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Fringe Fest: Five-star plays

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Free Press reviewers gave five stars to these Fringe plays.

DIE ROTEN PUNKTE -- KUNST ROCK (ART ROCK)

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Die Roten Punkte

MTC Mainstage (Venue 1), to Sunday

 

MUSICAL siblings Otto and Astrid Rot of Berlin group Die Roten Punkte (the Red Dots) dedicate their Kunst Rock show to Brain Eno, claiming their new songs were written and recorded in a basement where they rubbed a hairbrush on a pineapple and listened to water dripping into a bucket for two weeks.

Don't worry, though -- there is nothing that esoteric during this 75-minute concert/comedy routine.

Most of the laughs from the White Stripes-aping duo come between songs during their banter, bickering and audience interaction. The songs hold their own too, with the pair -- Daniel Tobias (vocals/guitar) and Clare Bartholomew (vocals/drums) -- offering up catchy punk anthems, robotic New Wave, a mini rock opera and, yes, one art-rock sound experiment.

They obviously already have a huge fan base in Winnipeg with many in the packed crowd singing along and pumping their fists in the air opening night. They even earned two standing ovations. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Rob Williams

 

COUNTRIES SHAPED LIKE STARS

Mi Casa

Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre (Venue 19), to Saturday

 

THIS delightful two-hander from Ottawa is one of those buried treasures one hopes to unearth at the fringe.

An intimate and whimsical fable employing folk music, poetic language and even fresh baking, it boasts a highly creative and experimental flavour. The seating is lined up along both sides of the performance area, a room on the third floor of Mondragon Books. Lit by two table lamps at either end, the space has the intimate feel of a living room.

It is perfect for the two actors, Nicolas Di Gaetano and Emily Pearlman, as the shy lovers Gwendolyn Magnificent and Bartholomew Spectacular, who meet at a time in history "when countries were shaped like stars."

Beyond this it's hard to describe. But it's an entrancing 45 minutes, ideal for children and adults, that fly by in no time. And you won't want to miss those cumin-scented moustaches. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Morley Walker

SMARTARSE

Rob Gee

Red River College (Venue 11), to Saturday

 

THE standup poet from Leicester, U.K., is telling tales out of school -- his school, his father's school, and the schools he works in as a visiting artist who workshops poetry and other writing with young people.

Exuberant and wild-limbed, Limey Rob Gee posed the question "What would you do if you had an invisibility cloak?" to a group of school kids. The comical result is a poetic charge into the funny, frustrating world of schoolyards and classrooms, past and present. He proves that youth and school days, whether they are an ocean or a generation apart, are universally embarrassing, rude, and preoccupied with the socially incorrect.

Consistently funny and sharply written, Gee's own crazy genius of an inner child is front and centre in this string of wild and wonderful stories... and he's not of the John Bradshaw variety. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Wendy Burke

 

PITCH BLONDE

Destination Ink Productions

Son of Warehouse (Venue 5), to Saturday

 

RECOGNIZED by movie and theatre audiences as the ditzy blond from Born Yesterday, Judy Holliday was an actress with a 170 IQ and a coterie of friends and co-workers with left-leaning political sensibilities. So when she was called to testify against suspected communists during the McCarthy-era witch hunts, Holliday smoothly evaded the horrifying prospect of naming names by playing the dumb-blond persona to the hilt.

It might have been the performance of a lifetime.

You can say the same thing for Toronto-based actress-playwright Laura Anne Harris. In her hour-long solo show, she has ample opportunity to exploit the more sensational components of Holliday's life, including her secret lesbianism and her troubled relationship with her unstable mother.

Certainly, this drama touches those aspects of her life, but the emphasis is on the sheer heroism she demonstrated in playing the fool for politicians. And if Harris is physically thinner and more angular than her subject, she fleshes out Holliday with a deft reproduction of that high-pitched voice and a brilliant ability to interact with voice recordings. Call this pitch perfect. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Randall King

 

BREAST FRIENDS

Kimmy Zee

MTC Warehouse (Venue 6), to Saturday

 

A well-rounded revue boasting a firm comedy base and a soft centre, this variety show is positively stacked with local talent.

Frequent fringers Kim Zeglinski, Celeste Sansregret and Alison Field (Sensible Footwear), with standup comic Heather Witherden and burlesque queen Miss La Muse, are amusing, provocative, touching and titillating.

Field offers breast feeding as a conflict solution -- "could you just stop your moaning and suck on this?" And her mates get a few things off their chests -- literally, in one case -- in monologues on size, shape and harnessing woes.

There's no padding required, but the ladies tuck in a handful of sight gags, a moment of poignance with a tassel-twirling display courtesy of Miss La Muse.

Destined to be a breast of fest. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Pat St. Germain

 

MACABRE TALES OF HORROR & MACABRENESS

Puppy in Pants Productions

MTC Warehouse (Venue 6), to Saturday

 

WARNING: No refunds if you die laughing during this cosmic carnival of creepshow clichés.

These spooky sketches get the William Castle shock treatment, with laughter and scream-inducing audience spine-tinglers -- a hissing snake at your elbow and worse.

Wickedly inventive, the production directed by ImproVision's Alan Mackenzie goes to elaborate lengths to get to a punch line, and the monstrously talented six-member local cast rattle the funny bones in every scene.

Bug-eyed Ed Cuddy is a cadaverous mad scientist to die for, and master of ceremonies Satan (George McRobb) kills as a bitter lush who complains his tales of terror "can't compete with the horrors of the modern workplace."

So funny it's scary. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Pat St. Germain

7 (x1) SAMURAI

David Gaines

MTC Mainstage (Venue 1), to Saturday

 

IN his minimalist hour-long tour-de-force, Virginia actor David Gaines slices through the public aversion to mime and clowning with breathtaking precision in an impressive re-enactment of Akira Kurosawa's film masterpiece The Seven Samurai.

In 7 (x1) Samurai, he pulls off an unassisted pop culture triple play by blending a Loony Tunes sense of humour with Chaplinesque physical comedy and a nod to those legendary samurai skits John Belushi made famous on Saturday Night Live.

Dressed in short black kimono over a white gi, the pasty-faced Gaines communicates the tale of 16th century maurading bandits and samurai warriors through a constant stream of sound effects (bombidy-bombidy of horse hooves) and acrobatic movement so seamless as to allow him to portray both sides of a brawl simultaneously.

Although the swordfighting epic involves a bloodbath it is all imagined so it won't scare older kids. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Kevin Prokosh

 

THE BIKE TRIP

By Martin Dockery

Canwest Centre for Theatre and Film (Venue 12), to Sunday

 

MARTIN Dockery's one-man storytelling extravaganza, The Bike Trip, is all hands and voice.

His rubbery fingers fling about the stage, shaping this word, emphasizing that one. Meanwhile, he talks and talks, faster and faster, until suddenly the stream of consciousness stops, then heads off in a new direction.

Last year, Dockery's Wanderlust was all about the awards -- Winnipeg's best of fest, Orlando's best in venue, New York's audience choice -- so expectations are high this year. You might fret hands and voice alone -- well, almost alone as Dockery shares the stage with just a chair, a juice bottle and some clever lighting -- can't cut it.

The Brooklyn monologist mesmerizes in this recreation of the world's first ever acid trip by Dr. Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD, and his bike ride home from his Swiss laboratory. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Julie Carl

 

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

Stage16 and Winnipeg Studio Theatre

PTE Mainstage (Venue 16), to Sunday

THE offbeat musical crowdpleaser The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the definition of good fun.

At a time when the TV audiences can't enough of competitions where contestants get booted off along comes this Survivor for nerds offering a sweet, funny trip back to middle school angst. The exuberant local amateur production of the 105-minute William Finn Broadway hit spell outs all the agonies and ecstasies of a competitive bee and comes out the winner.

The six main students are a familiar showcase of adolescent awkwardness. Standouts in director Kayla Gordon's strong cast are pure-voiced Jilliam Willems as Olive, a heartbreaker of a girl who spends too much time on her own, Dorothy Carroll as the lovable, lisping do-gooder Logainne and Nyk Bielak, as the brainy, sinus-challenged know-it-all who spells with his feet.

To Bee or not to Bee, there is no question. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Kevin Prokosh

 

PADRE X

Looking Glass Productions

Onstage at the Playhouse (Venue 4), to Saturday

 

THIS one-man drama is poised to become one of the hits of the fringe.

The moment the lights come up on Marc Moir as Chaplain John Weir Foote, we are transported back to the Second World War. Moir, clad in a genuine vintage 1940s army uniform, captures his audience's attention with a deceptive ease, and holds it for all 90 minutes.

His script (yes, he wrote it too) uses some clever devices to draw parallels between the present and the war years, as his character laments the fast-paced "today" (i.e. 1948) with the "innocent times" (pre-First World War) of childhood. His portrayal of Foote, his men (a company of British, Canadian and Scottish soldiers), and the enemy Germans under fire on the beaches of Dieppe will have you vividly seeing combat scenes. And his tearful, silent salute at the end of the story may be the single most striking moment of acting you'll see at the fringe this year. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Janice Sawka

 

[TITLE OF SHOW]

Pocket Frock Productions

Canwest Performing Arts Centre (Venue 9), to Saturday

 

HOW can a Broadway musical -- theatre at its most commercial -- be a fringe show?

Easy. This particular Broadway show by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell comes fringe-perfect: four actors, four chairs and one onstage accompanist. It's also a sublimely witty deconstruction of the Broadway musical, as wannabe musical impresarios Jeff (Nelson Bettencourt) and Hunter (Joshua Balzer) attempt to rip their way out of their reality show/dead-end-job torpor and put on a show about... putting on a show. In the workshopping process, they get an assist from actress-buddies Susan (Felicia Perron) and Heidi (Tatiana Carnevale, also the musical's director) who happily sign on to playing themselves -- as long as they get to play themselves.

What makes it fringe-y is that it is steeped in the hardcore musical theatre cult, with one song in particular utilizing the titles of a dozen or so failed Broadway musicals impressively incorporated into the lyrics. The cast and the oft-neglected piano accompanist (Paul DeGurse, doubling as musical director) invest a whole lot of energy and skill in this production, and the 90 minutes fly Glee-fully by.

It may be a musical, but it ain't Rainbow Stage (Heidi helpfully keeps score of the number of F-bombs dropped), so be cautioned about taking younger kids. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Randall King

 

ONE GOOD MARRIAGE

Theatre By the River

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to Saturday

 

TORONTO playwright Sean Reycraft's dark comedy could be summed up in the words of an old Scottish toast: "Here's to us! Who's like us? Damn few! And they're all dead!"

Stephanie and Stewart are newlyweds who should still be in the honeymoon phase of their marriage. But a lot can happen in that first year, especially if everyone invited to the wedding is suddenly dead right after the bride and groom leave the reception.

With the prickly patience of a couple for whom romance is way off the radar, Winnipeggers Matt TenBruggencate (Stewart) and Mel Marginet (Stephanie) engage in a very funny feat of verbal ping-pong as they recount the absurd horror of their wedding and come to terms with what it means to be an island unto themselves.

This wonderfully dark comedy is fringe-style theatre at its finest. It's too quirky for a main stage, yet gloriously at home on the edge. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Wendy Burke

 

SPIRAL DIVE, EPISODE THREE

Theatrepublic

Canwest Performing Arts Centre (Venue 9), to Saturday

 

THE concluding chapter in Edmonton playwright Kenneth Brown's Second World War melodrama confirms the trilogy's place as a Canadian theatrical classic.

Who needs that Swedish girl with her hornet's nest when we have Alberta flyboy Jack Harding's heart-stopping journey from innocence to experience in the skies of Europe?

With counterintuitive genius, Brown often breaks the No. 1 rule of drama, "Show, don't tell." Between scenes of character interaction -- the one female and three males essay dozens of roles -- Brown paints vivid expository scenes of air battles and bomb blasts.

It is amazing what these four talented performers do with their basic props -- military costumes, four chairs, a rolling scaffold, a few metres of cloth.

The 90-minute production, by the way, stands alone. You don't need to have seen the first two chapters, staged here at the 2008 and 2009 fringes. By the end, you will choke back tears of understanding at what the Greatest Generation survived both abroad and on the home front. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Morley Walker

 

THE PUMPKIN PIE SHOW

Horse Trade Theater Group

The Conservatory (Venue 7), to Saturday

 

THIS gripping drama explores the unspeakable bond that forms between three women in the aftermath of a horrific event that's only theoretically fictional.

"It's nothing but an obituary now, the whole yearbook," says the first character, shaking like an addict in the throes of withdrawal. She shares the nightmare with another mother, but from a very different perspective. In the middle monologue, an insecure student is haunted by the school's "bogeyman mascot," with whom she shared a pen-pal friendship in the margins of library books.

New York's Hannah Cheek mesmerizes, nailing every word and gesture as the story builds to an unexpected confrontation -- and a mother's unforgettable act of closure.

Watching her embody these broken women is an uncomfortably satisfying experience. This show is rightly recommended for an all-ages audience. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Carolin Vesely

 See every play reviewed on our Reviews page.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2010 D4

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