2 more UNEXPECTED Fringe hits

The Superhero Who Loved Me  

By Blarney Productions, Venue 28  (The Playhouse)

“It all started with the invasion …” are the terse words that blast off Chris Craddock’s first new Fringe play in six years.

As quick as a photon torpedo we are ensnared in this galactic tale. Observes Superhero Samantha (The Governess), matter of factly, “We suited up and left …”

Of course, after many adventures, with a hardy band of Superheros that includes Doctor X and an unnamed multimillionaire superhero, the little green men are defeated and the future of the Earth is secured.

Thus begins Craddock’s tender tale of love and superheros. He is of course no stranger to comic books, Marvel and sci-fi lore. As the Fringe’s resident expert in all things that go “Whack,” “Crack” and “Blam” (See The Harold of Galactus – please!) the playwright is uniquely qualified to present the first intergalactic RomCom.

Samantha (Kristi Hansen), resting up from her exertions after saving the world, meets her one time high school BFF – played by April Banigan. The two fall in love and soon are enjoying superhero supersex. Breathes the Governess, “I have mastered superspeed in various parts of my body.”

Of course, the love of a mortal and a God must flame out, as did the Praxillus System when Dr. Timicin’s helium ignition went spectacularly wrong.

All fun aside, this story is involving – while filled with exotic comic book lore. And I must also admit to a lump in my throat as the two inevitably meet when their impossible love has died. One is still a youthful immortal – the other an aging ambassador. But Banigan gets to say the glorious words, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me.” (Choke!) (Sob!) (Whimper!)

4 out of 5

Orson Welles’ Last Magic Show  

Ghostwriter Theatre, Venue 17 (Roxy on Gateway Theatre)

Ron Pearson used to present those sideshow tent creatures that featured tiny talking heads on monstrous spiders. His magic show has been a busker and Fringe staple for many years.

One hardly expects a full-fledged production from this practiced prestidigitator, but this year he has written a real play (with magic – of course) and it’s directed by one of Edmonton’s theatrical heavy hitters: Theatre Network’s Bradley Moss.

He calls it Orson Welles’ Last Magic Show. When I first read of this I thought Pearson was going to re-stage the master’s last show for his fellow magicians in Los Angeles’ Magic Castle. But Pearson, a long-time enchanter himself, was after a more elusive game – encompassing the life and times of one of the most towering theatrical figures of the 20th Century.

By telling his story through observed details he manages to capture a fairly comprehensive portrait of the tortured man who lived a life too big for our world.

And, of course, there’s magic. Ranging from the simple “pick a card – any card” to two awesome head-scratchers.

Little Orson always wanted to be a magician, so his father got him “The Mysto Magic Exhibition Set For Little Boys” and changed his life forever. The boy became a magician. Studied under Houdini. The incipient wizard maintained that his whole career (especially in the movies) was based on the age-old magician’s trick of slight of hand: “Watch what I’m doing with this hand so you don’t see what I’m doing with the other.”

He also said, “The movies were the best electric train set a boy ever had” – but that’s for Pearson’s next show.

Welles fooled an entire nation into believing that the Martians had landed with his radio program, War of the Worlds. He changed the movies forever with Citizen Kane, but even that was a trick. He took on Hollywood and lost – after Kane he never got control of a film again. Not that it kept him from turning out more magical movies: The Lady From Shanghai, The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil – probably the best film noir ever produced. Pearson’s show features telling excerpts from the movies.

Notoriously difficult to work with – Welles died at 70, a sad, overweight old man, sitting in the sun and drinking his wine – he was a genius of both stage and screen. But as he once said, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn. It was always all about me…”

But what a life. Orson’s last magic show was 1943’s spectacular (and expensive) Mercury Wonder Show. Some of Hollywood’s greatest stars participated and he got to saw Marlene Dietrich in half every night for a month.

As the main character, Will Mitchell lacks the great man’s magisterial basso profundo, but he does have Welles’ beetle-browed glare that once even froze Columbia Pictures fearsome owner Harry Cohn. Mitchell’s a good storyteller and demonstrates impressive flair at performing magic.

4 out of 5