Marathon and Virtual Solitaire play as part of The Fringe Presents
Marathon and Virtual Solitaire play as part of The Fringe Presents

Marathon, written and performed by TJ Dawe

TJ Dawe’s 14th one-man show is a heady trip down memory lane. Laced with high school anecdotes, Enneagrams, and a Peruvian psychotropic drug with an unpronounceable name, Marathon is an endearing yet intellectual fight against personal weakness.

[pullquote]How do you fix your weaknesses? TJ Dawe’s Marathon begs the question and offers an answer. Quite simply, you try.[/pullquote]Dawe’s show follows three threads. In one, he owns up to his failures as a high school track star. It is a sweet story of a child’s desire to become the hero in his father’s stories. A second is more lecture than theatre as Dawe explains the personality typology of Enneagrams. In this thread, Dawe reveals that you are not your personality and can fight that personality type in order to grow. The final thread recounts Dawe’s encounter with the Peruvian medicinal herb ayahuasca. While providing an appropriate bridge between the tale of sporting defeat and the psychology of enneagrams, it is a unique experience that some audience members may find difficult to relate.

This tripartite storytelling works as an interesting structural choice, lending the momentum of the foot race story to the other two threads. However, the final thought of the play, that weaknesses in your personality is not a sprint but a marathon, gets lost among the details of the last two threads in Dawe’s show. The result is much like a rambling stroll through the woods where one picks up several interesting objects along the way and gives them a good intense stare; the ideas are fascinating but jumbled.

TJ Dawe has an engaging presence. His voice is soft-spoken and warm, and his interaction and reaction to the audience makes it feel like you’re having a beer with your cool professor. But while that presence draws you in, the lack of movement tunes you out. Other than a few moments of sudden gestures, Dawe rarely changes position resulting in a static performance that only scratches the edges of the iPhone-age attention span.

How do you fix your weaknesses? TJ Dawe’s Marathon begs the question and offers an answer. Quite simply, you try.

Virtual Solitaire, written and performed by Dawson Nichols

Virtual Solitaire is not really a one-man show because it becomes very clear, very quickly, that Dawson Nichols is merely an avatar for the dozen or so personalities that populate the landscape of Virtual Solitaire.  In so doing Nichols creates an experience that will change your understanding of what a one-man show can be.

[pullquote]While not the easiest plot to follow, Virtual Solitaire is an evening you won’t soon forget. Go see it.[/pullquote]Set in the not too distant future, Virtual Solitaire takes place in the last moments of digital junkie Nathan’s life. Trapped inside the game he’s meant to be working on, Nathan is visited by two corporate personalities who try to remove his consciousness from the game’s code. In their attempts to extract Nathan from the game, we see his personality and experiences break into the non-player characters of the game, causing the virtual reality to twist, turning into something much darker and terrifying. His final moments play out like a Cronenberg film, with our hero ending his life cowering at the bottom of an unforgiving spotlight.

The show is a trip. In a clever feat of theatrical brilliance, Nichols plays all the characters without them interacting with one another. All we get is one side of the conversation, allowing the other characters’ dialogue to populate the inside of the audience’s heads. While the effect is, at first, jarring due to the complicated set up of such a world and space, by the end of the play the single-sided conversation feels streamlined, focused, and participatory. Attention is given to the character whose emotions or exposition is most needed and the audience is left to fill in the rest. Nichols’ delightful exploitation of mime and posture allows him to move between characters and genres like a theatrical jukebox; the result is a show that feels like a pop-up version of a William Gibson novel.

This is a show for those who enjoy great acting and a strong concept. While not the easiest plot to follow, Virtual Solitaire is an evening you won’t soon forget. Go see it.

Marathon and Virtual Solitaire play as part of The Fringe Presents, a series of year-round programming from the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Both shows play Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright St, Granville Island) until March 29.  Visit http://vancouverfringe.com for tickets and information.

Disclaimer: Chelsey Stuyt is currently employed by the Vancouver Fringe Festival, however all opinions expressed in these reviews are her own.

Vancouver Presents!

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