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Theatre of the absurd: Fringe shows our reviewers may have missed

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THE hottest ticket in town this weekend is the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, which allows utopian urbanists to pretend the Exchange District is more vibrant than it really is for 12 days.

To be fair, the Fringe is a lot of fun, as long as you manage to avoid the pathetic Def Leppard cover act that inexplicably gets booked to play Old Market Square, year after horrifying year.

The Fringe shows themselves are the reason so many Winnipeggers head to the Exchange in mid-July. But unless you have an unlimited amount of time on your hands, it’s almost impossible to catch all of them.

In fact, even the vaunted crew of Winnipeg Free Press reviewers will fail to take in all the productions this year. In order to pick up the slack, I’ve taken the liberty of reviewing all the shows they’ve missed:



Showtime Productions

City hall (Venue 32), July 18

IN this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, three-term Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz returns to his office, exhausted after a city council meeting where his colleagues declined yet another pitch to spend public money on a private water park.

Two of the mayor’s favourite sons, Couns. Scott Fielding and Justin Swandel, grow concerned about Katz’s tendency to treat events from the past as if they are real. They try to reason with him at an executive policy committee meeting, but the mayor gets the wrong idea and his political life takes a drastic turn.

Overall, this is a bleak but effective exploration of the chasm between the dreams of an everyman-turned-elected official and the reality of public life.




The Richardson Ground Squirrels

Lyric Theatre (Venue 33), until Labour Day

THE live-action version of the long-running raunchy animated series may be too disturbing even for the Fringe.

When the new administrators of Assiniboine Park decide to enforce a little-known rule governing park-bench reservations, it’s up to Eric, Stan, Kyle and Kenny to put a stop to the evil plan. Things go awry, however, when the flamingos from Toucan Ridge are let loose in the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

While the crass humour falls flat, sardonic musical numbers such as Blame Qualico save the day.




Manitoba Bar Association

Law Courts building (Venue 34), to July 28

IN this modern Manitoban update of the classic tale of treachery and intrigue, a divorcee launches a sexual-harassment complaint against his former lawyer and the lawyer’s wife, who happens to be a judge.

The tale involves nude photos, an allegation of attempted voyeurism and a counter-allegation of prostitution. Despite the lurid content, audiences quickly lose interest in this sordid and complex tale, mainly because none of the male characters turns out to be sympathetic.




Swaggerville City Players

Canad Inns Stadium (Venue 35), to Nov. 3

GARTH Buchko is a radio-station manager who suddenly finds himself at the helm of a struggling Canadian Football League franchise. The club’s terrible record on the field pales only in comparison to its losing effort to complete a new stadium on time.

Pressured from all sides, he sets himself and his team up for an impossible season — but still stands a remote chance of winning it all.

Despite a lot of advance buzz and an extremely loyal fan base, this ambitious theatrical effort proves entirely unconvincing.



Provencher Improv Theatre

Sawney Bean’s, Steinbach (Venue 36), to 2015

WHEN we last left Vic Toews, Canada’s greatest humourist, it was unclear whether he could do anything to top the hilarity of You’re Either With Us Or You’re With the Child Pornographers, his astounding one-man show.

But you never know what Vic Toews can do. At Fringe 2012, he goes out on a limb and asks the audience to tell him everything, in terms of the comedic scenarios he must perform.

Overall, this is a wholly satisfying conclusion to the Vic Toews saga. Bev Oda, however, is a disappointment in the role of Catwoman.




Fuelled By Pilsner Productions

The MTS Centre (Venue 37), showtimes TBD, pending labour negotiations

THIS made-in-Canada comedy tells the tale of hard-working Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel, who wants nothing more than to elevate a team of average players into the class of the National Hockey League.

But his hopes are dashed when his star defenceman winds up in a Minnesota court on a boating-under-the-influence charge — and his starting goalie gets convicted for drunk driving in the Czech Republic.

In a last-ditch effort to rally the team, Noel recruits the Hanson Brothers, a trio of goons who do little but fight and take cheap shots. When their aggressive style begins to pay dividends on the ice, the Philadelphia Flyers swoop in and hand all three brothers lucrative, multi-year offer sheets.

Despite the gritty realism, the laughs never quite materialize. All future performances are sold out, however.


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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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