2014-08-29

Taxes turning Toronto/Pearson into a laughing stock. Again.

That nutty saphist Wynne is taxing Ontario out of the global aviation market.

Air Canada has a vision of turning Toronto’s Pearson International Airport into a global aviation hub to rival Chicago’s O’Hare — but the airline’s CEO says that it could all be undone by the Ontario Liberal government’s determination to dramatically increase jet fuel taxes and drive away air traffic.

“That policy is a really bad idea,” Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu said in an interview Thursday in the airline’s Toronto office.

“We’re trying to build a world-class business and we cannot do it competitively with these regressive forms of taxation.”

In its most recent budget, Ontario’s Liberal government said it will increase the aviation fuel tax to 6.7 cents per litre by April 1, 2017, a 148% hike from its current level of 2.7 cents. The revenue will go towards transit and other transportation infrastructure.
Last year, more than 36 million passengers flew into or out of Pearson and the airport is on track to top that this year. Air Canada has been working to make the airport a hub for American passengers on their way to international destinations, such as Europe or Asia, and had been preparing a new focus on attracting international passengers on their way between non-U.S. international destinations — for instance, a traveller en route from Europe to South America, Mr. Rovinescu said.

Turning Pearson into an international hub is all part of Air Canada’s strategy to compete with the biggest airlines in the world. This may seem difficult to do from a relatively tiny country like Canada, but Mr. Rovinescu said airlines like the Netherlands’ KLM or the Dubai-based airline Emirates prove that it’s possible — provided Air Canada can keep its costs comparable.
Now I'll probably be the last person to defend Wynne, and I guess I'm not really defending her at all -- tax increases are tax increases, and yes they hurt business and cause long-term damage to a nation's reputation (cf. Burger King) -- but I also think a lot of the talk and supposed "benefits" of turning Pearson into an international air hub are overplayed to begin with. I remain unconvinced that there's much economic benefit to these super-hubs if the travelers are only staying for a beer and a burger. Pearson needs to set itself up as being different than the hub in Dallas or Minnesota (and be more like the hub in Chicago): a major connecting location that you might also want to visit outside of the airport itself.

I think, in general, that there are a lot of missed opportunities with airlines in having you travel to more than one spot, and if they can't manage short (<2 hour) layovers they should consider extreme (>12 hour) layovers instead. There are a lot of cities, and I would say Toronto is in this category, where you really only need about a day to see it to really appreciate it. This obviously doesn't work for Paris, or LA, or any of these big major cities (M______ once did a sixteen hour layover in London (England) to explore the city which is ridiculous for anybody who's found a week in London insufficient), but in cities like Toronto or Atlanta or Philadelphia (or, yes, Dallas-Ft. Worth) there's surely more money in having people fly in Tuesday morning, stay until Wednesday afternoon, and spending a day actually in your city putting cash to something other than whoever is scamming travelers out of every last dime at the airport. The casual business traveler probably would appreciate the extra bit of downtime (or prep time, if you need to sell a stopover the day before a conference to your boss), the tourist would appreciate the chance to see an extra city without dedicating a whole trip to it (seriously, hands up everybody who thinks that they really need to spend more than a day in Palma), and the local government will appreciate the sales tax revenue.

It's also slightly funny and provincial of us to have the largest city also be our hub airport. Dallas has definitely grown, but when the super-airport was originally built it hadn't. Chicago's an exception but Minneapolis-Saint Paul isn't exactly one of America's major metropolises. Frankfurt isn't the largest city in Germany, and Belfast isn't the largest in the UK. Let's not even speak about Iceland (mostly because the airport has to be next to the town).

The other problem with Toronto of course is that you're going to get 40,000,000,000 a year flying into your famed international hub at the same time that everybody who wants to actually fly into Toronto is also stuck there: it's why JFK or LaGuardia are some of the worst international hubs in the universe. Pearson should also try being located somewhere other than Toronto, which is about 35 millimetres away from the United States anyways: as a "Gateway to Canada" it's really really really badly placed. It's a remnant of Preston Manning's "golden horseshoe", when the Eastern Bastards were the be-all and end-all of Confederation. Really, if we're going to model the German or American system, our big international hub should be somewhere like...Churchill, Manitoba. (And don't even try to object that it's too far north to be useable)

The other bonus, of course, is that one day is more than enough to enjoy Manitoba.

2014-08-27

"We’re cheering fight, fight, fight on Eskimos / We’re marching right, right, right on Eskimos"

Coming up this Monday in Calgary: the 7-1 Edmonton Eskimos are in town to take on the 7-1 Calgary Stampeders. It's going to be intense, thrilling, and I don't get to go.

Okay, I could go, it's not yet sold out (don't look surprised, it's Calgary), but I'm a little tapped out from a week of Fringe drinking. Plus, I'm slightly upset since I could have won tickets. I was in two draws for this game, a nice small intimate draw for 2 tickets and a wider one for 4. I know, I know, it's not like I was a shoe-in, but it's still a little demoralizing. C'mon, two 7-1 teams facing off on Labour Day??

What's the weather forecast for Friday the 5th? Maybe I can still get into that hot tub...

2014-08-25

The Third Edge of the Sword guide to the 2014 Victoria Fringe Festival

After Edmonton, the Fringe Festival heads to Victoria. If you're over on the Left Coast interested in seeing some plays, these Victoria Fringe Shows were also in Edmonton and have been reviewed:

Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl
(caution: this review was from a previous year, there may be changes)

May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)


Mr and Mrs Alexander: Sideshows & Psychics

Your goal should always be to piss off the right people. I can stand tall, since I've clearly done this.

Good advice.

(Oh, though as I noted in a comment below: liberals mad at me please advise which of these three facts is true -- only one can be):

  1. There is no "Media Party"
  2. There is no "sodomite agenda"
  3. Third Edge of the Sword is a small insignificant blog\
I happen to think that it's (3). Those who wrote/followed this story must think it's either (1) or (2). After all, who fed this woman the story? Does she have that poofter Kris Wells on speed dial? The next time that fruit is using public educational resources for some faggy endeavour, will she call up a social conservative for a counter-point? No? Sounds like she's in the Media Party. And he's promoting the sodomite agenda.

And here I am: still calling them out on it.

I called Red Redford's flight

It was only about three weeks ago that I made a bold prediction:

2014 will be the last year that Alison "Red" Redford lives in the Province of Alberta.
I'm already a bit behind the 8-ball on mentioning this, but about a week after my post, this little news nugget came out:It looks like Red Redford is already working on getting a job outside of the province. There's a decent chance that she won't even need to wait for 2014 to end before she gets it. At the very least, we know she's looking, and that if she is still in Alberta in 2015 it isn't for a lack of trying. Alison Redford, she didn't come back for you?

At any rate, a good point to remember that Red Redford isn't Albertan (if you didn't already notice from her agenda), she isn't sticking around if she can't be in charge.

The Hundred (Year/Acre) Wood

Winnie the Pooh turned 100 years old yesterday. Well, okay, the saga did. Nobody knows when the bear was born. You tend not to want to be around for those events:

Lt. Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian and soldier with the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, came across the orphaned female bear cub on Aug. 24, 1914.

"It's such a fascinating story to me that something from such a different, ancient time and far away is so directly connected to this city of ours," said Mary Anne Appleby, a Winnipeg author who penned the 2011 biography Winnie the Bear.

As the story goes, when Colebourn's troop train stopped in White River, Ont., he met a hunter who had shot and killed the bear cub's mother, without whom the cub was almost certain to die.

Colebourn offered the hunter $20 for the cub, whom he named Winnipeg Bear to commemorate the city where he had lived before the war. The name was soon shortened to Winnie.

Winnie accompanied Colebourn to England, where the cub played with Canadian soldiers during their off-hours in their encampment on the Salisbury Plains.

Colebourn later donated Winnie to the London Zoo, where the bear inspired the creation of A.A. Milne's famous children's book character. Winnie died at the zoo in 1934.
As we always do in these cases, it's good to remind everybody that you may have heard Christopher Milne the young adult hating the books, but may not have heard that he calmed down by the time he was in his 50s

How to stymy enforcement of Alberta Distracted Driving laws

Ostensibly to help you break free of your portable device addiction, the "No-Phone" (presently not commercially available) comes with an intriguing option for people willing to force police departments to stop wasting their time on enforcing Alberta's silly Stelmach-designed "distracted driving" law. As I noted when this first came up:

So if a driver can be holding an apple (which isn't being used to text, phone, or surf the web), why is it different when he's holding an Apple (which isn't being used to text, phone, or surf the web)?
Then, I got a little prophetic...
If I'm holding a cellphone in my hand but not using it, then I'm no more "distracted" by it than if I was holding a molded piece of plastic with absolutely no electronics contained within. In fact, a half-smart person would drive around holding one such device in his hands -- not faux-talking or texting -- and try to get a ticket just for the joy of quashing it in court.
It took a couple years, but here it comes: the no-phone.
Created as an Internet prank, the idea behind the NoPhone might actually appeal to some smartphone junkies. A block of plastic with the weight and dimensions of an actual smartphone, the concept is designed to reassure anyone attempting to cut down on their screen time by leaving their real device at home.

The NoPhone doesn't come with a state-of-the-art processor, a high-definition wide screen or a high-resolution camera for taking selfies. On the other hand, it doesn't require charging or software updates and it is waterproof and shatterproof.
No electronics whatsoever, just a block of plastic? That sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Alberta's distracted driving law allows. I can't wait to get mine.

Then they get theirs.

Fringed and Confused: the 2014 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival

(this post is sticky. scroll below for new content)

The Edmonton Fringe Festival kicks off tonight, and as always from Third Edge of the Sword World Headquarters in Tribeca, Manhattan we bring you boatloads [not buttloads, see below -ed] of content related to Edmonton's grandest and last major festival (sorry Blues Fest, Latin Fest, Canadian Derby, Symphony in the City, and Sonic Boom).

For a hint of what content is coming your way over the next 11 days, click here to see last year's coverage.

And, as always, our Fringe coverage comes with one major rule:
No fags.

Reviews:
Other 2014 Fringe content: A review of the food options at this year's Fringe grounds. 

Photos from the festival grounds

If you think a play is funneling my money into a despicable charity, you're wrong

2014-08-24

Environmentalists are nuts

Ronald Bailey over at Reason on why environmentalism is so obsessed with rituals:

A reasonable reading of these results is that a lot of environmentalists experience many aspects of the modern world as chaotic and thus seek to compensate for their perceptions of disorder by engaging in ritual behaviors that make them feel like they are exerting more personal control. It is not much of a leap to conclude that by imposing those rituals on others, some environmentalists seek to reduce their dread of disorder even more.

Why call them rituals? Because it is not all that clear that they actually do anything much for the natural environment. For example, the costs of curbside recycling often outweigh purported benefits, and lower organic crop yields mean more land taken from nature. But as Meijers and Rutjens have shown, partaking in such rites is much like reciting the Rosary, in that they, too, reduce participant anxiety.

2014-08-23

Edmonton 2014 Fringe Festival Review: John Cusack

The vast differences between men and women has inspired so much writing that you could fill libraries with it (and it would probably include, of course, the invention of the term homo acerbus). This year at the Fringe, a 2-woman play entitled simply John Cusack looks at the theatrical difference between men and women...specifically, the romantic comedy. Jennifer (J.C. as she likes to be called) doesn't just share her initials with Cusack but indeed a deep soulful romantic cosmic connection: as a result, she pretends to be kidnapped and trapped in a hotel room so that the cosmic winds will deposit him on her doorstep. Having fallen in love with Cusack because of this scene that almost didn't happen he imprinted on Jennifer everything a romantic movie lead has to be.

As we start off meeting Jennifer (Lana Hughes, likely no relation to John), she's 3/4 tied to a chair and "Blister in the Sun" (as in, the song that kicks off Minnie Driver's "all 80s all vinyl weekend" at the beginning of the only John Cusack romantic comedy I can handle: Grosse Point Blank) is loudly playing. I mean really loudly playing. This is upstairs in a library, isn't that weird? Madeline (Jessica Peverett), the leggy blonde hotel concierge comes in -- no, wait, sorry, she's not a full concierge yet but that is her dream -- and tells JC to turn down the music.

No, wait, hold on, I'm already having to ask silly questions. Isn't the "concierge" in a non-exciting hotel like the Delta Edmonton South (our setting) just that guy who sits at the desk reading "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books waiting for people to ask him to call a cab or recommend a good restaurant? That's what HowStuffWorks seems to describe it as. I imagine larger and fancier hotels would have more prestigious concierges, but in the case of say a big Vegas or NYC hotel there would be a whole raft of them wouldn't there? A concierge isn't the "general manager", just an employee probably a pay grade or two above the girl that takes your name and passport and then tells you they've somehow dropped the reservation and whoops. I guess in the context of this play we're supposed to all coo that Maddie becoming a concierge is like Clark Griswold wanting to be the company president someday. Actually now that we're on the topic, I can't talk about a hot blonde Maddie in a hotel without getting all hot and bothered so I'm going to just stick with Madeline.

Now where was I. Oh yes, the music was too loud, so with her free hand JC kills it. This leads to Madeline noticing that JC is all tied up in what ends up being the worst scene of the play: delivered in stilted dialogue, false starts and half-steps, it really kills any momentum the play had just as it was getting off the ground. For all other guys who only ended up in this play because they talked a girl into seeing Die-Nasty and in return had to agree to go to this one as well, I'll give you a beacon of hope: it totally gets better after this. This scene has to make us believe that two strangers, neither of whom starts off wanting any personal connection with the other, develop a fast and tightly knit bond over this scene. The actresses need to believe it, the scriptwriter needs to believe it, the audience needs to believe it. The bond has a lot of places to start, but "can you peek up my dress and tell me if my panties are visible" seems an awkward way to do it. It also doesn't help that the chemistry between the actresses feels perpetually stilted: we're told later that Madeline has intimacy and connection issues which explains much of her behaviour in this scene. Tragically though, that same piece of information is also explaining why this scene shouldn't resolve the way it does: with Madeline holding on long enough for JC to take advantage of her obvious desire to make her guests happy whichever way is necessary. Soon JC is explaining the whole thing to Madeline and, of course, to us.

She's not crazy, she knows the difference between fiction and reality. She isn't expecting Lloyd Dobbler, Rob Gordon, Martin Blank, Hoops McCann, or Jackson Curtis (actually, scratch that, nobody's expecting that last one). She's expecting John Cusack (also: not the other JC), and he will know her name, and which hotel room in which hotel in which city she is tied up in (he won't, presumably, know that it's all staged). He'll do a Grand Romantic Gesture of some sort to show how much he loves her. He'll also have some sort of "John Cusack" way to open the door, though both girls admit they aren't sure what precisely that could be.

From here the play actually shifts to its strongest point: the women talk to the audience (the other character learns the same info we do, making the soliloquy an odd choice here) about their past relationships after JC deconstructs the romantic comedy. From here it looks a bit like the rest of the play will be a deconstructing of the romantic comedy as a genre, but it only gets some of the key touchstones discussed here: the aforementioned GRG is the main thrust, and the three objectives for the romantic lead (ie: the girl). This again is one of the more entertaining bits and its a shame that the deconstructing of a romantic comedy thread is dropped so early: with one small exception it doesn't come up again. Being the Fringe romcom version of Scream sounded like a great idea. It still is, and perhaps in the future a work will focus more on this aspect.

Madeline still goes about her daily routine, but she often finds herself knocking on JC's door to talk more about the John Cusack fantasy. When JC is in the early stages of depression as she starts to fear John Cusack isn't coming, Madeline helps her out by role-playing: the first time it works quite well, the second time JC stays in her chair and Madeline plays true enough to John Cusack that JC loses her composure briefly and almost imagines it's the same thing. Unfortunately, this just dampens JC's spirits even more. Which means its about time for another romantic movie cliche, this one not explicitly mentioned in the play. Hey, just an aside, did you ever see Simply Irresistible? Yes, the 1999 romantic comedy named after a cheesy Robert Palmer hit in the 80s. No, not Addicted to Love, that's the 1997 comedy named after a cheesy Robert Palmer hit in the 80s. That movie starred Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick, the movie I'm talking about starred Sarah Michelle Gellar and a magical dancing crab (don't ask). (I'm still, by the way, waiting for a romantic comedy called "Bad Case of Loving You" so we can have a pseudo-trilogy).

Anyways, in the movie Simply Irresistible, SMG falls in love with Sean Patrick Flanery early on in the film. That's okay, this happens. Love at first sight isn't a new plot device in fiction. However, then apparently because his Excel spreadsheet made it happen, SMG and Flanery fall out of love. Later, they fall into love because a magical dancing crab made it happen (I knew you'd ask). The point is that there's nothing really driving these emotional changes in the two characters during the movie, their emotions just sort of happen to them. The falling out of love in the middle of the movie was the weirdest one, just suddenly they were...not into each other anymore. That element being in the second act of a romantic comedy is almost always there: the guy does something horrible (all Vince Vaughn romcoms) or the girl does something horrible (all Colin Firth romcoms) or somebody horrible tricks them into thinking the other did something horrible (Spider-Man 3). It's dramatic story structure, got it. However as you might have guessed, this play takes the Simply Irresistible route and has the big breakup thing...just happen. JC suddenly is mopish and standoffy, cranking her music loud and forcing Madeline to go visit the guest she's been away from more than usual because the hotel got busy. The two of them play out a scene very similar to the play's opening, and JC tricks Madeline into getting herself handcuffed to the chair. Now both of them are trapped waiting for the rescue from John Cusack! I was almost hoping for a scene where they both cried out to him simultaneously since Madeline pronounces his last name "Cue-Zack" and JC pronounces it "Coo-Sack" and to be brutally honest I don't know which one(s) is/are correct. I'd like to theorize that John pronounces it one way and Joan pronounces it the other. Now the game's afoot! JC starts quizzing Madeline about her romantic life, finding that she's been randomly hooking up with guys in the hotel to get physical pleasure without risking the emotional losses caused by her father walking out on the family. It ties in with JC's desire to be rescued even though it's ultimately just a power fantasy to regain control after the non-rescuing (presumably?) love of her life broke her heart and moved to Florida to be with another woman. On a certain level JC doesn't want to be rescued, she wants to live in a world where she doesn't need rescuing. She wound up single and alone again, though, and turned to her favourite romantic movie hero for inspiration. Madeline on the other hand desperately needs to be rescued, to have that rescue fantasy fulfilled. But she doesn't want it, doesn't want to admit that she has it, doesn't want to feel anything. She's forced into emotions when JC cruelly takes away Madeline's only source of happiness and fakes a phone in having her quit her job. Does that work? Can any of us just do this? Can you just phone up somebody's employer and fake a resignation phone call without them asking for verification?

Regardless as the woman are trapped they find themselves needing to re-bond with each other: Madeline desperately breaks about 15 GRGs out simultaneously and finally pulls JC back from her cold detachment. Meanwhile the two of them struggle to work out what their lives need...will John Cusack appear at the end to save them? The play never tells, but it does hint that he will come. Of course, the playbill hints that he's not in the production which would be in violation of Canadian Actors' Equity Association clear rules on the subject. Draw your own conclusions, surely.

Try as they might, the two actresses are unable to bring quite enough life into the characters to keep the audience interested (if you don't believe me, ask the guy next to me who started nodding off until his girlfriend gave him a Grand Romantic Gesture in the form of a gentle poke). The script shows some strong flashes here and there but it's tempered by the moments that drag out, or lines that force the scene to progress even though its unclear why the character would suddenly decide to say them. It's also a reminder that in a short work, a character whose defining trade is being cold and unemotional is hard to get across. It works better over, say, a television series: I once watched Serenity with a girl who thought the entire time that Simon was an android.

So that's what I thought of the play. Of course, I'm not the target audience here am I? Since I just talked about one girl's interpretation of a fictional work it behooves me to do it again with another. So what did she think of the play? She thought a lot of it was pretty funny, the constant re-application of lipstick really stood out as a good piece of writing to help confirm to women that JC wasn't crazy and was thinking ahead to the big kiss. She thought Madeline was too cold and that JC was cruel for locking Madeline up when she had a cat at home that needed taking care of. That upset her quite a bit, actually, if Madeline didn't have any cats it wouldn't have been so terribly wrong to tie her up and let her experience the feeling of wanting a dream man to come rescue her. Finally, she was wondering why, if Madeline was just handcuffed to a rolling chair, why she didn't just stand up and roll it out of the hotel room and into the hallway where she could escape. That plothole seemed quite unrealistic to her. Of everything from this play I told you, that's the part she thought was unrealistic.

The difference between men and women, everybody.

Final word: If you have a penis you're probably going to be unimpressed by this play. Unless you actually are John Cusack, in which case you should pop by for the ego trip. And give the actresses a ruling on which way your name is supposed to be pronounced because frankly I don't know either.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

Edmonton 2014 Fringe mini-preview of Saturday August 23

There are only two more full days of fringing available (not discounting the holdouts). So for today, if you're thinking about taking in a play and are overwhelmed by the choices, feel free to peruse the links below.

To avoid spoilers you can scroll down to the bottom and read the "Final line" to get a spoiler-free summary.

11:30am, BYOV 13: John Cusack

12:15pm, Stage 1: Ages of the Moon

2pm, Stage 9: Sundogs

3pm, BYOV 25: Under the Mango Tree (caution: review of from a previous year)

4:30pm, BYOV 14: Swordplay

4:45pm, Stage 5, Peter n' Chris and the Mystery of the Murder Hotel (caution: review of from a previous year, slight name change that could mean other major changes)

5pm, Stage 8, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics

7pm, BYOV 16: Bible Bill: The Gospel Musical

7pm, BYOV 36: May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)

9pm, Stage 1: The War of 1812

10pm, Stage 2: Ludwig & Lohengrin

Framtidsbiblioteket

So 1,000 trees are being grown to turn into paper for an art project. If that sounds weird, it's because it is: the Future Library aims to eventually print the books, but long after the author (and the creators of the project) have died:

A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

The texts will be held in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Katie Paterson's 100-year-long project is one of four public artworks produced by UK-based arts producer Situations for Slow Space, a programme of public artworks for Bjørvika Oslo's former container port, and commissioned by Bjørvika Utvikling. Claire Doherty, Director of Situations, says, "Future Library challenges our preconceptions about where and when public art takes place. Just as the new development of Bjørvika causes us to reimagine the future of this city, so this work compels us to think about what we might tell a future reader about our time."
The most obvious issue with this is logistics. I have 15 year old CD-R discs that are now unreadable: the Library of Congress is constantly trying to preserve digital works because even the magnetic tape suggestion in the article isn't foolproof. The special room in the library is a nice idea, but what happens if the library gets renovated in 2045, or the caliphate burns it down? I suppose you should also worry about these thousand trees being cut down to build a nice desk somewhere, but the authors shouldn't really worry where the paper comes from.

Which leads to the next obvious point: who says in 2114 we'll all be using paper books? In fact, you may not want to bet on us using paper books by 2030 (though The Atlantic disagrees). Of course books will still exist in 2114, but nobody may be making them anymore. The future artist who fulfills this 100-yr art project may find his or her processing options severely limited.

To brings us to the final problem: will a future artist do this at all? Putting your unwritten work's future in the hands of not just a stranger but a stranger who probably won't be born in your lifetime seems a bit of a risk (but a non-harmless one, since it's already happening to almost all authors)). But there's a definite nonzero chance that in 2114 no trees will be cut down (heck, it may not even be legal in Norway to do so), no pages will be bound, no books of previously unread stories will ever be read. They may or may not make an e-copy, it may be forgotten and resurrected in another 250 years, it may be lost.

I suppose this is always a problem with creating something: the guy who made this statue of a woman (or perhaps a turkey) had no idea we'd still be looking at it now. For that matter he didn't know there'd be an us, or a now. It's just that bringing this into focus today may be more a piece of art than anything that gets published in 2114.

2014-08-22

Be the K

An interesting little read over at the famed Anonymous Conservative website about "being the K instead of the r".

It is based, for those who didn't know, on r/K Selection Theory in Evolutionary Biology, and is connected to politics in a way almost perfectly designed to sell books. But, on the flip side...he did write one.

2014 Edmonton Fringe Festival Review: Bible Bill: The Gospel Musical

Alberta's seventh Premier, William "Bible Bill" Aberhart, has for the second time in as many years been the subject of a play at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. I now very much regret not writing up Neverman from last year: I saw it on the last day of the festival and, let's be frank here, after 11 days of Fringing I was done with my keyboard (and my liver) and wanted to move onto other topics: like Transformers: Legends. So I can't compare this year's Aberhart play to last year's very directly except to state something of the obvious: this play actually contains Bible Bill.

The setting is the 1940 broadcast of the weekly show by the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute (since we're in Edmonton, the Edmonton Prophetic Bible Institute is called into service), done on a rare "remote broadcast" in the church (in reality, broadcast from The Strand Theatre...the palatial main studios of CJCA's crystal palace weren't even a flutter in Bill Matheson's mind), and right after Aberhart's second term victory. The Premier himself is a little late due to car troubles, and we start off with Ernest Manning (played probably as decently as possible as a woman could here: we all have heard Ernest speak -- he sounds a lot like Preston, with perhaps a little more gravitas -- and Laura Raboud does it decently though with a lot more speed and vibrancy than the real Ernest was known for) giving a bit of war news (Churchill replaces Chamberlain, etc) and advising that with the recent second term SoCred victory and the 25 year anniversary of the Prophetic Bible Institute broadcasts, they would be doing a tribute to Aberhart himself. As he continues to be delayed we get a chance to meet our ancillary characters. Ugh.

Writing authentic period dialogue can be tough, and perhaps even more tough is getting millennials to deliver the lines with the proper tone and nuance. Last year's Neverman suffered from this tendency quite a bit, mostly due to the younger age of the actors and a bit of weak writing. In this work, the main victims are the characters of Fred Lymburn (Aaron Casselman) and Ruth Duncan (Vanessa Wilson) who always seem to have too much modern flair in their words and delivery. Part of this may be because they are the two characters most often used to deliver information in modern terms to the audience (how much a prosperity certificate is worth on eBay, for example), though they really seemed out of place on the stage with two giants of Albertan history and perhaps that was ultimately their disability.

When Aberhart (Kevin Mott) himself arrives, we are finally treated to some of the energy and spectacle that infected the province from end to end so powerfully in 1934: Mott delivers his lines with the warm but firmly convicted speech that Aberhart was known for (and tragically, so little of it remains: as the flip side to Raboud's Manning the big difference in speech here is that Mott delivers with much more rumbling base than Aberhart himself). He comes up to the stage to hear a quick recap of his life, including a discussion of his mathematics teaching career in Ontario. We also get an "accidental" clip of some of his more vicious detractors, former Premier Brownlee, talking about the Aberhart SoCreds being ignorant in economics.

What comes next is a variety of sermons, skits, and music that tries to capture the spirit of the early broadcasts (before the "Back to the Bible" form of Ernest Manning, which was certainly less theatrical suiting the personality of the two men) though a little disjointed to serve as a narrative framework. When the broadcast went offline a couple of times and more traditional theatre was allowed to take the stage as it were the play gained back some of its storytelling: including a sequence where popping balloons were used to represent failed attempts at legislating in the SoCred reforms. The play also gets physical when Lymburn is shown to be a sympathizer to the backbench revolt of '37 and Aberhart comes face to face with somebody who his party let down: again hinting at a theme Neverman concentrated heavily on: the human toll caused when true believers acted on their faith, taking out extra mortgages and buying extra properties in the hope that the dividends will come. There was a bit of an oddity when Lymburn was furious at Aberhart for the committee of experts brought in to administer social credit reforms independent of caucus...in reality that committee was the brainchild of those who revolted against Aberhart (and, indeed, most of their legislation was struck down by various courts and privy councils too, so as a criticism of Aberhart it didn't quite cut the mustard).

The Aberhart era was certainly a strange one: the social credit ideas of wage and price controls, high taxes to banks, and prosperity cheques sound today more like the NDP platform, and as the play hinted Aberhart was attacked (with equally good reason as happens to the NDP today) for being ignorant of finance and economics. The play briefly linked the Ralph Klein tax rebates with social credit dividends though of course that isn't accurate much either: Klein's one-time tax cuts weren't a result of any "social prosperity" but rather were the result of extra money in the provincial coffers and certainly would have been an alien problem (if not a wholly alien solution) to Bible Bill. Oddly, no mention of Ernest's dividends of 1957 are brought up.

It's probably appropriate that a play recapping Aberhart's broadcasting and political career is high on the sermons and low on the politics: they actually fit quite well with Bible Bill's reign. Though Manning comes across here (and indeed, came across in speeches later in life) as a generic loyal lieutenant destined to continue his master's schemes while in his footsteps the stark reality is that Manning turned out to be the transformative Premier that Aberhart wanted to be: under Manning the Christian foundation of Social Credit was tempered with solid conservatism and more traditional practices...and in a way that Manning slowly was able to turn Social Credit from a laughably impossible economic system into instead a populist movement that his son would later emulate so successfully on a broader scale. Manning's style of SoCred populism spurned the similar shift in BC politics that left the SoCreds there in power until '91 (though, oddly, Manning's own pick to run the BC Socreds was Hansell, who was Manning-style replaced by Bennett who turned social credit away from the Douglas-Aberhart philosophy). Manning was rewarded with a quarter century in office, a Senate posting that still causes some Albertans to bristle with anger when they are reminded that he accepted it (especially in the Preston Triple-E days, it was a good idea to leave out the topic of his dad's patronage post), and the father of modern Alberta. By the time he left office he was the first Premier of Alberta to be discussing the oilsands: the man who inherited a disjointed and weakened Social Credit party in a province decimated by poverty and war ended up living to see his son lead Reform to it's explosive 1993 victories. Politically this play is almost the prequel to the Ernest Manning story, oddly enough. Though Aberhart dominates the performances (Raboud's biggest chance to shine is in fact having Ernest playing the part of a martian invader in one of the radio sketches performed during the program: the most involved Ernest gets to be is playing somebody else), the spirit of the future Manning seems to loom just behind those glasses.

By eschewing the narrative structure to form a simulation of Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute broadcast, Bible Bill: The Musical does a great job of taking us back to experience the feeling of listening to Aberhart defending his faith and his politics on the radio. Despite the play's name, the musical number is limited to one act at the beginning, along with a few hymnals (and not entirely hymnal, to Ernest and William's consternation as Ruth Duncan -- the "Duncan Sister", one of the play's weaker gags that is mercifully dropped -- sings a song only nominally about Christianity while gyrating her hips against the microphone...similar to Carman's Faith + 1 songs). Some of the more traditional hymns are included in the playbook so the audience can sing along, another nice touch that brings that feeling of being there watching Aberhart in his natural element: the pulpit.

Final word: A must-see for political buffs, this "musical" recreates the feeling of Willaim "Bible Bill" Aberhart even if it doesn't always function as a traditional narrative.


(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

Edmonton Fringe mini-preview for Friday August 22nd

I did one of these for Wednesday and it was really popular, so here are links to the plays I've reviewed playing today, Friday August 22nd 2014 at the Edmonton International Fringe festival. (readers from other locales and times are going to have to settle for just imagining what attending these could have been like)

2pm, Stage 2: Einstein!

2pm, BYOV 25: Under the Mango Tree (caution: review from a previous year)

4:30pm, BYOV 16: Bible Bill: The Gospel Musical

5:45pm, BYOV 36: May & Alia do Pirates!


5:45pm, BYOV 14: Swordplay

6:15pm, Stage 1: Ages of the Moon

6:45pm, Stage 8: Mr. & Mrs. Alexander

7:15pm, Stage 3: No Tweed Too Tight: Another Grant Canyon Mystery

8:45pm, BYOV 25: Under the Mango Tree (repeat showing, see link above)

10:45PM, Stage 5: Peter n' Chris and the Mystery of the Murder Motel (caution: review from a previous year, more may have changed than just the name)

2014-08-21

Our Loud Pipes Saves Lives Challenge winner...who just blares Hungarian folk songs?


Four years ago I posted the Loud Pipes Save Lives Challenge, asking motorists to affix large noisy horns onto the sides of their cars and honk them extremely loudly (I'm thinking 105dB or higher) when in the presence of a motorcycle with unnecessarily loud pipes (so, all of them).

Imagine my delight last week when I finally actually found one!

2014 Edmonton International Fringe Festival photo page

If you see this man, give him a noisy bike ticket.

Two worrisome incidents over the past few days have led to the obvious conclusion that the Edmonton chapter of the Hells Angels is beginning to operate more openly again and flexing their muscles.

For a while the Edmonton Angels were pretty active, though in recent years they've calmed down. In the wake of a high-profile gun incident at Showgirls, the man known as "Bear" who (on paper) owned the establishment drew back and eventually retired (to BC, if the rumours are true, which when it comes to the Hells Angels are usually pretty good to listen to). New owner Scott Jamison has been relatively quiet.

However, on Sunday afternoon a motorcycle with a man wearing a Hells Angels jacket with only one wing was regularly cruising up and down Whyte Avenue with a bike engine so loud you had to plug your ears half a block away -- one notices that none of the Edmonton Police officers regularly walking the beat ever tried to give him a noise ticket. Three times he cruised the street from end to end (I was unable to get away from my patio drinking to get a picture). Then on Tuesday night this man in a "Support 81" (ie. a member of an affiliated club) was seen riding the streets:


Keep your eye on the newspapers folks...you're about to read a few stories about some bad men doing some bad things. (This may be connected with the fast-rising Red Scorpions getting knocked down a peg or two last month)

"Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and handmade cardboard signs"

Welcome Global TV viewers. Ask yourselves why you're reading this, and what it says about the sodomite agenda

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Over the last four years at Third Edge of the Sword, our annual Fringe play reviews remain some of the most popular individual posts (most traffic comes to the main site via my Twitter page or the monthly archive posts via Google). Last year's review of Sigmund Freud's Last Session garnered almost 1000 page hits a month for the latter half of 2013 -- and this was for a review posted after the Fringe festival was already over. Many of the older reviews were also quite popular, one of the reasons I decided to stop doing it day-by-day and concentrate instead on individual reviews for individual plays: people coming to this page obviously were looking at The Sputniks. Pagetraffic to this page, however, is harder to gauge: were they interested in the ludicrous female-friendly (read: bad) Inviting Desires or that ridiculous "my vagina is 8 miles wide" song sung during it; or were visitors after the more introspective and female-nonfriendly (though, also, kind of bad) Manners for Men? Hard to say, really.

This year, unlike other years, outside of people actually visiting the page, my reviews certainly got noticed. The first to get noticed, with a flurry of angry comments until one jackass from Saskatchewan posted a wonky link and wrecked it for everyone, was this one specifically kicking the Fringe off with a "pre-review", a "preview" if you will, of various shows at the festival that I wouldn't be reviewing: mostly because I recognized the "oh gawd another one of these plays" warning signs right from the get-go, and a few that I'd either already reviewed. Naturally, a lot of the plays that fell into the category of horrible subject matter were ones prominently featuring uranists.

Zanna, Don't: Our first of many fringe plays celebrating sodomites, imagining a topsy-turvy world where disgusting sexual practises are the norm. Aye-void.
This, as it turns out, brought the fagosphere out in full effect. It may wind up being the Third Edge of the Sword blogpost which gets discussed by more people than actually read it, which happens more often to bigger conservative names like Mom or Rush Limbaugh. So that's what that feels like. Cool.

How cruel, how cruel, they cried out dramatically that somebody would dare to talk about plays before watching them. How can you pass judgement, they declared, on something unseen!

The thing with liberals is they don't want you to actually do the thing that they're asking you to do, and they themselves want to do it even less. This is of course one of their more aggravating personal traits: they say they want to be judged on the content of character until the millisecond it is more profitable to be judged based on race. They love bleeting that Harper is conducting a "war on science" until they find the government siding with science a war worth fighting. You're admonished to "check the facts"...but then heaven forbid you check them and find out the facts don't say what they claimed. The biggest online sensation for liberals has been "net neutrality", which they also abandon at the first sign of trouble. Finally, pertinent to this discussion, they say they want to "start a dialogue" but then immediately try to end that dialog with only their half of the conversation allowed to proceed.

One of their other aggravating personality traits is of course groupthink, and getting into righteous victimhood anger based on it. How did Mom put it again? Oh, right:
The demon is a mob, and the mob is demonic. The Democratic Party activates mobs, depends on mobs, coddles mobs, publicizes and celebrates mobs—it is the mob. Sweeping in its scope and relentless in its argument, Demonic explains the peculiarities of liberals as standard groupthink behavior. To understand mobs is to understand liberals.
So it was inevitable, I suppose, that the only thing that would make them madder than reviewing plays without seeing them would be to review plays after seeing them. (In the past, of course, the objection has been that people didn't see plays at all, so we're surfing the entire spectrum of possibilities here and finding them unhappy at pretty much every turn. The play that I actually reviewed that really got everybody's anger up is Swordplay. To wit:
The story isn't necessarily easy to follow, and throwing in a bunch of clearly out-of-place songs here and there doesn't help the audience keep up: half the running time of each song is dedicated to arguing whether or not there's going to be a chorus of backup singers available. As this play has an obnoxious running time of two hours, cutting out 20 or even 35 minutes of unnecessary singing would be just what the doctor ordered.
There has been, obviously, a mosquito infestation at the 2014 Fringe, and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Venues 14, 15, and 16) have a nice big yard and a garden. The little bloodsucking bastards will brutalize you in line and in the building: every time a spotlight was shone on the stage, the crowd gasped in horror as we saw the mosquito plague fill the air. This may also be God's punishment for hiring a poofter to write the music, or something else the Anglican church has been screwing up this decade.
The cast and crew of Swordplay didn't seem to like this review, and posted it to Facebook to drum up some fagosphere support. It's worth noting, of course, that minus the hellfire talk the Edmonton SUN posted almost exactly the same review. It has finally culminated in this:
For those keeping score, the current argument is "because you disagree with us on a political topic you should stop sharing your views about dramatic works". The method of delivering this argument is flawed of course, but let's address the argument first. This will appear radical, mostly because you'll notice the people mad at me never make the argument nor can they particularly verbalize why they are making it. There's a good reason for this, of course (it's clueless), but let's briefly deconstruct. What we have here is a blatant desire to ensure that the only people that they have in the audience is "their kind of people". Rigid ideological purity of all Edmonton Fringe theatre-goers must be strictly enforced at all times! We can't have people who disagree with our sick politics and our sicker lifestyles in the audience! That way lies madness! No, we must band together and work to make sure that we only entertain our devotees and sycophants. Allowing conservativesinto the works will sullen and cheapen it. They may hear our stories, our tales, and learn too much! Especially serious is the thought that these same conservatives might have the gall, the audacity, to share their opinions of our works! Those opinions may differ than ours! We may even by accident one day read of them ourselves, or worse, others may read them. No no no, this cannot stand, this must end. One deluded nutter takes it even further, demanding that I avoid his play (presented to the public) and don't even mention it on my blog (too late! Bill Pats' show "Executing Justice" will be coming to Edmonton in 2015. It's anti-death penalty. You can't wait to read my politically-tinged review). Sometimes they give the game away a little too early in the show, and Pats admonishment that he doesn't want people who might, say, enjoy a return to capital punishment, to see his attempt to convince them otherwise. One assumes, of course, that if you put on a pro-death penalty play that Pats wouldn't go see it or even mention it, and certainly not dare ever review it.

The sheer ridiculous of it almost makes me giggle, but it's the standard fare. If you haven't learned this lesson yet, go back to square one and come back when you're finished. This is the same level of attack that has been aimed at far bigger names than me: Dinesh D’Souza. Mark Steyn. Ann Coulter. Katie Pavlich. Jennifer Gratz. Karl Rove. Don Feder. David Horowitz. Again, discussion isn't something they're interested in having as much as ending. And look, we have literally a demon with a mob.

But now let's move onto probably the most ridiculous aspect of the entire affair: the scheme that when reviewing the plays I have bought (or been given, or had bought for me) tickets for, the crew of Swordplay is going to donate money to a local cocksucking charity. It's satisfying to know that for these poofters their knowledge of economics is about as strong as their knowledge of where a dick is supposed to go. As I tweeted a couple of days ago, this is just a bunch of faggots moving money between each other.
Let's imagine what would happen if I'd never posted a review all Fringe long. Does Darren Hagin not donate to the @yegasspiracyclinic already? Where would this money have gone, exactly? The answer is easy: it would have gone to 'fabulous' fundraisers for Ben Henderson's harpy wife, or back into the revenues for another pro-fudgepacker play next year. It's not exactly like the revenue from Swordplay, previously being earmarked for worthy causes such as The People's Gospel Hour or REAL Women of Canada or Allan Hunsperger's House Ministries, is now being directed to vile charities promoting a sick lifestyle. That money was always going there! It is, as I said before, just moving money around. The next time I write a cheque to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation will it mean anything if I tweet Jason Hardwick and let him know I've decided to do it in his name? If my cousin in the States decides to again donate to The National Organization for Marriage can't he just attribute it to Hardwick and balance everything out? Of course not. It's no different in this situation. The ultimate facts on the ground don't change: I will continue to post reviews and trust me that my view will not be silenced by lame cardboard sign gags based on foolish assumptions. The faggots are still the proponents of a sick undesirable lifestyle, a lustful expression of the mental illness that exists within them, and no matter how much money one uranist gives his favourite pro-uranist charity that doesn't change.

Nor does it change that Swordplay was too long and the musical numbers routinely dragged it down. But maybe changing that conversation was their plan all along. Wouldn't be the first time.

The foodie guide to the 2014 Edmonton Fringe

On the first Friday night of the festival, while I was out with friends enjoying some Trent's BBQ brisket, ironically one of the girls said "you should really start like a Fringe food blog". While she'll probably never find the fringe food blog, I figured it would be at least worth a post.

As I wrote last year, and it's the same thing this year, the food options seem oddly short...every year they get a little bit smaller. Hey, does anybody else remember the ring of food vendors across from the north beer gardens

But I digress: it's time to talk turkey. Disclaimer: there is no turkey

Alberta's Best Kept Secret Philly Cheesesteak: An interesting selection of philly cheesesteaks: the original is oddly authentic, what with the Cheese Whiz and all. Yes, that's right, in a real Philly Cheesesteak the cheese is...Whiz. They also have a peppercorn variety that looks/tastes just like you would imagine it would if you picture a peppercorn cheesesteak in your head, but not oddly enough what it would look/taste like if you ready the description on the side of the truck what it contains (hint: no meatsauce). A bit pricey but that's about to become a theme here so you might as well just grin and bear it. $9 eat.

Papa's Brazilian Steakhouse: Previously, the only hot Brazilian things at the fringe were the bikini waxes on the girls in those super-tight shorts that their ass hangs out of. Now, the famed "all you can eat if you have enough money to buy a Keg franchise" restaurant food truck is at the Fringe. It was previously at Porkapalooza, where it served severely overpriced pork. Now it's expanded to also serve extremely overpriced steak. For a mere $9 you get a tiny little wisp of meat on a stick, over a bed of either potato salad or pasta salad: whichever you choose, it's more peas than anything else. Not fun

Trent's BBQ: There was a Trent in the group on Saturday, so obviously we had to check this out. Whether you get the brisket burger or the pulled pork, $8 later you're wolfing down a nice scrumptious burger adequately but not slatherly sauced. Either option works well, I have yet to try any of the more elaborate fare.

Pizza 73: We couldn't get Funky Pickle to come back to the Fringe grounds, they've been gone for years now. Boston Pizza used to pop by, and I thought Rosebowl was working on a mobile unit. Sadly, we're left with Pizza 73 to provide decent but uninspired pies. Even in the busiest time of the day they only have cheese, hawaiian, and pepperoni. It's okay if you need a quick bite...almost alone on the grounds this is food you can eat while you walk, making it a decent choice if you're off to the ATB phone museum or Trinity Church. $5/slice

Poutine World: I'm not sure if this is the same poutine place from last year, or just a similar concept. Delicious poutines ranging from the $7 traditional to the $10 international specialties. Highlights are the Mexican and the Albertan. Avoid the Japanese.

Donair: This is the yellow donair truck over by Trent's BBQ and the Green Onion Cake place.

Arizona Fry Bread: I can never figure out if this good ol' food trailer, seen everywhere from the Rainmaker Rodeo to the Calgary Stampede, is named "Fresh" or "Arizona Fry Bread" or "TACOS" or what. All I do know is that if you desire a yummy treat that you only have to shell out $8.50 for and then realize you could have made it at home for $1.25, there's only one option for you there: Taco in a Bag. Oh, don't pretend you don't know: they take a bag of doritos and slit the top open, dropping in some salsa, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and taco beef. Then they give you a fork and let you go to town. Again, it's a guilty pleasure but that doesn't mean you can't be pleasured by it.

Quick Meal: Attached to the north beer gardens, there's a decent if not particularly incredible selection of Lebanese food...the previous big winner is of course still there: donair poutine, though for $9 the portion is a lot smaller than it was in previous years and the price more expensive...it's still donair poutine and therefore it's still delicious, but it's hard to justify a repeat visit at that price...bearing in mind, of course, it *is* attached to the north beer gardens.

New Asian Village: A few years ago New Asian Village had lost it's mojo. Sure they still had all the fare, but the quality had diminished. Then last year they moved from their traditional digs at the corner of 83rd Avenue and Gateway, and it was looking dangerously close to vanishing entirely. Well they're back in their old spot again, and while they aren't where they were at their peak they also aren't where they were at their trough either. Your basic Indian fare is of course still around: you can be tempted by the curry if you like, but the best dish going is still the butter chicken. Be sure to pair it with your favourite naan bread. By favourite I obviously mean either the traditional or the garlic: the coconut is okay if you're sharing with friends (the taste wears on you fairly quickly), and the cinnamon is more of a snack naan or a dessert naan than a meal naan. Also caution: the sign says $10 for a combo, but the $10 is only for the plate of butter chicken: so if you want naan and a drink be prepared to cough up a whopping $16. It's pricey, so only do it once as a treat. It's also affixed to the wine tent so that comes in handy now and again.

Fat Frank's: The famed hot dog and smokie vendor has setup right on the grounds again, even more funny considering they are almost exactly a single block north of their Whyte Avenue location: if festivals were held year-round and city-wide, they would probably rival Tim Horton's. Unlike some of their other stalls like the one in front of Canadian Tires on weekend afternoons, this one has the full gamut of selection too: if you want a double smoked farmer you aren't out of luck. The condiments are all out in force, and somehow they manage to do a better job of their neighbour one block south at keeping them all fully stocked. Don't ask me how in the name of Kevin Taft that works. $5

Zaika: The...other Indian place...slightly cheaper than New Asian village, this place has some pretty weak-sauce food. No, that's not just talking clever like the kids do these days, it's literally weak sauce: the butter chicken sauce is watery and has little taste. Two separate times friends have bought food from them, been unable to finish it, and asked me to finish it off...and unappealing every time. Seriously, New Asian Village is just a quick walk away.

Wood-fired Pizza: Another regular offering, they offer a variety of delicious yet atrociously priced little pizzas ready in just a couple of minutes, so don't be scared if a few people are ahead of you in line. $15

The other places: I haven't eaten everywhere on the grounds (yet...). I'm reluctant to try "Thai This" despite the clever name. Like Zaika next door the majority of their signs read "no sampling" and while I don't know what EDM DJs have to do with any of this... Just kidding folks, we know what it means: "if you want to see how bad this tastes, plop down $11". I haven't had elephant ears yet, nor deep fried oreos. There's a fruit truck that I'm sure is good for the hippie crowd checking out beads down the street, and I've never liked green onion cakes but they are there in full force too. There's also ice cream and lemonade, but judging by the forecast their sales are about to nosedive. I never ate at either place. They sell beer.

So there you have it, a little food rundown of this year's Edmonton Fringe festival. Again not as exciting as in previous years and definitely another sign of the oddly shrinking Fringe Grounds. But we get what we pay for I suppose, and here's what you pay for. (In some cases, overpay for)

Post #2100, Baby

2000 is always an exciting milestone, 2100 seems less so. Maybe it's just ageism from those of us who were around for the Year 2000 but are pretty much guaranteed to miss the Year 2100.

But here we are, the 2,100th post on Third Edge of the Sword since we started this wild journey. And why not treat you with something special, especially with an afternoon Esks game coming up: a gametime recipe for the grill. You can even use it to, say, celebrate a milestone blogpost.

Enjoy.

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: No Tweed Too Tight; Another Grant Canyon Mystery

What if TJ Hooker had been allowed to dress in the styles of the 70s rather than the police colours of the 80s? If you have this pictured in your head, you're partway there to understanding No Tweed Too Tight; Another Grant Canyon Mystery. Ryan Gladstone wrote and starred in this one-man show, and he really brings you on a tour-de-force around (and indeed, both and above and below) the globe.

One thing that I always thought helped to separate a strong from a weak Fringe show is the Foley: especially these days, professional level audio recording has never been more accessible, and while theatre has used human instruments (eww) to create sound for ages, it really helps us think of this as a major studio motion picture even with the simple addition of the good old "thwack" sound. One of the best executed parts of the play is the precision timing between the sound engineer in the back and the actor on stage...especially when we're going to hear various face punches and other sounds keyed to what the actor was doing on-stage where even a half second margin of error would have taken away some of the wild 70s magic. This play also opens up both with fully recorded music as if this really was a Grant Canyon motion picture (that the character has become recurring, it appears, certainly helps stretch the ol' development dollar): both the opening and closing theme were good enough that I expected the sale of CDs or 32MB flash drives with the tunes. Grant Canyon himself appears in occasional strobe-light-ish flashes to set the mood...and as the play opens, we get to meet our hero.

You know that "The Champ" gag where the character always mis-hears and overreacts? Canyon's gag is that his memory is toast...he forgets things even as he's being told them, which gets used to great comedic effect throughout the play. Well his swiss-cheese memory is stopping the FBI to solve a case, so Ziggy and Al...oh, wait, wrong franchise with swiss-cheese memory...the voice of an FBI agent interrogates and beats around our hero while he remains tied to a chair. This is a great opening scene and really sets the tone for the rest of the play except...the FBI agent himself. As the only other voice we ever hear, he's awfully flat and doesn't deliver his lines with any personality or gusto, and certainly not in the verbal style of the era (which Gladstone's Canyon is doing). It makes the opening scene's pacing a lot less energetic than it needs to be...once he's stopped talking we can go without for most of the rest of the scenes.

At the FBI agent's behest, Canyon starts flashing back to the start of the case...a beautiful woman in a nightclub scared to death of her jealous and powerful boyfriend, a possible insurance fraud in Florida, a bartender with a glass jaw, and a private detective (well, insurance fraud investigator) in a deep plot way over his head. With Canyon's dual skills of surviving any and all fatal or near-fatal injuries just by blacking out and waking up again later, and forgetting key things he encounters, the audience gets taken on a fun and wild ride: from the depths of a Soviet submarine to 12,000km in orbit, from Columbia to Des Moines, we follow Canyon as he not so much solves the case but somehow is in positions throughout the play to uncover the bad guys and engage in hilariously over the top fights (in one scene he snaps a Russian soldier's neck: we understand that he's in enemy territory and needs to be ruthless. later he's in the hospital and breaks the neck of the doctor there to help him). Objectively he's no inspirational hero for us ("he's the anti-hero's uncle" exclaims the lyrics in the opening song) but we root for him anyways because hey, it's a one-act play and this guy has a direct line to our funny bone. That every once and a while he really brings out his inner Shatner doesn't hurt: hamming up scenes like this pretty much demands you don't go fully Shatner but you never leave him too far away.

The script is near-perfect, offering great comedic foils: as Canyon knows he's about to black out and switch scenes, he mutters "I sure hope whereever I wake up is comfortable". In the next scene he starts out tied up to a rack and deadpans "I was the most uncomfortable I'd ever been in my life". I don't think Gladstone ever uttered the word "mouth" and why would he when he could get more laughs using the word "face". The audience couldn't get enough of Canyon's confrontational style and colourful metaphors (though I'm sure a few in the audience had to keep from exclaiming "too soon!" when he brought up this event), and the way he just propelled through almost every scene with pure force of well. Gladstone also deserves credit for his excellent work on the other characters and being able to track in his head where everybody is supposed to be: earlier in the show I was thinking it would have played out better with one or two other actors to play the other parts; by the end I wasn't so sure, especially when it was clear about 9 other actors would have been needed. Better in the end just for Gladstone to keep pointing out where they would have been.

This is easily one of the most entertaining romps at the Fringe this year, and if there is a complaint to be made it's probably that the show winds down too soon...even another 10-15 minutes with the character would have been more than worth it. I guess the easiest scenes to expand though would involve the flat-voiced FBI agent, maybe I should just play the hand I'm given and not try giving up a 10 of spades in the hope that its replacement will be better.

I should also note that this play finally does something I've noticed lacking in the fringe over the past five years or so: plays that are tied to the theme. I understand that not everybody holds off on their play until the theme is revealed, and that traveling shows will do city after city and quite often start a continent away, so it's not going to be universal nor necessarily should it be. But few shows try to capture the timeframe or the attitude embodied in the Edmonton Fringe official theme anymore, I'm pretty sure they used to. Kudos to this play for tying into the theme and also not being that questionable Godzilla vs. Zeppelin thing.

Final word: This is a great show. Full stop, ultimately no conditions or anything. Great show, go see it, fully entertaining.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014-08-20

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Mr. & Mrs. Alexander

Mr & Mrs Alexander take us back to the Victorian era in New Zealand, when magic stage shows as we see them today were in their infancy and the world of science and technology was new and not entirely well understood.

Passed off as a real-life story (it's not, though they do a good job of painting this as a historical drama: neither the mayoral theft nor the governor-general's murder occur in this list and indeed NZ didn't have a GG until 1907), Mr & Mrs Alexander is a way to show off various magic tricks (Mrs. Alexander stops her heart and enters a mysterious other realm, Mr. Alexander makes balls appear under cups) under the guise of storytelling. It's definitely novel, and quite entertaining.

As the story begins, Mr & Mrs Alexander are touring New Zealand in the early 1890s, wildly popular and successful they are at the top of their game. Trouble looms on the horizon, however: why is this "the last time they will ever perform this show"? The performance is basically a recreation of their 1892 show at Auckland Town Hall, with a few quick scenes from earlier in their life, and of course a lot of modern-day communication with the audience bringing them up to speed on things like the prevalence of opossum traps and how mysticism and the idea of "communicating with the other side" by going into a heart-stopping trance were so wildly popular and yet also generally not understood. This was sometimes a bit of a distraction that I thought took away from the vivid period account they were doing simultaneously, but I do appreciate that in a world where kids don't know we used to have endless bar arguments before Google on smartphones was a thing it can be necessary to explain a world we don't always fully appreciate as radically different from our own.

The various elements of magic are, of course, what constitutes the bulk of the work: a little "whodunnit" asking if the butler did it in the bedroom because of politics, mentally transferring touch between two couples (after first holding an awkward "Newlywed Game" between them), and using a spiral to make Mr. Alexander's head appear to grow -- again, all tricks that are more or less understood by the collective consciousness today, but dynamite in 1892.

For a final trick, the "Mayor of Auckland and his wife" are called up onto the stage, where a variety of tricks and stunts are preformed before simulating the final act of Mr and Mrs Alexander: making Mr. Alexander disappear on-stage. Forever. With, oh yes, a rather expensive European-crafted jewel which the mayor's wife gave away for a magic trick and then never seemed to give back (shades of Seinfeld's infamous "stolen jacket" episode). Mrs. Alexander, who was hinted at being in early pregnancy during the show, apparently disappeared soon after (and soon after receiving much charity). Months later in Australia, a new husband and wife magic act debut with a new name...

The performances in this play are well done: obviously the two stars David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache wrote the play around their own skills as magicians and illusionists, and therefore they aren't necessarily 'actors' in the traditional sense where you could see them doing a 2-person Hamlet or Pirates of Penzance in a future year. But of course while acting isn't necessarily a skill of magicians (cf. Penn & Teller guest starring on Babylon 5) showmanship certainly is, and being able to perform on stage and work with an audience were definitely skills they brought to the table. Playing themselves, even under the guise of themselves as they would have existed 120 years ago, still required them to play the role and both did very well. The tricks of illusion and magic are all very well done as well, though be forewarned there is a lot of (individual) audience participation (Hint: don't go as a couple, that seemed to vastly improve the odds). The looming threat made earlier in the play that this was the final show, and that the couple seemed on a collision course with a dark end kept the audience always engaged, at least in the periphery, of the 1892 plot. It would have been interesting to see this sort of story play out with less magic tricks and stunts, though the occasional dramatic non-magic scenes they had were a little uninspiring: it seemed also quite unlikely that two shucksters would actually believe that stopping the heart actually communicated with the other side and the drama involved in it didn't have time to develop.

Final word: If you like magic shows and don't mind the chance of finding yourself on-stage holding up a big sign that says "LUST", you should definitely enjoy checking out the non-historical account of Mr. & Mrs. Alexander

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)

2014-08-19

2014 Edmonton Fringe mini-preview for Wednesday August 20

Are you thinking about hitting up some plays today? If so, this is a good day to catch some of the shows I've reviewed:

Noon, Stage 2: Einstein!

2:15pm, Stage 1: The War of 1812

3:30pm, Stage 28: The Real Inspector Hound

5:45pm, Stage 36: May & Alia do Pirates!

6:15pm, Stage 9: Sundogs

7:30pm, Stage 25: Under the Mango Tree (caution: review from a previous year)

9:15pm, Stage 14: Swordplay

2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)

Pirates of Penzance is one of the most memorable works from the immortal duo of Gilbert and Sullivan. "The Crown Jewel in the musical theatre oeuvre" insists one of the performers. It cannot, absolutely cannot, she insists, be done in less than an hour by two people. Indeed, she's correct, but the attempt seen in May & Alia do Pirates! (of Penzance)is a jolly good try, as the Major-General might have proclaimed.

May and Alia are two chubby Australian girls, and frankly I don't know which one of them was which. Let's say Alia was the redhead and we'll move on. In that case, May is the one with the stronger singing voice. As the play opens, May wants to pack up and go home since they didn't bring their costumes, their sets, or indeed their cast. Alia, however, soldiers her to play on, and they pick up on the basic elements of the plot.

As quite often happens with these "sped up versions" of the play, it only works if you already know the source material (and the other two people I went with didn't) and the more you know it the better. Since I tend to get Penzance and Pinafore mixed up alreay, this probably didn't help. If you are planning on going, you'd best get yourself up to speed. We open of course in that dreaded pirate cove of...Cornwall...where Frederic the Pirate (the girls shift around playing all the characters, same as in The War of 1812, though Alia tries to play the part more than anybody else) is proud to announce that at midnight his service to the dreaded pirates with whom he has been interned will expire, and he will fulfill the duty he always dreamed: joining the Royal Navy and helping exterminate the piracy menace from shore to shore. The pirates do convince him to explain what weakness they have (he does, after all, have almost half an hour of loyal service to them left) and he lets them know that the "we never harm orphans" policy seems to have leaked out to the general population.

This is one of the many points the show takes a break, and May declares she wrote a massive algorithm which scoured the globe to find the perfect person (with the right mix of "swash" and "buckle") to play the Pirate King, one of the stage's most sought after roles. He needs to be tall, dark, handsome, rougeish, sultry...and therefore quite clearly the most perfect person on the planet to play the role is...her.

Regardless, soon Frederic and his housemaid Ruth (she's 47, he's 21, Gilbert and Sullivan predicted Demi Moore decades ahead of their time) who's always been horny for him are going with the pirates to spy on some lovely lasses. The pirates come in with family-friendly rape on the brain, but the girls warn them that their father is nearby...to which, of course, we get to everybody's favourite part of any Penzance performance: the Major-General's Song.

Before we get to that part, let's all quickly enjoy of course the full song from the 1921 recording...the earliest known recording, though we always keep hoping an older one will pop up:


There, that was fun. May and Alia agree, and May proceeds to begin the song...partway through, Alia also dons a mustache and the two of them have a high speed "Modern Major General singoff" that is the highlight of the show. It always is. After the Major-General and his daughters and Frederic go to the old church to hide from the Pirates, the girls on-stage have an argument and break up...Alia leaves May alone on stage to perform the entire play. It does give a bit of a dramatic structure to the performance itself (as in all these adaptations, we aren't exactly waiting to learn what happens next...Frederic is going to learn he was born on a leap year, there's going to be a silly pirate fight with policemen, the pirates are going to turn out just to be noblemen in funny hats not actually performing any piracy...what we will need is something to catch our interest), with the obvious downside that now a single actor is having to play all of the parts and therefore rises and falls on her performance. May does a good enough job during her solo part of the show, but the work doesn't really get its energy back until Alia comes back with the Pirate King hat so we can learn the leap-year bit. This is another of the good parts of the show, where Alia starts explaining the science behind the leap year and only slightly avoids in the tiniest number of aspects to just barely get everything completely wrong. Now that the two are together again, we can get to the pirate battle. (Also Frederic leaves to rejoin the pirates, tells them the Major-General's not an orphan, outrage, revenge, yadda yadda yadda)

This is the major bit of the audience participation bit where the policemen and the pirates face off. Half the audience were the police shouting "allo allo what's all this about then?" at the key point in their song and the other half the pirates chanting "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum". Yeah, only one of these is a cultural hallmark, go figure. At the end, the policemen defeat the pirates (wait, what?) and the big reveals about the noblemen pirates comes out, though its hard I think for the modern audience to fully grasp the gag there. And with that, barely 50 minutes later, May and Alia are trying to pose with you for pirate photos you can tag on Twitter.

The show did have a lot of manic energy to it, and the two castmates did what they could within their limitations. Some of the extra material, including a lot of the confrontation scenes, were clearly tried to coincide with the dramatic rhythm of the play though they didn't always work quite so well. Again, for the two people I went with they left wholly unsatisfied, they were trying to ultimately keep up with two stories and one of them was perpetually going on fast-forward.

Final word: A rousing but short retelling of Gilbert & Sullivan, if you don't already know the source material at least superficially, you're going to find this short work didn't give you as much entertainment as you'd paid for.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)