Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fringe Madness (2011 Version): The Birdmann and Every Story Ever Told

It's that time of year again, and yesterday evening found me down on Granville Island for my first tastes of the annual banquet of theatre and performance that is the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. Usually the start of a new term doesn't allow me much opportunity for feasting on all the offerings. As it is this year I have had to cram all of my menu choices into this opening weekend, as the parentals arrive on Monday.

First up was The Birdmann, from the Australian writer/performer Trent Baumann. The piece is a combination of postmodern vaudeville, deadpan cabaret, conceptual stand-up, and a burlesque (quite literally) of magic, circus, and body arts--all laced with a message about anti-consumerism and environmentalism. Baumann may very well win the award for best hair of the Fringe, and if this show was a little heavy on the audience participation for my taste (always a Fringe trademark, I know--see below), Baumann's solicitations were never coercive and always accompanied by his winning and self-deprecating assurances that no one was exposing themselves to more potential embarrassment than himself.

Next, I went to see Festival superstar Ryan Gladstone's Every Story Ever Told, his 60 minute attempt at a redaction of the history of world narrative. Gladstone starts with capstone summaries of some classic works of literature and film. But after getting bogged down--hilariously--in acting out all four books of War and Peace and all six parts (who knew?) of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky film franchise, Gladstone realizes it might be better to take the common themes and structures of most stories and, with the aid of the audience, add to the pile by telling a new story. It's a risky move for a performer going from the tried and true (not to mention dutifully memorized and audio- and light-cued) to the unknown and wackily left-field suggestions of a hyper-kinetic audience. But Gladstone is a pro (all the reviewerati, including Colin Thomas, Peter Birnie, Jo Ledingham, and Jerry Wasserman were out in force), and he handled every suggestion--in our case a female trapeze artist with a prehensile tail battling her evil rivals, who are Siamese twins--with aplomb and amazing humour.

Three more shows are on tap today, so stay tuned for more reviews.


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