Live & Let Fringe: Day 2

Walking the grounds this year, it appeared that vendor numbers are down, with less food and merchandise kiosks on site. At least, the glut that usually line Gateway Boulevard and 104th Street are missing; I wonder if less permits were distributed this year?

I asked Dickson and Mack to join me for two shows on Friday evening. The first was The Power of Ignorance (Stage 5), a show that was impossible to get tickets for when it premiered in Edmonton in 2003. I am not a fan of solo performances, but after this, I now know that I simply have to choose the ones involving stand-up comedians. Chris Gibbs was hilarious as the (de)motivational speaker Vaguen. He had the perfect voice for the part, and could have easily been cocking his eyebrow for the duration of his satiric performance. Much of the punchlines were delivered rapid-fire, so I can’t say that I picked up everything, but the script was extremely clever, pulling apart popular expressions and universal truths. I also enjoyed the segue ways into his childhood – the anecdotes humanized Vaguen, and rounded out the play nicely by providing a storyline of sorts to follow. Get tickets while you can – the play garnered a 4.5 rating in the Saturday Journal.

We had some time to wander and relax before our second show, so ended up sitting in the near-empty beer tent on “Westjet Way” (compared to the standing room only one next to the Walterdale), and saw at least four Die-Nasty cast members leaving the tent. So if you want to do some celebrity-spotting…

Die-Nasty has been on my hit-list for years, but the late showtime has always been a deterrent, so I was glad to finally be able to participate in this Fringe tradition (Stage 8). I was sad to see that Jeff Haslam was absent from the cast, but Davina Stewart/Mark Meer/Leona Brausen had their A-games going, so that made up for the void somewhat. At the other end of the spectrum, I suspect the actress who played the Constable was smashed, because she was annoyingly disruptive and intruded on quite a few scenes; hopefully she straightens up for the rest of the Fringe run. There were many inside theatre jokes (including Ron Pederson’s comment about the pretentious “scarf-wearing” public, a reference to his recent letter to See Magazine and the subsequent ripple effect), but much of the humor came from the snide remarks directed at the changes in this year’s festival (buying tickets at “West Edmonton Mall”). It occurred to me that this troupe of actors are very lucky to have such a venue to publicly air out their grievances with the Fringe leadership – but if anything, they’ve earned it. In all, this episode wasn’t as funny as the season finale I attended back in May, but I can now remove it from my Fringe to-do list.

Theatre: Die-Nasty, Season 16

Die-Nasty has become an institution of sorts in Edmonton, and though I’ve always meant to give it a go (I came really close at last year’s Fringe), I just haven’t made it out. Part of the reason lies in a lukewarm experience I had watching one of the shows at the Improvaganza festival a few years ago – I came to the conclusion that unscripted comedy really wasn’t my thing. Well, Die-Nasty may have changed my mind.

Season 16 centered around a fictional 70s hockey team, the Edmonton Die-Hards, loosely based on the Oilers of the era. With outrageously-named characters, including Dr. Bueno Excellente (Mark Meer) to Captain Derrick Capilano (Jeff Haslam) and Coach Rollie Doobie (Dana Andersen), the cast really had fun creating their world. And upon hearing that Georges Laraque would be guest starring in the season finale, how could I pass it up?

It was a packed house, and a CTV cameraman even stayed to record the first half! I can tell you it was a bit surreal watching Laraque (fittingly #69, Wellen Dowed) alongside who I consider to be Edmonton’s theatre all stars – Meer, Haslam, Andersen, Sheri Somerville, Leona Brausen, Matt Alden, and of course, Ron Pederson (back in Edmonton for the summer!) up on stage. Two of my favorite things – hockey and theatre – came together for an evening.

As for the comedy itself – Andersen’s direction was spot on. The fact that this omniscient narrator was present to set up and subsequently end the scenes really allowed for some plot development, and unlike Improvaganza, wasn’t just a series of random exercises. He also ensured the audience got their money’s worth of Laraque – in the first act, he appeared in every other scene. As expected, most of the funny moments arose from ironic comments about his size, or more often than not, hyper-sexualized tension between him and whichever female cast member happened to be in his way (Laraque’s, “I couldn’t breathe!” after Brausen stuck his head between her breasts was priceless). Mack’s recap highlights some of the other memorable lines of the night, including Donovan Workun’s “I have a million dollar tool, that’s why I built the shed” response to a dig about his weight.

Though I may never understand why all of the women got to make out with Pederson, nor want to know what was actually in those bottles they were drinking out of, it was an entertaining evening all around. And really, any event that helps Mack get to the point where he can pick the theatre all stars out of a lineup is a worthwhile one in my books.