GOD IS A SCOTTISH DRAG QUEEN
By Mike Delamont
Tom Hendry Warehouse (Venue 6), to July 28
WHAT if God were one of us, just a stranger on the bus...? Truth be told, God really hates that song. And he would not ride the f bus, especially in Winnipeg, where you're either 35 minutes early or 10 minutes late. So proclaimeth our Lord himself in this hilarious 75-minute monologue.
The audience doesn't stand a prayer before this profane Scottish matron (Victoria comedian Mike Delamont) in his floral power suit, sporting a devilish grin and striding barefoot across the stage, sending up everything from Adam ("I should have stopped at monkeys!") to the afterlife ("Heaven has beach volleyball") to the Exchange District ("It's hard to tell who's the crackhead and who's the 'fringe performer.'"). It's five-star standup comedy with soul. In Spanx. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Margo Goodhand
Shaw Performing Arts Centre (MTYP) (Venue 9), to July 27
A SWEET and melancholy clown named R. G. Chesterton (Matt Walley), pushing a trunk full of surprises, takes the stage in this delightful physical variety show. It's a happy mix of comic encounters bubbling with simple pleasures, like finding a creative way to fill a little red cup to water a wilting rose.
While most clowns have odd hats, Chesterton has an especially strange musical hat, which seems to have the magical power to discern personality and play music to fit the moment in the funniest way possible -- the perfect accessory to go with a wind-up opposable thumb. Along for the ride is the graceful Angela Horchem as an acrobatic stagehand with a troublesome mop. She also dives in as Chesterton's partner engaging in some synchronized swimming in a very small space.
Mixtape is a world brimming with silliness and child-like wonder, an utterly charming show for all ages. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Wendy King
TIL DEATH: THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII
Til Death Productions
Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (Venue 13), to July 27
SAY you gathered together the victims of a serial wife-killer. What would that be like?
Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, a second-year appearance at the fringe for this Vancouver-based production, offers a historical take on that concept. Henry's dead wives gather in an antechamber just outside heaven to tell their life stories and vie for the spot of the king's consort in royalty heaven.
It's a work of genius that actress Tara Travis plays all six wives, plus Henry. That could be a confusing mess in less talented hands. But she never wavers in the accents and physicality of each character. Travis doesn't miss a beat as she snaps from the fiery Spanish accent of Catherine of Aragon to the valley-girlesque Kathryn Howard to the guttural tones of German Anne of Cleves.
All that, and a feminist statement on empowerment, too, makes for quite the history lesson. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Julie Carl
THE BIG STUPID IMPROV SHOW
The Probable Cast
WAG/Muriel Richardson Auditorium (Venue 12), to July 28
BIG Stupid is like that proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get, but you know it's going to be good. This perennial fringe laughfest led by Crumbs' Stephen Sim and Lee White -- with DJ Mama Cutsworth supplying improvised musical accompaniment -- features a rotating cast made up of touring fringe performers and local improv lights. Alix Sobler (She's Not There, 2009) was among the standouts on opening night, when the crew performed a director's cut show. Given five half-baked sketches, the audience votes for a favourite to complete. Pirates, aliens, star-crossed lovers -- it can be a tough choice, but with Big Stupid, it's always the right one. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2
-- Pat St. Germain
WINNIPEG IS BEAUTIFUL
Crocus Building, 211 Bannatyne (Kids' Venue)
WINNIE (Karly McMillan) is a super perky girl who super likes school and her older brother Flynn (Duncan Cox) and history and other neat stuff... until some scary news on the radio and some mean schoolyard bullies make her feel very small and want to hide away.
This is a standard tale of self-esteem for kids (not to mention the obvious allusion to Winnipeg's legendary inferiority complex), which uses some neat elements to deliver its message. When Winnie feels "small," she is played by a small young child (Hudson Francis), who delivers her lines wonderfully but is unfortunately too quiet to be heard beyond the second row.
A few other performers also had problems with projection, although Cox was a standout, delivering a performance that was so natural and believable kids, in the audience could be overheard exclaiming, "That's real!" McMillan was no slouch either, but sometimes spoke too fast to be understood clearly.
Technical issues aside, the message still shone through, and the kids loved it. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
-- Janice Sawka
THE WASHING & THE CARPENTER
Corporeal Mime Theatre
Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to July 28
USING his trim, muscular frame and controlled movements worthy of a tai chi master, Giuseppe Condello presents two famous mime routines, created in France by Etienne Decroux in 1931. The first shows a man washing and hanging clothes, and the second shows a carpenter shaping pieces of wood. Mundane tasks you would think, but going by the expression of extreme concentration on Condello's face, they've somehow been transformed into an intense experience.
The routines are short and are interspersed with film clips of Decroux in action, and audio excerpts of an interview where he likens mime to "creating movement in our seated world." These seem like filler until the Q&A session afterward, when we learn that Condello -- astoundingly fit at age 66 -- studied with the man himself.
Definitely not to everyone's taste, but for those interested in stage movement or the background of mime beyond the silly stereotypes -- a rare opportunity. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
-- Janice Sawka
Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to July 27
IF you experience a twinge of d©j vu while watching Brit performance poet Steve Larkin's act, don't worry, you're not going bonkers. Fat Sex, a commentary on women's obsession with body image and sex, was one of the routines he performed here at the 2006 fringe (remember the Winnipeg Press Club venue?) as part of The Bold and Spiky Poetry Show. Some comedy subjects just don't go out of style.
The title routine has been lengthened and is (needlessly) more frantic now, but Steve has added other touches: A musical element courtesy of a mandolin (and he can really play) and songs and poems on everything from drinking ("Drink because it's Christmas... New Year's... Saturday...") to smelly people ("Wash more") to physical fitness ("Be a coffin dodger"). The material and delivery are uneven, but the guy's such a likable bloke he connects to the audience quickly, and had everyone singing -- and some even dancing -- along. Good fun. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Janice Sawka
DIRK DARROW: NCSSI (NOT COMPLETELY SERIOUS SUPERNATURAL INVESTIGATOR)
MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2), to July 27
MURDER. Mystery. Magic. Mentalist misdirection. And maybe a couple of sharp objects moved to places they don't belong. Heck, what the fringe do you want for 10 bucks?
As '30s-inspired film-noir gumshoe Dirk Darrow, Aussie import Tim Motley delivers a full package of fringe-fun goods, using the loose framework of a murder-investigation yarn as the jumping off point for a fast and funny multi-disciplinary showcase that involves plenty of audience involvement. Quick of wit and smooth in his delivery of challenging whip-fast dialogue, Motley makes a strong case for inclusion on the fest-goers' must-see list. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
-- Brad Oswald
Have We Met?
The Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8), to July 27
THIS contemporary dance/theatre piece is a quirky exploration of why people collect everything from coins to stamps to shoes.
Local dancers Frances Young, Brianna Ray Ferguson and Janelle Hacault join choreographer/director Brett Owen in an imaginative work that unfolds like child's play. As they pull assorted shoes and boots from a massive pile, they invent a gazillion ways to repurpose them with a sense of silly joy.
The mostly one-dimensional characters include: A nerdy, bespectacled Hacault who finally gets in touch with her inner siren after strapping on pink stilettos. Young is a sexy seductress who hip-swivels in lingerie. Owen's flaming surfer-dude has a penchant for heels while Ferguson serves as generic sidekick.
At first blush, the show seems merely an innocent romp through shoe fanaticism. But it also gently points to the emotional attachments we all experience during our lives as we gather, hoard and cling to our worldly goods. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
-- Holly Harris
THE MELANCHOLY FOLLIES OF CLARENCE AND DESOLITA
Prancing Pickle Pony
Cinematheque (Venue 7), to July 28
THE opening announcement that this production's puppets did not survive the journey from Toronto seemed, at the time, a tragedy. But in hindsight, it's a great way to set the tone for this amusing -- if macabre -- comedy.
Talented actors Nicole Ascroft and Sean Michael make great use of audience participation to keep the laughs rolling. The game of fatal-illness charades could stand alone, but it doesn't need to as the two clowns -- dressed in black, with ghoulish makeup, a stark contrast to their cheery red clown noses -- have lots of tricks up their sleeves (not to mention streamers of blood up there, too.)
The extended suicide scene (performed to music from Carmen) makes for a triumphant finish, but Michael even manages to top that with the simple act of cleaning up the stage. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
-- Julie Carl