Rocketing along through day three of the 2018 Ottawa Fringe Festival, and today, after a mercifully quiet day at work and a few hours of respite to rest my weary feet, I was off hunting BYOV. Having spent the first two days in the main Fringe hub known as downtown Rideau, today I set out into the wilds of Elgin street for the furthest (yet still really close. We’re SO spoiled in Ottawa, you guys…) venue and a show I was looking very much forward to, as well ass an opportunity to correct a regret from last year.
I’d ever-so-briefly been introduced to Bill Pats when I did Vancouver Fringe a couple years ago, and was told by all that he was a presence to behold on the stage. His shows DISCOUNT SHRIMP and I HATE BILL PATS are the stuff of legend, so I was very giddy when he brought his latest, EXECUTING JUSTICE to Ottawa last year. And then, on the night I was scheduled to see it in the 11 pm slot…I was too sleepy and had to bail. And that was my only chance that Fringe. I screwed up, what else is new..? But huzzah, fortune has favored me (and Ottawa) once more and Pats is back, this time with A NIGHTMARE ON EAST HASTINGS: A COMEDY, and I wasn’t missing this one for the world.
A true tale from Bill’s recent past, the bulk of this storytelling adventure is set in the titular East Hastings, Vancouver BC’s ‘most notorious neighbourhood’. Having also briefly visited there during that Fringe I mentioned earlier…yeah. It’s bracing, to say the least (then again, I stopped by after a week on Granville Island, aka Touristland, so I was ill-prepared psychologically for such a stark dose of reality). Told with essentially zero tech besides a chair and Bill Pats’ own honest charm, the story follows Bill as he relates how he ended up becoming a property manager in the district a few years ago, tasked with taking care of buildings that were almost fundamentally care-proof by design.
The show starts out as your typical, comical ‘terrible job’ misadventure tale, which would be fine enough Fringe fare to be sure. But Pats takes the story into territory every bit as harrowing as East Hastings itself before long…repeated encounters with a schizophrenic junkie will almost have you gnawing into your knuckles they’re so vivid and cringe-inducing. At times my skin crawled even more than the hungry rats Bill was forced into close-quarter combat with. Colourful characters clearly abound in a tale like this, and Bill Pats’ compassion for the abandoned souls that populate all-too common districts like East Hastings is palpable and infectuous. He always keeps us from falling into despair with a well-placed joke or funny anecdote, but this is storytelling at its most heartwrenchingly real. I spent about the last 20 minutes of the show wanting to cry, and now I kinda wish I could see it again.
In the hands of a storyteller less frank and straightforward, this show might be either a garish mockery or an exercise in despair. Instead its a goddamn gutpunch of emotion, social responsibility, and unexpected depth and sincerity the likes of which you don’t see very often on any stage. Bill Pats tells a helluva story, and he has no interest in sugar-coating one shitstained second of it. Required viewing, gang, and no fooling. See this one. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin R (and Baby G)
PS Check the remaining showtimes and ticket info for Nightmare on East Hastings HERE!