Out on The Fringe 

The arts in Whistler still sit uncomfortably on the fringe of society. They’re viewed with the same skepticism as a drunk poet arriving uninvited at a formal ball. Men keep a close eye on their wives and lock up their daughters; women sneak coy looks to see whether the madman will trip into the punch bowl or make a pass at their neighbour.

Last week, that drunk poet of art rolled into town in the form of the Pick of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. For the approximately 50 people who attended each of the eight performances, the strange guest proved to be charming, thought-provoking and hugely entertaining – nothing to be afraid of at all.

The first of the three plays showing at Millennium Place on Wednesday, Sept. 18th was Sabotage III. The metaphor of the drunk poet could never be more aptly used than in describing this rollicking work of theatre. Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen came on stage in pyjamas, their expressions conveying utter lethargy as they painstakingly measured the distance between two chairs on the set. It was the silence pervading the scene that gave it its poignancy. Mime lies at the heart of all good acting and these two players could convey emotion through physical gesture to the uppermost seats of the theatre.

Following the silent prologue, they burst into an energetic off-the-wall song about beer babies, then morphed through a series of characters, from two English brothers named Nigel, to a father and daughter, to European standup comics with jokes that can literally "keel you." What kept the audience laughing for the majority of the 60-minute performance was not only the bizarre characters and situations, but the continual veering off from the expected and the shattering of clichés. In a western gun fight, the dying man has trouble finding the right words for his death scene (they’ve got to be good, after all) until the other gunfighter helps him compose them.

"We work with the rhythm," Chavez told Pique after the show. "It’s perpendicular to where you expect it to go."

Along with these continual unexpected twists, the element of silence is used effectively in many scenes to build suspense. At other times, non-verbal sounds morph briefly into language or, conversely, a conversation descends into squeaks and grunts. Everything is open to sabotage in this show, including language itself.

While a few elements brought in early on, such as Hitler’s ghost and the arrival of babies, are not carried through to the end of the work, the subtle human observations informing the many characters and the brilliant acting made for an entertaining and thought-provoking show.

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