There is a mini-festival of one-acts on stage at the Vancity Culture Lab right now that is hugely satisfying.

Okay, to call the presentation of Raïna Von Waldenburg’s My Friend Andrea and TJ Dawe’s Tracks a “mini-festival” might be overstating things, but when done well, there are few things more rewarding than an evening of theatrical shorts.

My Friend Andrea

In 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub of their Houston, Texas home. Admitting to the killings, Yates was originally sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole. On appeal that sentence was overturned and she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Yates was subsequently committed to a mental health facility in Texas, where she remains today.

In My Friend Andrea, the Yates story is wrapped inside a parenting class led by social worker Marilyn Robinson, played by Waldenburg. In the “class”, Robinson provides parents with a number of practical methods in dealing with their misbehaving children such as the “yelling bowl” and the “slow-motion slap”. For anyone with kids, or those that have been witness to unruly children, these sometimes humorous ideas on how to best deal with them are immediately recognizable.

Embedded inside the advice to parents though, and what makes My Friend Andrea so clever, is the eerie juxtaposition with the Yates murders. Things take a strangely compelling turn though when Waldenburg begins to cook breakfast on stage.

There is a casual easiness about Waldenburg’s performance that gradually changes in the final moments of this 40 minute play that is frightening. Suffice to say you will never look at French toast the same way ever again.

Tracks

Lending some irony to this “mini-festival”, is a production of Fringe Festival favourite TJ Dawe’s Tracks. Based on Jack London’s “The Road”, this one-person show, performed by Michael Bean, recounts a number of London’s stories as a hobo hitching rides on trains across North America.

From playing a game of cat-and-mouse with a train crew, to globe-trotting tales told to fool the police, the stories are touching, complex, funny, but ultimately insightful as it talks of life during the long depression of the late 19th century.

Bean takes a decidedly laid back approach to telling the various stories that make up Tracks. Buoyed by Dawe’s precise reworking of London’s work, Bean is able to bring even the most intricate of stories, including the head-spinning tale of how London ultimately gained respect from a train crew, to life. But while Bean’s quiet delivery initially draws you in, at times it became as monotonous as the clickety-clack of the wheels against the rails. When Bean does pull out of his matter-of-fact storytelling style it is glorious, I just wish there were more of those moments.

My Friend Andrea written and performed by Raïna Von Waldenburg. Tracks by TJ Dawe. On stage at The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab until November 29. Tickets can be purchased separately or as a package. Visit http://thecultch.com for information.