Review: The Unconventional Romance Variety Show

If you're, like me, feeling the drag between major commercialized holidays (either to enjoy them ironically or in earnest), Monika's review of February's Unconventional Romance Variety Show might serve as an effective pick-me-up. Not to mention, it's always encouraging to see artists taking on the fraught raw material of mainstream cultural practices as fodder for something much more critical, thoughtful, and inclusive. Read on! -ST

Following the oh-so-conventional (puke in my mouth a bit) hallmark holiday came this refreshingly honest, open, and humourous series of acts responding to ideologies of love, romance, and relationships. The Unconventional Romance Variety Show celebrated sex and uncovered stereotypical notions of modern-day romance. Spicy, gritty and sometimes grotesque, the show offered racy entertainment for those seeking a not-so-hallmark approach to sensory stimulation.


Opening with much more promise than the Vancouver dating scene, host Katie-Ellen Humphries brought understated humour and sharp wit to the room. She was slightly sarcastic and playfully coy, which set the mood for the show and paved the way for the acts to follow.

Actor and writer, Sara Bynoe, was first up. Her response to unconventional romance was through storytelling, more specifically, sharing a reading from 1976’s Bear, by Canadian novelist Marian Engel. Bynoe focused on a few steamy passages from the novel, highlighting the absurd language and depiction of Engel’s main character’s romantic encounters with—yes—a bear. Accompanied by a drummer and bass guitarist, Bynoe did a splendid job of bringing the scene to life through her melodically spirited reading. From bear moans to audience roars, you could say Bynoe knew what she was doing. But did the bear?

Storyteller Jo Dworschak unveiled her own romantic tale, leaving the audience to wonder if it were true? Jo’s encounter began with a meeting between her and who she describes as being the person who’d play her boyfriend in the movie of her life, Bruce Lee. The relationship quickly escalated (oh yes) and ended in an unexpected saucy scene. (To be cum-tinued?) Jo did a great job of inviting the listener into her story and making it feel like you were there.

Next up was a comedy-music combo, performed by Colin Lamb. Reminding the audience that there’s always someone better (or worse) to have sex with, Colin’s song “Regular Dick” melodiously told the story of the sub-par dude not worthy enough to date but good enough to have average sex with. Colin’s subtle jesting and canny wit kept me laughing, even between songs. As if his first song wasn’t hilarious enough, his other two songs “Look at my Dick” and “I Saw My Asshole” did the trick—and painted quite the visual.

Providing the spice that variety offers, burlesque dancer, contortionist, acrobat and boylesque performer Vixen Von Flex took to the stage. Juxtaposing strength and softness, flexibility and flair, this force-to-be-reckoned-with walked on hands, jump-landed the splits and entranced the audience through a strip tease that was never to be forgotten. I was awed and impressed, and am certain the audience felt the same way.


At this point in the show, humour wasn’t decelerating. Showing up in her “Lulumelon” shirt and proudly claiming it sells in only large and extra-large sizing because “too bad, fuck you” (smaller people), comedian and founder of Heavy Metal Comedy Melanie Rose talked about her experience—or lack thereof—with sex and dating. She facetiously described her non-existent sex life and shared stories of her disappointing and hopeless “romantic” encounters. Her act was unassuming, unexpected, and pleasantly received. Melanie Rose may be giving up on sex, but hopefully she won’t give up on comedy any time soon.

Throwing a little gorelesque into the mix was Vancouver-based performance troupe Bloody Betty. Known to make light of dark subjects, Bloody Betty’s sensual song and dance displayed an otherwise abhorrent scene of sexual abuse, rape, and mutilation. The performance was whimsical but tragic, sexy but nasty, compelling but repulsive. It was appropriately over-the-top, raunchy, uncomfortable, and irresistible to watch. Well-played, BB.

Last but not least, the show’s headliner Shirley Gnome, accompanied by a band and the East Side Choir, filled the room with end-of-the-night amusement and entertainment. The costume- bearing, crowd-pleasing, blonde comedic bombshell left no stone unturned in her crusade to evoke laughter. Her playful charm and angelic vocal range almost make you forget she’s singing about farts. Wildly talented and musically attuned, Shirley had a very natural stage presence and easily commanded the audience’s attention.

Far less disappointing than most other Valentine’s days, The Unconventional Romance Variety Show was a refreshingly fun take on relationships, sex, and love. The comedic acts warranted laugher and the performances amused, awed, and inspired. For more events put on by smart, funny, courageous performers in Vancouver, check out The Lady Show by Katie-Ellen Humphries, see Vixen Von Flex in Reign City at the Rio on March 20th,  or see Sarah Bynoe's recurring show Teen Angst on March 14th!