Once again my plans to see a whack of Vancouver International Fringe Festival shows were thwarted this year, my whole experience reduced to two shows on yesterday's final day. First up was Lovely Lady Lump, by Australia's Lana Schwarcz. The show fits the standard Fringe template of one-hour solo comedy, which if I'm honest is partly why I see fewer and fewer Fringe shows each year. The line between theatre and stand-up comedy is increasingly thin, and while the subject matter may change from show to show, I find the homogeneity of form to verge on stupefying my spectating sensibilities. Of course, I'm generalizing--lots of dramas and multi-character and longer form works do exist at the Fringe. And there are all sorts of reasons why the one-hour one-hander tends to proliferate--cheapness being one of them. But I do think fringe festivals are facing something of a crisis of identity when it comes to fostering meaningful new theatre voices.
Schwarcz makes her living as a stand-up comic, so there's no getting around this set up for Lovely Lady Lump. Except in this case the subject matter is novel: Schwarcz's breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival. That Schwarcz's breasts (she still has both of them) are the stars of the show is an understatement. She reveals them to us at the top of the show, as part of an explanatory vignette involving a visit for radiation treatment, and we see them again and again during subsequent visits. There is nothing titillating here; indeed, one of Schwarcz's concerns is to demonstrate that the very routine of cancer treatment is one of its most brutalizing effects. But mostly the mood is light and Schwarcz is, it has to be said, very very funny. She's also an amazing puppeteer, and she combines both skills memorably during a sequence involving a nightmare reference to The Shining, and also in a bit about her hormone blocking therapy in which a shadow puppet valley girl incarnation of estrogen becomes a pile of shit.