masks can be with the extraordinary skill and body language of these performers. One minute, the old lady looks melancholy; the next, she looks downright kick-ass. Grim can look dour but he can also look so lonely.
Grim and Fischer was 45 minutes of pure delight with a message about dying that was anything but grim.