FRINGE: Innocent When You Dream a whale of a tale

Zeb West Fringe Edmonton GigCity Innocent When You DreamViewers shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the playwright, actor, puppeteer and ukulele virtuoso behind “Innocent When You Dream” (Venue 2) hails from Austin, Texas – one of the few great American cities that openly declare pride in their apparent weirdness.

The Fringe is known for weirdness, so Zeb West’s unique tale of tails, a take on the Jonah and the Whale story, fits right in. In this version, our hero is swallowed and lives out his days in the leviathan’s innards along with a box of soggy crackers, dog-eared copies of “Moby Dick” and “Don Quixote” and a white Honda Accord (with Texas plates) – full of unresolved issues concerning his unconsummated, rather one-sided love affair with the whale that swallowed him.

It’s gotten pretty lonely down there, even with all the endless re-enactments of chapters from Don Quixote and infrequent cellphone conversations with his mother (coverage seems pretty decent down there), so understandably the appearance of the audience seems to satiate his desire for human contact. It also stimulates his imagination to resolve a question that has haunted humanity: Why do we love people who don’t love us back? Now that he has all the time in the world to explore the issue and a few people to talk it out with, maybe he can put some of these ideas to rest. The language in which he frames his questions is more colourfully Texan, of course. No BBQ, for those who might have been wondering.

West is a laid back, easy going performer with a gently wry sense of humour who interacts with the crowd in an engaging, friendly way. Through some soul searching and a diplomatic bitch slapping or two from his companion puppet, Jonah manages to resolve his quest in a uniquely profane way that is sure to draw plenty of laughs. Clever writing unfolds in a sensible, easily understood manner, doesn’t rush to get to where it needs to go and is free of the artistic pretention seen in so many other works. A Fringe win from the Lone Star State.