Shortly after getting seated for a showing of Feisty Old Jew at the Performance Works venue on Granville Island, I noticed Charlie Varon’s eyes, and they twinkled like the eyes of someone in love. (The single spotlight was doing its job).

Varon begins his story of this feisty old Jew, “who was an antique that had caught [the youth’s] fancy.” A grumpy old man who hates young people, our old Jew “Bernie” somehow ends up in a car with twenty-somethings who have a surfboard strapped to the roof. Bernie wants to surf, and bets them a large sum of money that he will. The twenty-somethings spur him on with disbelief, and the prospect of fame dangling in the presence of gadgets and YouTube.

As a writer of poems and stories, I first noticed how much like a story his performance was. But it didn’t deter from the whole-hearted, comic delivery. Even the third-person narration was engaging; Varon performed a litany of things hated by old Jew Bernie with enthusiastic and dynamic variation, always inviting wonder, but never over the top.

Though it is tempting to classify Varon as a storyteller, especially as he later revealed that these were indeed short stories, his performance is not easy to forget. As Varon bent his knees and swayed, changed his voice to portray Bernie in the air, just about to land on the surfboard, I felt the momentum, the change in pace in the story, and I was surfing with Bernie.

Thought I didn’t find the stories particularly Jewish, this leans in favour of Feisty Old Jew, which is particular because of the uniqueness of Bernie, but also has universal appeal (we have all been curmudgeons).

I enjoyed the way Varon’s narrative verged on political incorrectness, only to surprise moments later with something else entirely.

Because Varon stood close to the audience—not on stage—his performance was intimate, and the laughs rolled out of me easy. It was a rare childlike experience for me to have once again felt the wonder of fantastic storytelling.

Feisty Old Jew offers enough complexity to keep cliché at bay, and Varon’s performance is sure to save any character tics the audience may not like. I was pleased to witness Varon at work, and can safely say that this is exactly the sort of surprise that Fringe is made for.

Catch Varon’s Bernie at Fringe on:

Thursday Sep 11 2014
10:10 PM
Saturday Sep 13 2014
4:00 PM
Sunday Sep 14 2014
2:30 PM