Lovely Lady Lump,
Lana Schwarcz (Melbourne, Australia)
Arts Court Theatre
Lana Schwarcz is a stand-up comic, so it’s not surprising that her solo, autobiographical show about breast cancer is a comedy. She tells jokes to an unseen radiation technologist during treatments. A flakey art therapist for cancer patients gets spoofed. Cancer itself is pilloried when Schwarcz, reversing roles by embodying the disease, depicts it as a second-rate performer in a comedy club who tells jokes like, “When I was a kid, I was really good at hide-and-seek. Sometimes people didn’t find me for years.” Schwacrz is open about herself, revisiting the terrible moment when she got her diagnosis, exploring how disease can threaten your self-identity by turning you into a body part, and then putting that part in the context of a whole person by baring her breasts on stage as she re-enacts the endless radiation sessions. Many have found the show at once hilarious and tear-provoking. Finding it neither, your reviewer mostly hoped it would end soon. You decide for yourself.
2 for Tea
British to British (Sussex, U.K.),
If drinking tea were always this much fun, the coffee industry would be bankrupt. James (Aaron Malkin) and Jamesy (Alastair Knowles) are old friends who meet once a week at the latter’s home for a ritualized session of tea drinking and a natter about, well, what it’s about is hard to say as it veers off into uncharted territory at the drop of a hat (although not the hat of gentle James, who keeps his bowler firmly in place at all times). Unlike his rock solid pal, Jamesy is flighty, massively neurotic and extraordinarily loose-limbed, like one of those plastic toys whose arms and legs are attached to its torso by bits of elastic. The show includes audience participation in a couple of deliciously unhinged segments, which we’ll keep under wraps so you can be as delighted as was the sold-out crowd on opening night. 2 for Tea is fringe fare at its best.
Howard Petrick (San Francisco, Calif.),
Howard Petrick is a big fan of detail. And detail is present in profusion in his earnest, one-man show centring on the 1934 strike by coal truck drivers in Minneapolis, Minn., and the leadership role played by Vincent Raymond Dunne in a walkout that proved to be a pivotal moment in American labour history. Problem is, no amount of scrupulously researched information about the hardscrabble life of Dunne or the people and events of the burgeoning union movement or the vicious attempts by government and industry to suppress worker discontent makes up for a show that moves so slowly it almost goes backward. Petrick is clearly a principled man who loves history and hungers for social justice. But when it comes to writing electrifying prose, to building dramatic tension, to giving distinctive voice to the many characters he plays, Petrick is at sea. Would that he could borrow a little of the fire that ignited V. R. Dunne.