NASHVILLE HURRICANE: A CURIOUS TALE OF FINGERPICKIN' FURY
Chase Padgett Productions
PTE Mainstage (Venue 16), to July 27
HE starts out as a geeky -- probably autistic -- teenage genius with awkwardly splayed fingers. He becomes the Nashville Hurricane, a guitar-picking prodigy who is exploited by a slimeball manager, befriended by a black Chicago bluesman, and estranged from his trashy, Harley-Davidson-lovin' mama.
These four roles are masterfully brought to life by Oregon-based musician/actor Chase Padgett (6 Guitars) in a 75-minute solo show that is simply a stunner. On a bare stage, equipped with only an acoustic guitar, Padgett has the audience hanging on his every note and word. He shifts between colourful characters with expert physicality, interweaving their story strands into a poignant and hilarious show-business saga.
The laughs here are not mere one-liners, but perfectly timed, character-based revelations. The mother's rant against pedal-steel players and the bluesman's attempt to explain women to the naive prodigy are priceless. Padgett is frank about the gritty side of musicians' lives, and his performance of a blazingly soulful blues song is electrifying. To quote a word that recurs in the show: Eureka! 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Alison Mayes
Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall (Venue 9), to July 26
NEW York City storyteller Martin Dockery returns to the fringe with another manically conveyed, semi-improvisational personal tale, this time about a trip to southeast Asia with a lifetime of family baggage, two pieces of acid-laced chewing gum and the love of his life.
The surprise ostensibly involves his septuagenarian dad, who has started a new family in Vietnam, complete with a pair of new siblings for Dockery to meet. This forces him to ponder existential questions of his own -- and deal with a much heavier gut-kick of a revelation.
Dockery's intensity is tempered by self-deprecating humour and a love of the absurd. All gangly arms and legs, he's impossible not to watch; the hour-long show flies by in minutes. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Bartley Kives
Gas Station Theatre (Venue 18), to July 27
THIS one-woman comedy from South African performer Shirley Kirschmann ends 15 minutes short of its stated running time, but even at 45 minutes, it feels padded. An unstructured hodge-podge of jokes, skits and anecdotes, it's not funny enough to work as standup and not quite personally resonant enough to work as a monologue.
Kirschmann is an appealing performer, however. Her broad humour and casual profanity are given novelty by her clipped Afrikaaner accent as she talks about the ignominy of being 35 and single.
The standup portions are weakest -- what does Camilla Bowles' horse face have to do with dating? -- but when Kirschmann adopts characters, she fares better; her domineering matchmaker could be the star of her own show. And when she actually deals with her dating life in a series of blackout scenes featuring a string of ridiculously awful dates, she hits home hilariously. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Jill Wilson
Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall (Venue 9), to July 27
SAN Francisco juggler Aaron Jessup steps off the concrete plaza and on to the fringe stage in a one-man show that recalls his coming-of-age as a second-generation street performer.
The autobiographical show allows Jessup to combine a smidgeon of improv comedy and a lot of actual acting with some tricks that should impress even audiences who'd rather drink shoe polish than watch a busker. A glow-in-the-dark juggling sequence is worth the admission to the hour-long show.
The heart of the story, however, is the bittersweet bond Jessup forms with a childhood rival. There's plenty of pathos to go along with the flying bowling pins. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Bartley Kives
VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM
Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall (Venue 9), to July 26
MOST couples are lucky to make it past the first six months. La Codesa and Madeleine Astarte have been together, in some fashion, for about 5,000 years.
This 45-minute comedy by Winnipeg's Dramatic Theatre attempts to tell the tale of a rivalry-cum-relationship that spans centuries, from biblical times through the golden age of Hollywood and modern-day Las Vegas.
Given the familiarity of the vampire-relationship trope -- Jim Jarmusch made a go at this with Only Lovers Left Alive this year -- the ensemble cast couldn't just rely on a nifty device. But this thing isn't just unoriginal; it's generally hard to endure, thanks to shlocky dialogue and slapstick, often shouty acting. 'Ö'Ö
-- Bartley Kives
SUBSTITUTE TEACHER FROM HELL
Ghost Monkey Productions
Red River College (Venue 11), to July 26
IT'S a tough gig as a substitute teacher. That is the premise of Jass Richard's one-woman comedic treatise on what's wrong with, well, every aspect of school and schooling.
The Winnipeg actress delivers her frustration with the hypocrisy and administrative stupidity of schooling. Denim jeans? Not good for work, but denim skirts are fine. Students have a right to an education unless they are suspended. The list goes on and includes the students themselves, who are bored and incapable (it's not her job to entertain them). There is more, but if you've been to public school, you've lived it.
There's lots of energy and some funny lines, but the content is too simplistic and especially caustic towards students. There are a lot of contradictions that are never acknowledged and really need to be plumbed to give this show some depth. All in all, this sophomoric show needs more scholarship. 'Ö'Ö
-- Wendy King
GLOWING: A REPRODUCTION PRODUCTION
The Playhouse Studio (Venue 3), to July 26
FORMER Winnipegger Mary-Jo Dionne's heartfelt delivery brings this 45-minute tale to luminous life.
Funny, moving and intimate, her storytelling is infused with warmth and wit as she regales her audience with a play-by-play account of her long journey to motherhood.
The Vancouver-based Dionne took a more circuitous route than most, but it was worth the trip -- for her and her audience.
From adoption fails and fertility woes to morning sickness and hormonally charged revelations, Glowing is an artfully conceived comedic romp, but ultimately, it's a love story -- one born of blood, sweat and vomit. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Pat St. Germain
The Playhouse Studio (Venue 3), to July 27
THIS trippy, gothic fairy tale, inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, shape-shifts before your eyes.
In the beginning, you'd think it would be great for kids (OK, minus that downer story of the last boy alive on Earth). As things darken, it seems more like something for the teen Twilight crowd. And then..?
The program doesn't list the actors' roles, which is too bad, because the performers playing the innocent perky little girl and her jaded, bitter mother were great.
The set decoration also added nicely to the sinister atmosphere, and managed to create a dim, candlelit cottage and a cornfield in a small space. But things were somewhat derailed by some odd plot developments and a sudden ending. Yes, the show was trying for an unsettling, unclear vibe, and it largely succeeded. But "unclear" and "unfinished" are two very different things, the latter being an impression you don't want to leave with your audience. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Janice Sawka
THE HUDSON BAY EPIC
Frivolous Fools Performance
John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1), to July 27
CALGARY'S Frivolous Fools Performance take their audience on an eventful historical journey aboard a musical ship.
The epic is a well-told tale of a woman who dresses like a boy among the crew of Henry Hudson's doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1610, but the real discovery is this adventuresome troupe and its visual and aural ingenuity. The entire quarterdeck Hudson's ship is made up of found objects -- other people's garbage -- which then double as musical instruments built into the set. The three-member cast enhance their storytelling with an evocative soundscape. Through unobtrusive tapping, bowing and blowing, we hear the workings of the ship, the calls of whales and crunch of stepped-upon snow.
Geneviere Pare plays the beardless boy Andrew with requisite pluck and shares the playwriting credit with Ian McFarlane, who serves as a seaman/poet and love interest. Come aboard for a memorable trip. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Kevin Prokosh
MENNONITE'S GUIDE TO SAVAGE STREET FIGHTING 2: THIS TIME IT'S CULTURAL
ONE88 (Venue 24), to July 26
The Crosseyed Rascals bring back the squeaky-clean with their Winnipeg brand of Low German comedy improv. The four troupe members (boasting only two actual Mennonites) invite the audience to choose eight themes that are acted out and then whittled down to one mighty uber-sketch in one hour.
The opening night show featured a sandbox love affair, greedy chocolate consumption, musical torture and a borscht-laced wedding, which yielded some solid hits, all above the belt. Keeping with the idea of knocking things down, the Rascals ended the evening with a kung fu movie parody reduced to it's bare minimum.
It was an amusing show with a few good laughs and a steady pace, more of a boxkampf (boxing match) than a blitzkrieg. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Wendy King