By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Festive, but ominous. That’s the buzz today: You, my friends, are going to a family reunion this weekend.
Starting tonight at 7 p.m. the far-flung members of the Bun-Bun family, owners and operators of a successful dinosaur theme park, are gathering there for a big bash in honour of an auspicious birthday. Great Grandma Cookie Bun-Bun is turning 117. Which makes her officially the world’s oldest living person.
It’s the 26th annual edition of a venerable Edmonton improv comedy institution, Die-Nasty’s marathon 50-hour Soap-A-Thon fund-raiser. Lured by the magnetic force field of Edmonton improv, performers of every stripe from across the wide world — Adam Meggido from London, Patti Stiles from Australia among others — join the award-winning Die-Nasty ensemble for this journey into the not-yet-known and made-up-on-the-spot.
As Soap-A-Thon history confirms, the suds potential of families is virtually unlimited: joy, angst, tension, dark secrets, boozy recriminations and recollections, warped desires, libidinous frissons, sibling rivalries, acrimonious in-laws, freaky cousins twice-removed, inter-generational feuds, a lot of ex’s.… Who knows what might happen in this tangle of relationships? Absolutely no one.
And that’s before you add in the dinosaur factor. In fact, one of the “special shifts,” Sunday 3 to 5 a.m., is the Gratuitous Rampaging Dinosaur Hour.
As Die-Nasty star Stephanie Wolfe says, “families are a great hook. People can choose where to hook their hat on the family tree…. With families the stakes are immediately high; there’s a past, a history. The tiniest detail can be momentous; love, hate, everything is magnified.”
We’ve met the Bun-Buns before, in their less exalted nouveau-riche days when the family name didn’t have a hyphen. In 2002, the Bun-Buns converged at the Fairmont Ritz-Capitano for a reunion at the 10th anniversary Soap-A-Thon. And four years later, they gathered again, for a family wedding; the nuptials joined “the London Grimbushes and the Mill Woods Bun-Buns.”
Wolfe remembers she played “Old Lady Bun-Bun, a generic grandma.” On that fractious occasion, Belinda Cornish was Skippy Bun-Bun, goth poet extraordinaire. Mark Meer was Sedgwick Bun-Bun, owner of the fateful hotel where the festivities took place, and doubled as the Lava Monster living in the wine cellar, .
No one knows exactly who’s who at the dinosaur theme park until curtain time tonight. But Wolfe is thinking of playing “Dr. Bun-Bun, the cousin of one of grandma’s daughters, once removed from the family. On call a lot,” and ready to minister to spontaneous maladies. “I’m bringing a bag of wigs…. I used to bring many garment bags of costumes, just in case. I’ve weeded it down to scarves, and hats.”
Characters are often born “by sheer need” backstage, Wolfe laughs. “We need a policeman! Onstage! Now!”
This year’s edition is the first time a life-size puppet has taken on a leading role. Birthday girl Great Grandma Cookie Bun-Bun, at 117, is the creation of company members Jesse Gervais and Mat Hulshof. The voice-over possibilities are legion, as Wolfe points out. Soliloquies? “I’m counting on it.”
Company members like Mark Meer invariably go the full 50-hour distance. “He has special blood,” says Wolfe. “Thirty hours is enough for me.” Plans for leaving get constantly altered, though. “Just one more shift! I’ve got to find out what happens to me next!”
Wolfe loves the way novices and veterans mingle onstage at the Soap-A-Thon. Her advice to new soap-sters? “Bring lots of water and make sure you have breath mints.”
26th Annual Die-Nasty Soap-A-Thon
Directed by: various company members
Starring: Mark Meer, Belinda Cornish, Stephanie Wolfe, Jeff Haslam, Jesse Gervais, Matt Alden, Jason Hardwick, Vincent Forcier, Delia Barnett, Kristi Hansen, Paul Morgan Donald. With special guests Ron Pederson, Louise Lambert, Mat Busby, John Ullyatt, Adam Meggido, Patti Stiles, and others
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: tonight 7 p.m. through Sunday 9 p.m.
Tickets: weekend passes varsconatheatre.com/dienasty; daily tickets at the door all weekend