Ok, so it was an extra day. Yesterday was a nutso day of cooking and fringing. Post title courtesy of Phil the Void, not sure what’s up with the Jesus theme I generally just pick a funny line that sticks out in my memory of something I’ve seen the day before.
Since my last entry I’ve seen:
The Pig Stoopid Improv show (with the Probably Cast):
At MTC up the Alley
The Big Stupid Improv Show was originally done as a last minute fill by Wes Borg for an empty venue slot at the Edmonton fringe using random fringe actors from a wide circle of friends. It has since become a semi-constant show in Winnipeg and is generally done as the same concept. Here it Winnipeg it seems to be run by the Crumbs guys.
As per usual it was long form improv with the “Director’s Cut” framing. For those who haven’t seen this it basically goes like this: 3 or 4 different scenes are started, usually grabbing a suggestion from the audience. After each act of all the scenes are complete the audience “votes out” one of the scenes based on applause.
As usual with Crumbs and Big Stupid I really wish they’d take a few more audience suggestions. This is partly because I’m not a massive fan of really drawn out long form, but also because in the past I’ve seen some of these performers just take whatever suggestion and more or less ignore it and go into what seems like an awfully planned performance. Improv is about spontaneity and having a few extra audience suggestions at points in the scene keeps you honest. Ryan Gladstone (much as I love his work) was particularly bad about forcing the scene to go where he wanted.
All that said, the show I saw was my favorite version of the BSIS in years and was well worth the punch on my Buddy Pass. Chris Gibbs was very funny in his oft deadpan way and Penny Ashton and Fraz (I think his name is) stole the show at times.
Overall, well worth seeing if you’ve got an empty slot and they’re on. 3.5/5
Phil the Void (Venue 3: Pantages Studio)
Phil van Hest’s “Too Smart” show from 2 years ago returns with a sequel. Very funny oddball humour that’s a mix of observational stand-up and ranting. Unlike some american performers Phil doesn’t entirely have a grasp on the Canadian experience, but we’ll forgive him since he’s very, very funny. A friend of mine recommended the show to me with the phrase “He’s a lovable asshole.” After seeing the show I’d have to agree. Besides, how can you not like a guy that drinks Red Stripe on stage.
The Aethernomicon (Venue #3)
H.P. Lovecraft… Puppets… What more could an ubergeek ask for? Well, a little more work on pacing for starters.
The Watch and Spectacle Puppet Company is a local endeavour that was behind the truly magnificent “The Clock in the Lobby” at Fringe 2007. Thankfully they’ve gotten a bigger, less sweltering venue this time and as a result I was able to spend less time fanning myself with my program and more time watching the puppets.
The Aethernomicon tells the story of a book of dark alien secrets that could lead to the destruction of humanity. It’s all very lovecraft-y (which is incredibly hard to describe so go look it up on wikipedia if you aren’t familiar with him) and much like last year’s effort is incredibly well done. The story is told in a series of vignettes from the story of an exiled scholar. A translator of the scholar’s book gives us the framing story. From what I could see they appeared to have taken the WFP review into consideration and had shortened a few of the interlude scenes but I think perhaps they could have gone further. In particular the complex dance of the protos could have been a solid 60 seconds shorter without losing any effect.
The stars of the show are inevitably the puppets themselves. Decidedly creepy, yet with undeniable personality in their movements they’re unlikely to change the minds of any puppet-phobes out there. The craftsmanship obvious in every object that appears on stage is truly a delight to behold. The puppeteers themselves give their movements an intensity that keeps the audience enthralled…
Unfortunately a good puppeteer does not necessarily equal a good actor and much like The Clock in the Lobby the Aethernomicon suffers a bit from the substandard vocal acting of some of the cast. I honestly think the next step for the W&S company is to get some true actors involved to do the voices (of at least the main characters) for their next production.
The single greatest problem with staging such a complex show is the time required between scenes. At times the blackness seemed to last for minutes and would only be lifted for the briefest of scenes before fading to black again.. I do entirely understand that a large part of this is a limitation of the medium and the complexity of the show, but there were certainly times that something else should have been done. The audience was absolutely rivited while the action was on stage but the frequent, lengthy fades to black were tiresome and in all honesty if it had been 30 minutes later in the day I would likely have fallen asleep during one.
My only suggestion would be to be perhaps to have used the extra space they had this year to have another secondary performance area off to the side where the simple conversations could take place. That way the audience wouldn’t have to wait for backdrops to be moved in and out so constantly. This area could even be kept dimly lit to remind us that this is the story that’s being played out. However, I suppose that this might A: cause personnel issues and B: The company likely designed the sets months before they knew what size of space they would have.
All that being said, I really enjoyed the show and would recommend it to everyone who enjoys a little puppet gore but a warning: it sold out very quickly last night. I recommend getting there early.