Vangroovy (Theatre Ocean) 2013 Toronto Fringe Review


The premise of Vangroovy (playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival) is best explained as the setup for a joke.

A jogger, a gorilla, a male prostitute and Santa Claus walk into Stanley Park. One of them looks like Placido Domingo.

There. That’s the joke. Did you laugh? Then Vangroovy is right up your alley.

I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t.

But let’s start with the things which run well. This show has some excellent projections; designer Ilia Sosner uses them, along with only the slightest touch of lighting, to create compelling and distinct–and often very interesting–settings. There are also some decent performances. En Lai Mah stands out in a drag role which, at its best, reminded me of Bruce McCulloch.

Now for the part where I say mean things.

If I only communicate one message in this review, here it is: I don’t think this script is as clever as it thinks it is.

At its best, the humour feels kooky in a derivative sort of way: random, absurd and off-the-wall, but unlike the pop-culture materials which seem to have inspired it–Kids in the Hall, Family Guy, South Park, and so on–lacking in subversiveness, edginess, commentary, or any particular direction.

And even these moments of serviceable writing are often completely marred by simply drawing them out way, way, way too long; one joke in particular is funny for about 10 seconds, but two minutes later I was wondering why the character hadn’t shut up.

At its worst, even a word like “random” cannot begin to describe the mucky, murky swamp into which I watched the show plunge and remain for most of the afternoon. At several points, the text and staging seemed so inexplicable that I simply gave up on it.

The show also felt badly under-rehearsed; a few lines got eaten, and a vital costume piece disappeared mid-show, only to reappear later. This may have been a directorial choice, but a directorial choice which is indistinguishable from a major backstage screw-up would be a spectacularly poor directorial choice.

And why interrupt the show in the middle for an off-key song with incomprehensible lyrics?

Never mind. By that point I’d stopped caring.

Vangroovy plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
Remaining Performances
  • July 06 11:30 PM
  • July 07 05:45 PM
  • July 10 09:30 PM
  • July 11 12:00 PM
  • July 12 11:30 PM
  • July 14 01:00 PM
  • Tickets for all Mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only.
  • Advance tickets are $11, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062 ext. 1), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West)
  • Money-saving value packs are also available; see website for details.
  • LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Image of Jazmine Campanale, Mihai Beschea, Christopher Ross-Ewart and Alex Chan by Ila Sosner. Photograph does not reflect final casting.