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Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Top Fringe

Posted: 07/20/2011 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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ETOILE

A KDSZ Show

Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers (Kids Venue), to Saturday

 

ETOILE is a parody of the "child star" phenomenon, told in simplified form for young audiences All the usual stereotypes are present: talented young unknown, crass talent scout, greedy producer. The strategy to portray all the adults as exaggerated goofs, but keep the little girl normal, will appeal to kids. Everyone knows grown-ups are weird!

The actors juggle their multiple roles well, although Sativa Kawakami as Etoile is occasionally hard to understand. Karl Thordarson and Daina Leitold (also the writers) are particularly good when playing the bickering parents, and have some great zingers regarding acting as a "bad career choice."

Some scenes go on too long while others resolve too quickly and easily, and the set changes are a little cumbersome, despite everyone's best attempts to incorporate them into the proceedings. But you gotta love a play with the guts to use a real baby onstage. She elicited oohs and ahhs from the audience and seemed to enjoy it. Maybe we'll see her in a future fringe festival? HHH

-- Janice Sawka

 

BRAIN CRAVERS

Magic Toaster Productions

Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8) to Saturday

 

LEGENDARY director Vanguard Braun has secretly based the script of his latest masterpiece, Extollo, on a cursed ancient legend. Result: His cast of bickering, prima donna actors, plus the entire fringe-festival populace, starts turning into zombies. But the show must go on. No matter what happens...

This ambitious production boasts 16 actors, an (almost) full set, costumes and video backdrop. The zombie makeup is really pretty good, and there are some onstage special effects for when the mayhem starts. The cast is uniformly strong, and the audience immersion experience is convincing: When somebody in a bloodied shirt runs onstage shouting that you are now locked in the theatre for your own safety, and screaming is heard outside, you pay attention.

For all the good points, many spectators will find the relentlessly hyperactive pace just too manic and exhausting. Some toning down is required to make the show more accessible. Rest up before you attend. HHHH

-- Janice Sawka

A TASTE OF HONEY

In Between Productions

PTE Colin Jackson Studio (Venue 17), until Saturday

 

 

 

A Taste of Honey, which was part of the first wave of British kitchen-sink drama (think the stories of ordinary lives), was written by Shelagh Delaney at the tender age of 18. So it's no surprise the strongest character is a 17-year-old girl, Jo, played by Victoria Hill, who shines in the role.

And the rest of the cast isn't far behind her.

Kirsten Wattis plays her slatternly mother, Helen, who's finally landed a man with money. Perhaps she and Jo can at last escape from the latest in a string of dingy apartments and stop the constant moving, which has left Jo disconnected from the world, her mother, school and her artistic talent.

The costumes, the clever set and the strong performances -- including consistent north England accents -- invite you into another world, the world of mid-1950s, working-class Britain.

A warning: this is a 90-minute play in a very hot venue, but well worth the sweat. HHHH

SEmD Julie Carl

 

 

 

IL DUO: BECAUSE THE WORLD NEEDS MORE TENORS

Il Duo Productions

Augustine United Church (Venue 19), to Sunday

 

IT may be difficult to believe, but there is a chance during this 60-minute musical comedy you will laugh till you cry at a grown man singing like a cat in heat. I mean really, you might wonder, what's so funny about this?

But the two tenors of Il Duo, Ron Long and Clint Hagel (they got kicked out of the supergroup Il Divo, they explain, and are trying to get back), are so appealing they can get audience members to do almost anything. Even wear a coolie hat and mime a Mikado number, or sing along to Kenny Rogers. Really.

The official fringe program prepares audiences to expect the Smothers Brothers, but when these Edmonton boys drop the shtick and just sing, they are truly sublime.

The world needs more tenors like these. Just don't sit too close; they're irresistible. HHHH

-- Margo Goodhand

 

 

 

OR

Nancan Boogie Productions

Alloway Hall (Venue 4), to Sunday

 

DRAWING clever parallels between the 1960s sexual revolution and the 1660s Restoration period, this comedy (with elements of drama and farce) features some of the best comedic acting you'll see at the fringe this year. This is real acting, with fabulous diction, in a well-written play that happens to be a comedy.

The story follows Aphra Behn (Nan Fewchuk), a spy and lover to King Charles II (Rob McLaughlan), as she rises from debtor's prison to become a celebrated playwright, with some stops along the way for intrigue, double-crossing, farcical chases and a few bedroom romps, both with Charles and her female friend and lover, Nell Gwynne (Laura Olafson). For once, bisexual interaction between women is refreshingly presented not as a shock device, but naturally, as part of the story. (Actually, everyone is after everyone in this play. And with a cast this good-looking, you believe it.)

It's sexy, it's fun, and the hour flies by. HHHH

-- Janice Sawka

 

HAPPY SLAP

Rob Gee

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to Saturday

 

U.K. comic-poet Rob Gee offers up a "celebration of impropriety" with stories and poems culled from his riotous youth, his years as a psychiatric nurse, and the madness of contemporary life.

It's safe to say that Gee is the best friend impropriety ever had, as you'll come to understand listening to verse including a very rude Ode to Viagra and, in more socially conscious turf, a poem about "Poppy Day" that was commissioned by the BBC and then banned from the BBC.

Charismatic and outrageous, Gee is like the ultimate drinking buddy. Pity his venue's so far from the beer tent, really. HHH1/2

-- Randall King

 

 

 

 

 

HOW (NOT) TO KILL THE KING

Nametag

Cinematheque (Venue 7), to Sunday

 

THIS dramatic monologue is 45 minutes of solid classical theatre, eloquently delivered by young Vancouver actor Anna Lewis.

She plays 17th-century English dramatist John Fletcher, imprisoned in the Tower of London, awaiting execution for treason along with dear friend and frequent collaborator Francis Beaumont. Apparently the authorities failed to make the distinction between artistic expression and the traitorous machinations of a pair of would-be assassins.

"It's just a play!" the playwright declares as he relates, scene by scene, the unfinished masterpiece that appears to have sealed his fate. Pay attention or you'll get lost in the tragic-comic soap opera's meandering plot. Best enjoyed by theatre students and other fans of high-brow theatre. HH1/2

-- Carolin Vesely

 

 

 

 

 

TINFOIL DINOSAUR

Tinfoil Dinosaur Productions

Cinematheque (Venue 7), to Saturday

 

SAM Mullins wants to be an actor and he's not going to let his social anxiety deter him from his dream. Never mind that his biggest role to date is that of Lionel, an African-American little person and fiddler who becomes physically taller as his fame grows. Or that he wore blackface... in a university play that failed miserably.

Mullins moves to Vancouver and takes a serving job to pay for acting classes. But within months, failure and loneliness begin to kill his dream. During a dark night of the soul, he contemplates ending his life as well.

The next day, a playful encounter with a family of diners -- and 20 feet of aluminum foil -- changes everything.

This authentic and inspiring 45-minute monologue is one of those feel-good gems that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. A compelling storyteller, Mullins has a T. Rex-sized heart and it's a joy to bear witness to his victory. HHHH

-- Carolin Vesely

 

 

 

 

 

ZACK ADAMS: LOVE SONGS FOR FUTURE GIRL

Weeping Spoon Productions

Cinematheque (Venue 7), to Saturday

 

BOY meets girl. Girl dumps boy. Boy, being a musician, mines the misery for material and write songs for the all the girls he loved before -- starting in primary school.

The result is part cabaret, part "group therapy session" as Zack Adams muses about The One(s) that got away -- all named Lara to protect their privacy -- and why.

He does this mainly by altering the lyrics of popular songs (sorry, Mr. Dylan) to fit his various predicaments. His original compositions are just as clever. The best of the lot was The Apology Song, which he wrote for a woman he serenaded at one of his shows, who was promptly dumped by her jealous boyfriend.

Adams (ginger-haired, geek-chic alter ego of Aussie actor/comedian Shane Adamczak) is an engaging entertainer, not to mention adorably self-aware and self-deprecating.

He may not be your Mr. Right, but if you're looking for a fun time, he's a great Mr. Right Now. HHH

-- Carolin Vesely

 

 

 

 

 

R.I.S.K.

By Michael Davidson

Cinematheque (Venue 7), to Saturday

 

THEATRICAL convention gets tossed out the window in this bizarre, interactive "improv" show that takes its cues from whatever happens to pop into Michael Davidson's head. (It must sound like a popcorn factory in there.)

One minute we're playing Pictionary, and the next we're talking about zombies, depression and the Slinky as a metaphor for life. Then suddenly we all follow Davidson -- whose face is painted black and white -- out of the theatre and hang out in the lobby a bit before returning to write our fantasies on scraps of paper.

This Edmontonian's mind is a bit of a junk drawer, and while there's definitely some interesting and useful stuff in there... Did I mention he put his jacket on backwards halfway through the show?

Anyway, kudos to Davidson and his assistant (?) Brendan Campbell for having the chutzpah to sell a 60-minute show with a three-word pitch: "Take a risk." Their words, not mine. HH

-- Carolin Vesely

 

 

 

ROALD DAHL'S THE WITCHES

MTYP Yo. Co.

Shaw Performing Arts Centre (Venue 9), to Saturday

 

A delightfully wicked take on Dahl's tale of witches, their evil plots against children and the brave boy/mouse who defeats them, this adaptation by British playwright/author David Wood does Dahl's work proud.

And so does MTYP's Youth Company, under the fine direction of Carolyn Gray. The cast members revel in the chance to play with such great material, sweeping the audience along with them for the ride. These excellent young actors gleefully inhabit Dahl's world, where a few simple set pieces and some very clever staging transport us into the story. Adorable mice puppets, clever musical cues (including O Fortuna backing a stellar slow-motion action sequence) and some outstanding witchy cackling are irresistible.

The Witches is an uproariously fun time where evil gets its due, and any Dahl fan of any age will be thrilled. HHHH1/2

-- Barb Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

SOUND & FURY'S "DOC FAUSTUS"

Sound & Fury

Gas Station Theatre (Venue 18), to Sunday

 

SOUND & Fury, those secretly erudite goofball thespians from Los Angeles, are back again, this time this time tackling Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus.

The tale of the failed physician who sells his soul to the devil has been transplanted to Abilene, Texas. That allows for a Johnny Cash-style narrator, some David Bowie-at-the Alamo bits and a corn-pone Texas governor who sounds oddly like CBC Radio's Stuart McLean. It's classic, meandering, self-deprecating and very funny S&F.

It's also insidiously smart, like vegetables hidden in the brownies. There are many lines from the real Faustus, lots of historical references and some moral lessons about wasting your Lucifer-given talents and meddling with history.

It all starts with a bang -- the opening Faustus song is sharp and funny and by then you already have a crush on all the actors from the pre-show -- but the production lags slightly two-thirds of the way through, and the actors sometimes get a little caught up in the meta-ness of it all.

Other than that, S&F in fine form. HHHH

-- Mary Agnes Welch

 

 

 

MATADOR

Bolero Dance Theatre

MTC Mainstage (Venue 1), to Saturday

 

WINNIPEG'S Bolero Dance Theatre consistently mounts flamenco-based shows that are amazingly high-calibre for an amateur troupe.

Matador, a blazing, stage-filling dance version of the Spanish tragedy Blood and Sand, is better than ever in terms of technique, and the vivid costumes are spectacular.

Artistic director Pedro Aurelio, who could make a better facial connection with the audience, is the cocky matador who destroys his marriage by taking up with an alluring aristocrat (magnetic Monique Rivera). Ballet-trained guest dancer Etienne Hernandez soars as the bull, but stands out too much when he joins the ensemble. The mature Shelley Eros is wonderful to watch as the matador's mother.

Bolero's past shows have run 45 or 50 minutes. This one loses impact by stretching to 75 stamping, castanet-clacking minutes. The six-piece onstage band, including three passionate singers, is excellent, but greatly over-amplified. The fiery flamenco strumming and thumping on two guitars shouldn't be cranked into the headache zone. HHHH

-- Alison Mayes

 

 

 

 

 

CYRANO: A PUPPET SHOW

Castaway in the Attic

MTC Mainstage (Venue 1), to Friday

 

WHATEVER happened to the one-hour fringe production? This year, there's an epidemic of shows that run 75 or 90 minutes and cry out for tightening. This puppet play from Edmonton, billed at 90 minutes and even running a bit overtime, is one of them.

Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is a towering stage classic, but an adaptation carried by puppets in a large theatre that lacks intimacy -- with rather long pauses to change scenes -- becomes an endurance test.

Brittany Hunter affects a sweet, unvarying, princess-y voice for Roxane and sounds utterly female when she handles smaller male roles. The men who play ugly but poetic Cyrano and his handsome but inarticulate friend Christian are stronger, but one has to work extremely hard to ignore the three puppeteers' always-in-view faces.

The story is, of course, brilliant, witty, inspiring and moving. When poignant music underscores Cyrano's most ardent romantic speeches, the show transcends its limitations and touches the heart. HHH

-- Alison Mayes

 

 

 

 

 

CATCHING SHADOWS

Broken Still Productions

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2), to Saturday

 

SDLqWHAT if life was only shadows?" That's the question explored in this tedious and overly arty drama, written and performed by Winnipegger Megan Andres (Bedbound in 2010).

It opens with a young woman, Ava, lying on her back and watching shadows dance around a room the way children watch clouds shape into sheep, dogs and dragons. She bemoans the emptiness inside and around her.

Wielding a butterfly net, she then spends the next hour scooping the shadows out of the air and placing one after another in a wood box for safekeeping. Each one represents a memory, a formative or pivotal moment from her past ---- nearly smothering her sister, her parents' divorce, a pregnancy -- and it's like she's trying to urgently grab them all before they (or she?) disappear into the light.

There seems to be something very Buddhist going on here, maybe about attachment and "the Void" and letting go, but it doesn't really work, despite Andres's considerable acting abilities. HH1/2

-- Carolin Vesely

 

 

 

OH, THAT WILY SNAKE

Concrete Drops

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

 

THE "snake" in this 45-minute absurdist comedy from New York playwright-actor Martin Dockery refers to the treacherous serpent in the Bible who told Eve lies to compel her to partake of the forbidden fruit. But here, it's Edmond (Dockery), a guy who brings his bed over to the apartment of the lovely, naive Edith (Vanessa Quesnelle) with the purpose of getting her on it. There's just the issue of Edith's 10-foot-tall Belgian boyfriend.

A 10-foot-boyfriend should be a signal that Dockery's tale is surreal and dream-like, and sure enough, once Edmond gets Edith on the bed, they fly out the window, crash in a swamp, and Edmond convinces Edith to munch of the forbidden Brussel sprout.

Yep, it's very much like a weird inexplicable quasi-nightmare of the type you might have if you read Genesis during a particularly painful breakup. But the actors deliver the weird dialogue as snappily as if they were doing Neil Simon. Gotta say, the cool dark ambience of the venue makes the dream feel more pleasant than intended. HHH

-- Randall King

 

 

 

SOFA SO GOOD

Small Matters Productions

MTC Warehouse (Venue 6), to Saturday

 

EDMONTON clown sweethearts Rocket (Adam Keefe) and Sheshells (Christine Lesiak) make love and war and general mayhem in this innocently twisted romp.

When Rocket finds a loveseat in a dumpster, it creates havoc in their happy little home. A universal remote under the cushions inspires a series of high-energy TV-show spoofs and they're so mystified by a vibrator stuffed in a crevice, they put it to extremely naughty use before discovering its true purpose. Worse, the couch is hiding other secrets that pose a threat to life and limb.

Keefe and Lesiak are endearing, and the one-hour show is a fun ride, but it loses some of its momentum before the finale. HHH1/2

-- Pat St. Germain

 

BEDLAM

KIA Productions

Shaw Performing Arts Centre (Venue 9), to Saturday

 

Good news first: you'll leave Bedlam knowing how to give a lobotomy by sticking a probe through an eye socket.

Bad news: sitting through this plodding piece makes you feel like you've had one.

All snark aside, Bedlam is simply not ready for the stage. After the fringe guide went to press, Edmonton's Alexander Forsyth swapped his original entry, Pretty Bird, for his one-man monologue about the doctor who popularized transorbital lobotomies.

It's disappointing that Forsyth -- who is sober and likable onstage -- didn't have something more polished in his catalogue. Bedlam feels like a too-early script rehearsal: it's monotonous, broken by long pauses that could be pregnant but are more likely forgotten lines. A good chunk of time is spent tediously reciting patients' medical records.

By the time the play strikes actual emotion and character development, it's too late: the audience has already checked out. H

-- Melissa Martin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2011 D4

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