For two weeks in the middle of August, the arts scene in Nanaimo breathed and pulsed with the fourth annual Fringe, the independent theatre festival which brought together international and local artists, musicians, and theatre enthusiasts. With eight plays, 48 shows, and 30 non-theatre performances in three venues, the festival attracted over 1000 visitors, marking a 32-percent increase in attendance since 2013. The plays presented a wide spectrum of theatre genres, ranging from stand-up comedy and storytelling pieces to intense sci-fi and psychological dramas. The Navigator’s Arts Editor Denisa Kraus reviews six of this year’s plays.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea cornered the audience emotionally with brilliant, nerve-draining performances from beginning actors Carly Neigum and Raymond Knight who portrayed a duo of social outcasts in the deep muddy waters of the Bronx. An ambitious and deeply moving metaphorical love story of two broken souls where violence and masochism is the only natural response to the world resolves in a cathartic scene that turns all aggression into hope of forgiveness and understanding.
The true story of Christmas in Bakersfield, on the other hand, amused the crowds with sassy but agreeable humour of California-based actor Les Kurkendaal, whose epic monologue about a surprise confrontation with his boyfriend’s conservative Caucasian family promises that “White Christmas ain’t gonna happen,” mostly because Les is black.
During StickMan, a witty yet slightly forced wordplay standup, Welsh comedian Noel James refused to let the crowd go until they provided a satisfactory level of laughter decibels. His repeated requests to laugh harder may have very well been a meta part of the show, consisting of nonetheless engaging drug jokes or celebrity impressions, but James’s demands on the small late night group of audiences outweighed the actual joy we could have taken from the whole experience.
The Suckerpunch brought a tense and dramatic outlook into the near future where technology allows us to travel five seconds back in time and erase the mistakes we make or regrets we have. The breathtaking performance of Vancouver-based actor and playwright Brent Hirose masterfully balanced what could have been an overwhelmingly pessimistic journey to a sterile and artificial world of shallow joy. Hirose’s ability to switch back and forth between four different characters and portray each of them with equal persuasive energy was one of the highlights of the whole festival.
The Best of Fest award, based on audience votes, went to the sharp romantic comedy Square—A Stage Pornography in which two old grade school acquaintances (Gary Alfred and Samantha Pawliuk) engage in an explosive conversation to discover each other and gradually uncover more and more skin. There was no time to be shocked or even distracted by the actor’s complete nudity, as the dense, pun-heavy dialogue drew almost all attention to itself and thus challenged us to suspend our inhibitions and really listen to what the two 20-somethings had to say.
A personal favourite, MUSE, offered a peek into the psyche of Grace, a mental institution patient with a weakness for cellos, spontaneous melodies, and a little bit of mischief. Her neurological condition forbid her to communicate clearly with the outside world, but well with the vivid music inside her head. With a realistic and captivating performance from actress Natalia Hautala, brilliantly interacting with the audience as part of her imaginary escape world, the story brought a critical perspective on the healthcare system in which psychiatric patients are submitted to harsh and insensitive treatment by indifferent authorities.