Review by: Tom Mackan
With just three more performances to see this weekend at the HTI Venue on McNab St. North, if you’re in for it, you’d better get in line early if last night (Thursday) is any indication. The house appeared to be as close to “full” as I could tell.
In spite of the “Beiber” clue, it’s not a musical. It’s a play on a familiar enough formula. Characters have a reason to meet and their spoken dialogue is overlaid by their interior dialogue as provided concurrently by other speakers. In this story, the characters Jack Bieber and Jill Fever rendezvous in a restaurant. They do not know each other. They’ve only met on an internet dating service. They are accompanied each by their interior selves called “Brain”, in the device of two more actors. The comic potential is strong. Consider the implication of Jack and Jill going up the hill to fetch a pail of sangria or whatever it is they’re drinking. Jack falls down, you can bet on that. Jill doesn’t come tumbling down right away, but her ambivalence does get ambulatory. To stimulate the joke a bit more, the power of Bieber Fever, the contemporary cultural phenomenon, while not played out in the telling, is enough to intrigue the ticket-buyer/cum Fringe goer. Throughout the course of the meeting a narrator makes common cause with us, the audience, in the manner of the panto in a children’s show, encouraging us the share the nonsense that most certainly will ensue. This fifth performance takes on roles in the action as suits him and having bought into the device, we go along with it. It’s funny, why not? It’s also childish, but not for children.
The director, Ryan Sero, uses the familiar Fringe set-solution of minimalism… plain stage, black, a few pieces of furniture, simple props. Things should not untidily intrude into the action. They do, sometimes. A café table looks like it could use a good dusting and a fresh coat of black paint. Simple chairs work, even of separate styles, but of separate colours? No, not good. Distracting. As if pulled up from basement in an “it’ll do” way. Costumes count and do, for the two principals, but the white hat for the Jack’s Brain just seems to bother the actor who plays around with it too much, and the short shorts for Jill’s Brain reveal a whole lot of unnecessary thigh for no apparent purpose other than to mistakenly distract. A toothbrush is effectively used, and the miming of teeth-brushing is good, but does the guy swallow the detritus? He never spits it out, nor rinses his mouth.
The performances. Sean Emberley as “Jack’s Brain” and Abigail Veesntra as “Jill’s Brain” carry much of the comedy quite well, while Carling Hartviksen as “Jill” and Nathan Hicks as “Jack” both have the stage smarts and presence of accomplished actors. They are challenged to speak as double duets by the writer but direction fails them too often, their movement and blocking impeding the distinction between and among them needed for us to get it all clearly. Focus on who is speaking to whom and about what was sometimes more clutter than clarity, and some inaudibility did not help.
Rest assured, however, dear readers, the play is funny, funny, and our audience was enjoying it all. And to this reviewer the best of the evening was the comic genius of Ryan Sero. He has a glorious streak of the improviser in his comedy, the hilarious ability to use a word, a prop, a running theme or idea and from it to create the exquisitely correct and precise voice, movement, accent, attitude, physical poise or pratfall to make one eager for more. What he did not achieve in his direction of the play he made up for in the richly rewarding bottom line of his creative genius in knitting his variety to the script and so keep the story moving sensibly to its close. In the summary of it, Sero could be the main reason for the line-up and full house I had the good fortune to join. His sunny, funny stage personality shone on the whole and made an ensemble of Bieber-Fever. Do try to catch, if you can, one of the last three shows at the HTI venue. Tell them I sent you.