Strut Fret and Flicker

First off, a standing ovation for Flick Harrison, who covered this space in my absence with such wit, wisdom and style. And don’t worry, I won’t be muttering about dimly-lit courtyards in Budapest that lead to theatres in converted tango bars where avant-garde Dutch troupes perform absurdist comedies in German. That would be so pretentious. Maybe some other time. For now, I’m back and keeping it local.

Still vibrating with jetlag, I went to the Firehall Arts Centre to catch the remount of A Fabulous Disaster. With its forest fires, gay marriage, gay divorce, eco-activism and a character who says “eh” a lot, it was so Canadian. Created and performed by Denise Clarke of Calgary theatre troupe One Yellow Rabbit, the piece is a slippery hybrid of show-and-tell, theatre and confessional monologue propelled by an implausibly loopy tale: Lesbian grieving over recent divorce heads for the trees and plonks herself in the path of a raging forest fi re, all the while fretting about the imperilled animals and sharing tender memories of her exwife and a long-ago boyfriend who lost a testicle to cancer and wandered into the wilderness to
die. That this tragi-ridiculous scenario should have been so compelling is down to Ms. Clarke and her winning ways. She sketches a character in broad
strokes, but then shocks you with detail. And you really come to care about this endearing little dyke who was so hokey, yet so literate.

Like so many seasoned artists heading for diva-hood, Clarke doesn’t so much disappear into her creations as speak through them, and she isn’t shy about using her solo work to air whatever she’s been pondering lately—though you had to wonder what that might be when, at the end, her wounded but relentlessly upbeat protagonist strips off and heads into the fire. In a diffuse way, it all felt very meaningful—more like an attempt at purification than suicide.
Props must also be given to video editor Richard McDowell for his tiny square of flame projected onto the upstage wall. It slowly and ominously grew into a conflagration in lock step with the dramatic tension.

When a locally shot television series lets Vancouver play itself and lists bands like Pink Mountaintops, Broken Social Scene, Stars, The New Pornographers and Ladies and Gentlemen on its soundtrack, I slow down to have a look. Too bad that after viewing the pilot episode, I feel inclined to give it a mauling. Subsequent instalments might be better, but there would have to be a complete 180 in terms of writing and tone, which seems unlikely.

This Space for Rent concerns itself with five friends in their mid-to-late twenties who live downtown and are busy coming of age. Three of them share a fl at on the Downtown Eastside (how gritty of them) which appears to be on the roof of the Grand Union pub, since they have such a
splendid view of Save-On Meats’ iconic flying pig. They are university graduates who aspire to success and affluence in the very world they profess to
disdain, yet go all whiney when their vague value systems are compromised by things like articling in a law firm or serving soy lattes. It’s hard to identify
and equally hard to laugh, as the “comedy” is so lame. As the press kit makes clear, the project takes itself way too seriously to be genre parody.

If, as the gush can’t stress enough, the city and characters are metaphors for one another (“Vancouver is the embodiment of that golden age between youth and adulthood where possibilities are endless”), then heaven help Vancouver. The poor burg has had enough abuse from developers without being saddled with an anthropomorphized adolescence. The series has both profile and funding. A co-production in association with the CBC, it’s directed by Scott Smith (of Rollercoaster and Falling Angels fame) and the actors all have fairly beefy c.v.’s. The creators acknowledge Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Gus Van Sant et al. as “cultural reference points,” but there’s no trace of such inspiration in their own product. It’s about as true to young urban adulthood as that glossy
brochure currently fl ogging the “Woodwards District” is to the Downtown Eastside. But by all means, watch it. If it’s “as much about the city of Vancouver as it is about anything else,” then it might be the perfect prod for getting out of town more often. Just remember to load all those bands into your iPod.

This Space for Rent premiers Wednesday,
January 4 @ 9pm on CBC TV.

It’s hard to think of another arts festival that’s had as much bionic growth in a short existence as PuSh. This international performing arts fest has been bringing in theatre and dance companies (and this year, musicians) from major cultural centres as well as showcasing local innovators since 2002. A handful of performances four years ago has grown to 61 this year, and the best part is that there has been no compromise—corporate or artistic. This thing is flying on its own juice.

If you fancy a puppet show featuring “Famous Puppet Death Scenes,” a local provocation called “Sexual Practices of the Japanese” or perhaps a UK company’s exposure of the Glasgow drag scene in “Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters,” then this is your menu. There will be an exploration of the dawn of cinema in “Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge,” and a trippy immersion in all things northern when The Kronos Quartet and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq collaborate in “Nunavut.” There’s so much more, so pick up a brochure or visit

The 2006 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival runs from January 10 to Feruary 12 at various venues around Vancouver.