Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) The Number 14

Left to Right: Mike Stack, Courtenay J. Stevens Photo Credit: David Cooper

Next Stop: Canada
by Chris Lane

The Number 14 bus is making a trip across Canada to cap twenty laughter-filled years of their own Vancouver brand of slapstick comedy.

The Number 14 is a series of comedy sketches that take place on a bus, modelled after the real-life number 14 bus that still runs along Hastings Street. It features a series of completely wacky characters riding the bus together, and generally annoying the heck out of each other.

Axis Theatre Company's artistic director and co-creator of the show, Wayne Specht, directs this cross-Canada tour.  While many of the jokes have been updated over the course of 20 years performing around the world, the show still has a certain 1992 feel.

Some of the characters are too exaggerated, as the performers try too hard to be outrageous.

The Number 14 can be hilarious, and some sketches are excellent, but the whole show is a bit hit and miss. There are some characters that are supposed to be annoying, as they drive the rest of the bus-riders crazy, but they end up being annoying for the audience as well. It's not just the fellow bus-riders who want to throttle a pair of over-the-top schoolgirls, or one singing child who is at least ten times as annoying as any real kids. Some of the characters are too exaggerated, as the performers try too hard to be outrageous.

There are some very funny pieces in there, such as a hilarious scene where Morgan Brayton plays a tardy real estate agent dressing herself on the bus while yelling at her assistant. Another very clever scene features two actors using magazine ads to depict their changing expressions, in a distinctly dynamic form of mask work. The entire cast of Brayton, Neil Minor, Sarah Rodgers, Stefano Giulianetti, Chris Adams and Scott Walters is full of energy and does some excellent physical comedy.

Melody Anderson's expertly designed masks make this show work by creating some wonderfully comic characters. With the help of masks, the six actors convincingly portray 60 characters.

The play is brilliantly staged, as the actors do numerous rapid costume changes while keeping everything flowing seamlessly. One scene that features a teacher leading her class of five-year-olds on a field trip works surprisingly well, with the teacher on stilts so that the other masked actors really look like children. Throughout the show, the actors cleverly make the bus move with their synchronized jolts every time the bus starts and stops. The lively score by Douglas Macaulay, which incorporates clips taken from our own Vancouver buses, succeeds at setting the mood, whatever that mood may be in each scene.

This play is uproarious, ridiculous, energetic and original, but perhaps not quite as fresh as it was in its early years. Some scenes are sure to make you laugh, but don't expect every sketch to live up to The Number 14's reputation.

The Number 14 is playing at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island until November 18th, before continuing on across the country.

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