For the Locals: The Other Freds

Other Freds is a zany play cum circus co-produced by The Arts Club Theatre, The Only Animal theatre company and Theatre Skam. I caught it last Saturday night, and it actually closes this Saturday, but I’d definitely recommend you attend.

Based on a vague notion of quantum physics and parallel universes, this site-specific play tells the story of Fred, a lonely man living a life of quiet desperation. It also tells the story of six other Freds, who live slightly different lives of varying levels of desperation. They spend their lunch hour eating sandwiches, being chased by villains and falling in love. That’s a generous re-telling of the plot. In truth, the play has a pretty tenuous narrative. [more]

That’s not particularly important, though, because there’s so much going on. The play takes place here, outside the Arts Club theatre on the Granville Island waterfront. Though the action begins immediately in front of the audience, it soon strays out onto the wharf, onto boats, into the water and even, briefly, across in the distance on the north side of False Creek.

It’s an audacious production, with seven leads and a supporting cast of over 200 actors and community members. Each of the leading men is excellent. The play has very little dialogue, and so their clowning and movement carries the show. Each lead actor has a musician associated with them, so there’s a great deal of enjoyable incidental music (as well as some singing) throughout the show.

In a play this big and bold, you’re going to have some difficulties. The community members’ lack of acting skill is pretty apparent next to the Freds. Some of the long distance gags don’t pay off the way they could. The whole quantum physics angle doesn’t work, and should be cut from the show.

I get grumpy when artists play fast and loose with science. They seem to get a general notion of a scientific theory, and then simplify it to their uses. A good example of this is Freddy Riedenschneider’s (otherwise excellent) monologue about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in The Man Who Wasn’t There.

For The Other Freds, it feels like the creators watched three episodes of Quantum Leap and declared their research complete. I exaggerrate, but the opening chunk of the show (a sort of introductory lecture) indicates that they haven’t fully reconciled their research with the production. They’ve just glommed the background material onto the show, instead of letting it permeate.

Regardless, there’s tons to like in Other Freds, and I’d definitely recommend it. Kids, in particular, would probably get a kick out of its fast pace and circus-like atmosphere.

Disclaimer: I do have friends in the show and behind the scenes, but trust that this is my honest appraisal.

On an related note, I thought the marketing collateral for Other Freds was all wrong. You can get some sense of it from their website (which, for a theatre production, is pretty darned good). The brochures for the show looked more like real estate ads than theatre playbills, and capture none of the joy, comedy or spectacle that the actual show offers. For me, the marketing material suggests a dour modern tragedy.

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