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The Victoria Fringe Festival is now underway and promises to deliver some fun theater. Early this evening I attended Theatre SKAM‘s production of Smalltown: A Pickup Musical, which was performed (as per the advert) out of the back of a pickup truck in a small pocket park on Caledonia Avenue.

It’s a good piece, although I found that the ending left me slightly wanting – wanting what, though? I suppose that, from where I’m sitting, I found it hard to buy into the idea that condo developers in Smalltown are supposed to be the bad guys. It doesn’t jive with my urbanist background, which sees density (versus sprawl: think strip malls) as good. And of course I wondered if the play proposed that going back to the status quo (of Smalltown) was the “solution” – it’s not one that works in the real world, and although this is theater, you have to wonder whether the ideal proposed by the play has enough lift to carry the audience’s imagination into the future.

The actors were without a doubt terrific. For me, the stand-out character in this play (which featured so many very good actors) is Wes Borg, who plays Jakey (spelling?). Jakey is your archetypal Canadian hoser, and Borg plays the part so convincingly that you can’t imagine he could possibly ever be anything other than a hoser. A hoser who has reached the border of paranoia due to his British Columbian habit of marijuana farming, no less…

But Borg is clearly “just” (ha!) a good actor, as you can see if you watch this older Youtube clip of his live performance of Internet Help Desk. His solution to dealing with the adult imbecile flummoxed by Windows and Outlook is pure gold. See also his 2005 Las Vegas solo performance of The System Administrator Song.

The other players were Clayton Baraniuk, Rielle Braid, Sarah Carle, Michael Delamont, Izad Etemadi, Rebecca Hass, and Brad L’Écuyer. (I hyperlinked only those actors who have websites: please, people, in this day and age, don’t make me look for your bio and assorted news about you in snippets spread across the web – get your own domain, please!)

The park setting under gigantic Garry Oaks was interesting: Matthew Payne took care to hand out blankets before the performance started, but it did get cold (as expected). I hadn’t grabbed a blanket and regretted it 40 minutes in. Two natural elements that competed with the performance (and which were beyond the troupe’s control) were 1) sunlight slanting right into the eyes and 2) wind churning through the oak leaves, which swallowed some of the dialogue.

…And of course, since this is Victoria (which is crowded with people who are mentally ill and/or drug addicted), there was the obligatory social problem incident: a man who was clearly either drugged or psychotic (or both) came into the park to dance along in his own quixotic way with the performance. While he was silent (and not observed by most of the audience since he was behind us), he kept moving in, and a few times was on the verge of stripping off his pants. The organizers, who had an eye on him, flagged a police cruiser, and soon two cruisers were in attendance, with four officers talking the man down (typical evening social work for the police – major problem here). The man hadn’t (visibly) broken any laws, and after arguing with the officers for a while, he exited stage left. The cops did the same on stage right – no doubt to deal with a similar situation nearby.

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