In Ken Godmere’s much hyped one-man show, Godmere is 89-yr old Vernus, a man just trying to cope in a world that’s long given him up and buy a birthday gift for his granddaughter. Should you see it?
When I think of the shows I want to see at Fringe, Vernus Says Surprise is that type of show. An 89-year old man who doesn’t speak much, decides to head out into the city to buy a birthday present for his granddaughter – but things aren’t as easy as they seem for old Vernus. This play is a one-man; 18 voice-actor show created by Ken Godmere. Part comedy, part drama, part clown – Vernus takes the form of comedy that Mr. Bean made popular and perfects it.
Ken Godmere has the most amazing stage presence such that you hardly notice that for most of the play its simply him and a chair. You can see an entire set created before you with only your mind as Godmere’s interactions are so personalised and direct. The play is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time and Ken Godmere manages to capture the audience’s emotions very thoroughly. A few hours before the show I was talking to a coworker and mentioned that for actors, working under the helm of someone like Clint Eastwood should be THE milestone in an actor’s career… I have to tell you that, after seeing Vernus Says Surprise – that any actor who has ever had, or ever has the chance to work with or under Ken Godmere has reached an extremely important milestone in their career. Godmere’s brilliance shines through the character of Vernus and makes him one of the most loveable stage characters ever. If you walk out of Vernus Says Surprise and didn’t like it – there is something wrong with you and your inner psyche. I haven’t felt this way exiting a theatre since I saw Roller Derby Saved My Soul at last year’s Fringe. Solid Gold. Perfection. 5.
How long has Vernus Says SURPRISE been the talk of the town? I learned of the show from Mr. Godmere himself a little while back but as we got closer to Fringe here, the buzz was all over. Ken Godmere is well known and well regarded here and his sold out opening night was a who’s who of local artists. Prior to opening in Ottawa, Vernus was getting praise in London where it started its six show tour. Vernus Says SURPRISE, if you didn’t just read Matthew’s review, is about an 89-yr old man for whom the world has kind of left behind. He’s a softspoken man, and spends most of the play unable to get a word in edgewise because most of the people who he interacts with have no time or want to deal with him. Where does this leave the play – a one-man show where the one-man never speaks?
The play is constructed around an elaborate and impressive sound-scape (itself a great technical achievement) which creates the world that Vernus interacts with, from his home, to the bank, bus, and department store. Along the way, Godmere as Vernus moves through and reacts to the world around him, dealing with everything from computers to toys to his coin purse. Godmere brings emotion and life to Vernus in a way that you can’t help but be pulling for him to succeed every step of the way and can’t help but cheer at his small victories in the meantime. This is an underdog story in the truest sense, and we’re all – not just Vernus – the underdogs. The world is a crazy, hectic, fast-moving place and it may not be as trivial-seeming as a trip to the department store but we’ve all got goals and reasons for trying to work our way through it.
Was Vernus says SURPRISE! worth all the hype. Yes, yes, it was. High four.
– by Allan Mackey
Photo provided by Emanate Productions via the Ottawa Fringe Festival.