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Vancouver Fringe Festival 2011: Part I

Looking through the 2011 Vancouver Fringe Festival Guide can be quite an overwhelming experience. With more than 80 different shows in various venues on and off Granville Island, some by known performers, others by newbies, how do you pick a manageable selection of performances to attend?

Having just returned from a marathon theatre-going trip to  Stratford, and SummerWorks and Soulpepper in Toronto plus a Labour Day Weekend visit to Chicago, I decided to be sensible this time and pace myself at the Fringe.

So ultimately my choices were based, for no good reason, on a combination of timetable and venue. For my first available day at the Fringe I picked three plays running sequentially at the Waterfront Theatre, at 1:35, 3:30 and 5:30

All three were approximately hour long monologues by experienced performers and I thought that would be an interesting and fair comparison as well as hopefully good entertainment.

Like Father, Like Son? Sorry
Written and performed by Chris Gibbs
Waterfront Theatre
RT: 70 minutes
Remaining shows Sept 13,16,17.

Who of us is not anxious about being a good parent? With his disarmingly self-effacing persona and a great connection to his audience, Chris Gibbs takes us through his views on fatherhood and his joys and fears about life with his infant and later toddler son.

I am not the belly-laugh kind of audience member but from his wigged and cloaked opening riff on another famous father Jor-El, Gibbs had me laughing out loud, and that continued throughout his performance.

I thought this was terrific comedy with just enough of a touch of fatherly love and pride coming through to make me think "ah, that's so sweet."   A good start to my "fringeing"

My rating: 8 /10  Definitely worth seeing.

Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult.
Written and performed by Barry Smith
Waterfront Theatre
RT: 60 minutes
Remaining shows Sept 12,16,18.

Smith relates how he grew up in a Southern Baptist home with his five cousins and then took off on travels between Colorado, and California. Only to discover that Jesus, in a somewhat unusual form to say the least,  has come back to earth and is living in Montana.

Using captions and pictures to illustrate his spiel, Smith takes us through his journey from gullibility to reality.  I thought his story started off strong but found myself losing interest and attention about half way through. There were some funny moments  and the man behind me and a couple of other folks in the audience were "rolling in the aisles".  But I guess neither the "stoned " culture nor the "salvation" culture hold any interest for me so I found it  the least compelling of the three performances I saw.

My rating: 6 /10 Not my favorite so far

The Surprise
Written and performed by Martin Dockery
Waterfront Theatre
RT: 65 minutes
Remaining shows Sept 13,14, 17, 18.

Dockery needs no props. The stage was bare  but for a stool to perch on and a bottle of water. He may not like the term but the man is a consummate storyteller.  I was a tad weary having just seen two previous shows back to back but he had me hooked from his opening words, and I hung onto every word till the end. No drooping eyelids or restless shuffling for me during this monologue.

How families communicate - or not - has always fascinated me. Dockery's story of how growing up in a restrained  non-communicative environment inhibited his sibling and love relationships for much of his life rang true for me. Not that this show is sad or depressing. His high-energy story-telling was well paced and I found myself laughing out loud  a lot.

My rating: 8 /10  Definitely worth seeing.

Considering that adults are typically thought to be have a sustained attention span of 20 to 40 minutes, it is an impressive feat for a solo performer to hold the attention of an audience for a hour straight. I think mine is closer to 20 minutes! And both Dockery and Gibbs kept me focused throughout their shows. Quite a feat.

More show reviews to come Tuesday.

If you agree or disagree with my take on these shows, leave a comment below.