By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Sept 1 | 8:15 pm
Sept 2 | 6:30 pm
Sept 4 | 8:45 pm
Sept 5 | 4:00 pm
LENGTH: 60 minutes
I’m surprised that reference to Ukrainian poet Oleg Navolska and his works are not accessible online. When the Fringe Theatre play Camel Camel is loosely based on his writings, something of his work should be available somewhere to look at. While I have yet to hit the University of Victoria campus library to see if any librarian (or a Professor of Ukrainian studies) knows of him, I have hope the source material is somewhere. I’m fascinated with the Surrealist movement and when this style has influenced various mediums (art, film and literature), I certainly want to know more.
In what’s revealed in the press releases for this play, this figure is allegedly a political activist who was imprisoned and sentenced to die. Before his execution, he left a small body of work that predates the art movement which details his last thoughts. The Camel Sisters emerged out of his imagination and just what the two mean defies easy explanation. Could they be aspects of his consciousness coming to terms with his impending death or are they projections of two aspects of himself trying to make sense out of an outlandish situation? Whatever injustice he felt about the system is just one theme that’s explored in this surrealist comedy that few will fully understand.
On the surface, this show highlights all that’s enjoyable from vaudeville. I simply adored the gender-bending tomfoolery in the first act where Horace and Gilby Gulch try to seek answers to their existence. A top hat wearing death worm invades this reality with scary moments but in what gets highlighted is more so in what these “sisters” represent to each other. To see them ultimately need each other commands respect when the inevitable comes. This play has some dark elements to it and it’s best to go see this show least twice to understand the nuances that make up its narrative.
Creators and performers Janessa Johnsrude (Horace) and Meghan Frank (Gilby) have excellent chemistry on stage. When they are in character, just how they behave borders on the bizarre mixed in with the over the top zaniness that I’m familiar with. They behave much like how Laverne and Shirley do from that classic 70’s sitcom when they are feuding and there’s a bit of Terry Gilliam inspired artistry mixed in. There were times where I could see Lillian Gish being channelled in Johnsrude’s performance and Cindy Williams from Frank. The contrasts make a great odd couple dynamic on stage. Although knowledge of Navolska’s influence in this show is not required to appreciate the look into the golden oldies, these personas have a life that is their own than aspects of what defines the poet much like what Joy or Sadness were in PIXAR’s Inside Out. The trick here is that they can live away from what defined this bard’s legacy if only they knew it.
4 Stars out of 5