The impossible, pulled off brilliantly: Gordon’s Big Bald Head in MasterThief Theatre, a Fringe review

Gordon’s Big Bald Head: MasterThief Theatre.

By Liz Nicholls,

Gordon’s Big Bald Head: MasterThief Theatre (Varscona Theatre)

If there ever was a way to celebrate the return of live fringing to our summer — and simultaneously gloat that Edmonton has something no one else has — it’s getting a ticket for Gordon’s Big Bald Head.

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This deluxe trio of improv virtuosos — Mark Meer, Ron Pederson, Jacob Banigan — does something crazily difficult, maybe impossible, better than anyone else anywhere. Yes, world, we have a trio of improvisers so deluxe they invent an entire original  Fringe show at every performance — a version of a show chosen randomly from the Fringe program by a member of the audience. Armed with the title and the program description (and three chairs), they’re off.

This year’s edition, MasterThief Theatre, introduced with suitable PBS gravitas by Mark Meer, is specially tailored for the Fringe in its 40th year. Since there’s no weighty Fringe tome to flip through, the trio arrive onstage with a stack of programs from Fringes past the past.

I caught the show on the weekend. Fringe Daze, the 1988 edition of the Fringe, chosen randomly by a “criminal mastermind” in the audience, offers up, from Stage 14 that year, The Return of the Bride by the notable Canadian playwright Brad Fraser. Judging by the description it’s a thriller in a sinister mansion with a werewolf, Frankenstein, and other genre accoutrements.  Just for good measure, GBBH offered to throw in a few extras, a mummy and Dracula.

What happened then was a hilarious hour of entertainment, a mixed-monster plot of utmost intricacy, woven with dramatized bit and narration, and a wild assortment of characters set in non-stop motion with very funny physicality, cross-references, recurring gags, asides. The trio’s powers of concentration must be ferocious, but I have to say it looks utterly easeful. Comic chemistry at its finest.  

So what goes on in that big bald head of Gordon?

For one thing, as we’ve found out Fringe after Fringe, there are three remarkably alert, agile theatre brains synchronizing in there, alongside a comic timing device with a hair-trigger mechanism, and an archive of genres with a retrieval system that’ll make you blink in wonder.

Give yourself a treat. Fun fun fun.

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