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Soul Samurai at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Culture, Events, FRINGE!!, Opinion, Performance, Performance, Reviews

September 11, 2017

Soul Samurai is mad ambitious.

It’s the latest offering from Affair of Honor, a small stage production house that employs fight choreographers and stunt people as actors and reaps the benefits of doing so. They’ve done some incredible fight work in the past and usually put on a visually striking show and this one is no exception.

This play is about a young woman named Dewdrop who is trained as a samurai after a bunch of vampires move into New York and everyone slowly got pseudo-Japanese for reasons that are never adequately explained. The main vampire dude looks Maori maybe? Is he a weeaboo? Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. Nothing else does, either.

Affair of Honor provides their usual high-quality routines, though, and if you haven’t seen a show by them before Soul Samurai is worth checking out for that alone. These people – Nathania Louise Bernabe, Jackie.T. Hanlin, Lou Ticzon, Jordan Svenkeson, Eryka Alanna, and Jarelle De’Von Hepburn – know what they’re doing and know their way around a sword. The fights are fantastic and sometimes breathtaking, and there’s a number of dance routines that are equal parts elegant and terrifying.

The lighting and sound design are also pretty decent, so far as these go. The music selection is driven by high-energy fight music throughout with some slick hip-hop thrown in for good measure. The crew works with what they have and make it work, and the result is something that is hard to look away from.

Every member of the cast also gives it their all and almost manages to make the dialogue and script work, but… well, this is where it begins to fall apart.

If you are looking for good script work you will not find it here.

There’s a movie called My First Mister where one character explains to another that swear words have a place in language, and that is used for emphasis. That’s the proper fucking way to use vulgarity. Most people get this without being told – it’s a learned skill. Most writers, however…

Everyone swears in this show. A lot. To the point where none of the dialogue sounds like anything real people say. It also doesn’t help that the main romance between lesbians was very clearly written by a cis-gender man who was maybe been in the same room as lesbians in the past but has maybe never spoken with them. Spoken at them, maybe?

There is a metric shit-tonne of casual racism, as well. It’s probably meant to be endearing between the romantic leads the same way that the casual swearing is meant to sound tough, but it just comes across as fake and robs the characters of their dignity and believability.

I’ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic stories lately in everything from comics to movies to the news, consuming dystopia after dystopia. Even when the story doesn’t spell out how the world fell into whatever hell it has become in that narrative, there is a sense that the characters know and that you could piece it together in hindsight. Not so, here.

The mythology is all over the fucking map and doesn’t make a lick of sense. The head samurai is not Japanese and people declaring themselves shoguns in New York implies a certain level of, well, something. We need to know what that something is but it doesn’t feel like either the characters or the world or the writer has any idea of what’s going on outside of the immediate now.

A big part of acting is learning what to do between lines – how to convey and live in a world that isn’t real, but feels like it is. Nothing here feels real because nothing happens outside the script, and no part of this makes any sense because of it. Forgettable caricatures prance about on stage and are given more life than they deserve by a talented cast before fading back into nothing.

It’s infuriating because I fucking want to like this.

For fuck’s sake, it’s a story about a lesbian couple torn apart by vampires as they take over New York and the fall out later, when the survivor pulls herself together enough to seek out revenge by becoming a Samurai and going on a rampage. Everything about that sentence is awesome, so where is that awesome in this story?

The vampires lack any real menace or sense of power here, which is also a problem. Unless given supernatural power, humans fighting vampires tend to end with humans becoming snacks unless they can somehow outwit the vampire. A vampire with Samurai hand-to-hand and sword training should be one of the scariest things wherever they happen to be, but they fall by the dozens here without anyone breaking a sweat and the fucking sidekick takes out the big badass vampire shogun.

It’s frustrating.

You have no idea how badly I want to like this.

The cast is limited because you need people that know their way around combat for this to work. The result here is that almost everyone plays multiple characters with a couple of costume changes to mark them, and they cover these changes by using pre-taped segments to tie the story together or to give us background on characters. This is all fine and good and it’s a good idea that is hamstrung because none of these scenes actually explain anything or evolve anyone; they become a weird disconnect where you hope they’re going somewhere because the cast is so good, but ultimately go nowhere because the writer is not.

Soul Samurai is a big unholy mess of a thing, and yet… it is mad fucking ambitious. It has as intense a car chase as you’re ever going to see on stage and, again, that fight choreography is gorgeous and the acting is so much better than this script deserves. Affair of Honor is capable of doing amazing things and you can see brilliance shine through here and there. While the ideas are great and the performances awesome the script fails the production on every level.

If you want to see a talented cast and crew struggle with a script, this is your show.

Soul Samurai tickets run for $14 a pop and it’s playing at the Cultch (1895 Venables Street in Vancouver) at the following times:

Tuesday, Sept 12, 8:50 pm (Half Price Show)

Friday, Sept 15, 7:00 pm

Sunday, Sept 17, 5:35 pm

You can buy tickets by clicking here.

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1111

Slumber Here at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Culture, Events, FRINGE!!, Performance, Why Aren't You Watching This?

September 10, 2017

Do you know what Interactive Theater is? How about the Fringe Festival?

You should. And you will.

Starting in 1985, the Vancouver Fringe Festival is a place for alternative theatrical productions to take center stage and be celebrated. These are professional works of strange content, some of which later spill out into their own projects – it is a locus for emerging talented artists from all along the North American west coast.

It is, therefore, no surprise that Geekenders and the Instant Theater Company would find a presence here, combining their efforts and playing to both their strengths to produce something utterly magical. Geekenders is known for their nerdy burlesque and parodies, while the Instant Theater Company provides some of the best improv and training for actors you could hope to find in this city.

The two groups have put together a rendition of the play within a play from the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the one where players are brought in to perform during a wedding and faeries get involved. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous works and has seen hundreds of iterations over the years, but nothing like this.

Slumber Here is an interactive play that relies on the audience for its narrative and even it’s ending. Multiple outcomes are possible depending upon the choices made and the quests completed, as an audience will come to see one play before finding Pucks that will take them off on one of six different paths. Every path comes with quests and adventure. In the forty or so minutes that it takes to go through the adventure, there are more than six hours of content, encouraging multiple viewing to complete every possible outcome and ending.

The process encourages audience participation and interaction with the actors of the play, but also the wandering faeries that hold court and go about their trickery all along a transformed Ron Basford Park. You can visit the wrathful King Oberon or the enchanted Queen Titiana, among others. There are many choices, many outcomes, many dreams to be had and found and claimed. We sent two people who had very different experiences: 

Aaron’s Experience: 

My experience started with the players beginning their performance when a mischevious voice whispered in my ear: “Would you like to meet the king?” I turned to find a glimmering grinning Puck, teeth gleaming, and how can one say no to such an offer? Two other audience members followed him up a Faerie Mound to meet a fuming Oberon, he lashing out at his entertainment and failing to cow us into silence.

We had to help his poor entertainment, who was banished for our aid and her insolence. She sought solace from the Queen and invited us along with her, where we learned of a fury-borne curse meant to bring a loyal and noble soul low. How could we do other than trying to break the curse, regardless of the cost? We were not knaves, not we; we stood and made our offerings, found the means to break the curse and teach a King his worth should he come to lack a kingdom.

It was an adventure, a slippery gate into a different world where magic is real and faeries still dance and duels are waged with pillows instead of rapiers. It is very much a thing to experience, a show to be had and won and claimed.

Anne’s Experience: 

I am guided by a person in white in a group full of friends and strangers explaining to me that I am a mortal and I shall be entering the fairy world. We are led to place where the Mechanicals are getting ready for their play and surrounding you are people in green who are making direct eye contact and interacting with you on an intimate level but not in a way that makes you feel like you are the same as them, it is obvious they are different than the mortals in front of you. When the Mechanicals are done you are engaged by “The Puck” the people in green who explain to you that you are part of their fairy world now and you are quested to help them with the story that is unfurling. 

I, however, was not going to do that, because I got whisked away by twin fairies Primrose and Abalone to have a fairy makeover and to talk about my secrets and to find my one true love. After the intimate and sweet makeover, I was led to “Look into the eye of an ass” which was my cue to go see Titania proclaim her love for mini-donkey love that was a trick that Oberon had played on Titania.  I gave them my ID because they needed something old (over 30 years). I petted a mini donkey and has beautiful soulful eyes. Because I was Un-Pucked in this, I was able to run around with free will and free reign and experience this as I would most things.

Primrose and Abalone found my one true love for me, we got married eventually. 

I had a sweet and kind hearted encounter with Caliban who played me Greensleeves and I gifted them with a flower as a thank you and I got a hug. 

I was asked to be part of the Mechanical’s play in which I was a Romulan (from Star Trek) but couldn’t get through the script for a full minute of giggling happened because they kept heckling me when I was trying to say my profession. I gave up and said I was a professional human.

After it was over, I wanted to do it again and again and again, because, I only did a very small fraction of what was available to me. I could see this sort of thing is absolutely my type of  “gaming”. I would be the international champion of interactive role playing adventures if I could.  And you should absolutely go to this. It is such a beautiful expression of community and much like an ongoing public ritual that initiates you in the rites of fantasy. 

Slumber Here starts at Granville Island’s Sculpture Garden, which is viewable from the boardwalk behind the tennis courts. Tickets are $14 and include food, though if you have a nut allergy let the faeries know. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the show 45 minutes in advance. Be aware that Slumber Here always start exactly on time and that latecomers are never admitted. The venue is wheelchair-accessible and you can determine the degree with which the Fae interact with you.

Performances are as follows:

Sunday, Sept 10: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm

Monday, Sept 11: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Tuesday, Sept 12: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Friday, Sept 15: 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

Saturday, Sept 16: 1pm, 2pm, 3pm

Sunday, Sept 17: 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm

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