Five-star fringe Free Press reviewers' top-rated picks for the 2019 theatre festival

The Free Press team of reviewers checked out 176 of 178 shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival this year — and 15 have received the coveted five-star review.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/07/2019 (1287 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Free Press team of reviewers checked out 176 of 178 shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival this year — and 15 have received the coveted five-star review.

We’ve assembled all the original reviews here for those preparing to attend.

Catch up on the latest Fringe news in our special section, and read reviews of all the plays in our reviews section. You can sort plays by name, or by our star rating, reader star rating, genre, venue, or search for a specific keyword.

Looking for great theatre, but not sure you want to stand in THAT a long line? See our 4- and 4.5-star rated plays here.

Glutton for punishment? Check out the 1- and 1.5-star rated plays here.

Don’t care what our reviewers think? Here are the plays sorted by reader rating. If you’ve seen a play, be sure to weigh in with your rating and (if you’re a Free Press subscriber) your review in our comments.

The Fringe wraps up July 28.



Imaginary Productions | X Cues Cafe and Lounge (Venue 30)

Fringe veteran Cory Wojcik shows why he is among Winnipeg’s top theatrical talents with Mix Tapes From My Mom, a one-man storytelling show.

As the frontman of a five-piece live band, Wojcik is also the lead vocalist and guitarist for a nostalgia-infused playlist of tunes performed live throughout the 90-minute play.

The band serves as the perfect accompaniment for a powerhouse script, delivered with a balance of emotional heft and hilarious one-liners.

Sharing a story this deeply personal on a public stage can be a challenge for any actor, but Wojcik is the type of performer whose charisma draws in the audience to create an immediate emotional connection.

That intimacy makes it easier to share a heartfelt performance, creating several occasions for both tears and laughter.

The genuine emotion leaves a lasting impact, demonstrated by a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation of opening night. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Matt Schaubroeck



Ryan Gladstone | The King’s Head Pub (Venue 14)

Grant Canyon — Canyon! — is a high profile insurance investigator from Iowa whose fact-finding mission on a whiplash case turns dark, as in noir dark, with dialogue straight out of the pulps.

Vancouver’s Ryan Gladstone plays numerous characters in this manic production and is a one-man wrecking machine who delivers a master class in physical comedy a la Bruce Campbell as he gets beat up, tortured, buried alive and drinks his way through a 60-minute mystery comedy involving drugs, diamonds, foreign agents, the mafia and his boss.

Gladstone plays off some brilliant sound and lighting engineering by Bruce Horak, who never missed a punch, gunshot, electrocution or freeze frame.

Canyon’s memory problems allow the writers some freedom with holes in the plot and wild scene changes, but it doesn’t matter. This show is insanely fun. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Rob Williams



Yellow Flamingo | John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1)

Kerry Ipema, the Brooklyn, N.Y. actor/writer behind the hit One Woman Sex and the City (2016) returns to the Fringe with another stellar parody show, this time a rollicking two-hander performed with fellow New York writer/comedian KK Apple.

This time out, Ipema and Apple skewer the (mostly faked) ecstasy and absurdity of chick flicks, reenacting Titanic, Pretty Woman, Beaches, The Notebook, Legally Blonde, and Dirty Dancing in a hilarious, high-energy 60-minute show. Co-written by Ipema and TJ Dawe, this comedy comes from a place of love, mocking the ridiculous (and usually written by a man) rom-com tropes and not the chicks who love these flicks — with some sharp social commentary on the side.

While the tight-and-bright script provides a laugh a minute, it’s Ipema and Apple’s skills as physical comedians, singers and dancers that really make it shine. (Ipema’s Rose from Titanic, in particular, is a true treasure.) A smile will not leave your face the entire time. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Jen Zoratti



Bossy Flyer | One88 (Venue 23)

As a writer, I believe that when words fail us, our bodies lead the way. Our physical selves take over when our minds can’t articulate the feelings we have inside. Three is a beautiful example of the transcendence of movement over words — It almost feels blasphemous to try to summarize its content in language.

Based on Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit, In which three strangers are trapped in a room together in the afterlife as punishment, the dynamics of the eponymous number are explored in this stunning show by Long Beach, California’s Bossy Flyer. Fun fact: tripods are considered one of the most stable structures in nature… and one of the most unstable in politics.

Performed with strength, grace, and flawless technique by acrobats Taylor Casas, Cynthia Price and Ezra Lebank, hell may be other people, as Sartre famously said, but this show soars pretty close to heaven. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Frances Koncan



803 Productions | Asper Centre for Theatre and Film – U of W (Venue 12)

Three best friends, high out of their minds, deciding which Sesame Street characters they’d sleep with.

That’s the beginning of this outstanding depiction of the rollercoaster of growing up. The trio went to university together, and still live together, but now their indivial priorities, one focused on weed, have shifted to relationships, school, and for one, still weed. Tensions grow as they try to stay together but keep floating apart. These tensions soon dissipate to help a friend who needs it.

There’s one particularly powerful moment where heartbroken Mary (played by Mary Nadine Maranan) is lying on the floor under a Canadian flag with a cannabis leaf on it. She’s covered herself in what once connected them, but is now dragging them down, as the other two try to help her, but can’t.

Nailing what it feels like to be a young woman, it’s both genuinely hilarious and heart-wrenching. This is a performance that everyone can empathize with and see themselves in, no matter what stage of life they’re at. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Gillian Brown



Chris Gibbs  | RIO – Portage Place (Venue 4)

Based on the 1986 “memoirs” of the delightfully dim Barnaby Gibbs, Not Quite Sherlock unravels a mystery that gleefully skewers the precision, pretension and preternatural politeness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s actual Sherlock.

London, U.K., writer/performer Chris Gibbs is a master of the mid-sentence revision in this revival of his 2005 play Antoine Feval. The first laugh goes up even before the lights, and then rolls them out continuously as Gibbs’ alter ego Barnaby recounts the 60-minute drawing room tale of the pursuit of the Rhyming Bandit.

Gibbs’ meticulously written script is peppered with droll understatement and amplified with perfectly-timed physical punch lines. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Wendy King



Hypothetical Projects | MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2)

Twenty years ago, Vic (Steve Yurkiw) was the hit of the theatrical world with his play Blue Horizon, the story of Seb, a self-centered, violent man who continually abuses his clinging girlfriend, Linda. Now Steve is a weary writing professor, living mainly off his past glory, and yearning to write another play.

As he slumps at his laptop, Seb (Ryland Theissen) appears, prodding Vic to license more productions of the play so he can continue his vicious fun. Linda (Bailey Chin) also appears, begging Vic to do the opposite: the play has inspired numerous instances of copycat violence, and she wants Vic to halt productions before somebody else gets hurt,

The interplay between the players positively crackles. The acting is excellent and the characterizations never waver. Theissen, in particular, is hypnotic as Seb, playing him as the snake he is in this 60-minute dramedy.

Equally noteworthy is how this production, unlike far too many others, tackles the prickly topic of gender-based violence without politicizing, pandering or simply sinking to bashing one side or the other. This is one of the best fringe has to offer this year. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Janice Sawka



So Lonely Productions | The Cinematheque (Venue 7)

It is a funny, existential look at life and failure framed through one man’s experience competing on TV’s biggest game show. What is I Lost on Jeopardy by George Buri?

The Winnipeg history professor reflects on fulfilling a lifelong dream and narrowly missing out on Jeopardy! glory in this one-man masterclass in punchy, engaging storytelling.

The show opens with clips from Buri’s 2017 appearance, which inevitably leads to audience members muttering the answers under their breath. He maintains that connection with the crowd throughout an hour-long set that offers a behind the scenes look at how Jeopardy! is made and how being on the show changed Buri’s outlook on life.

Many in this city will already be familiar with Buri’s story thanks to the whirlwind of local media coverage when the game show aired. But to hear about it told from the man himself is something special. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Eva Wasney



Outside In | The Gas Station Arts Centre (Venue 18)

Fueled by a young, boisterous Saturday night crowd, this collection of acrobats, contortionists and jugglers delivered the oohs, aahs and ’80s nostalgia in a way that’s just plain fringe fest fun.

The motley crew of circus performers from around the globe isn’t quite Cirque de Soleil quality but are better than what you might see at The Cube. Particularly eye-popping were the spider-like contortions of Winnipegger Samantha Halas, but my favorite was the melancholy interpretation of Jesse’s Girl by aerial silk acrobat Julie Marshall (Las Vegas).

Amping things up are your favorite ’80s hits played super loud and punctuated by emcee and juggler Idris Stanton, kind of an Aussie version of Duckie from Pretty in Pink. Sit up close because he does a thing with his eyes that I couldn’t quite see from the back but that gave the front rows the willies — In a good way. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Mary Agnes Welch



Quivering Dendrites | PTE Colin Jackson Studio (Venue 17)

Kieth Alessi is the kind of guy who only looks forward through the windshield, never in the rear-view mirror on his life’s journey, but in his one-man dramedy, the Vancouver, B.C.-based storyteller examines his whole personal history, from growing up in a large Italian family with an imposing father, through his time as a business executive to being diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer, brought on from acid reflux after a lifetime of eating tomatoes (really).

Alessi has an easygoing style with an honest vulnerability. He admits to owning 52 banjos, but never learned to play until surviving his battle with cancer almost four years ago. With a new lease on life, he started attending banjo classes and went to Virginia to study old-time music, which he shows off on three different instruments.

Using a mixture of humour (yes, there are banjo jokes), observations, self-reflection and music, Alessi’s inspirational and compelling tale will pluck at your heartstrings, clawhammer style. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Rob Williams



After Party Theatre | MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2)

Self-described teenage dirtbags Jules and Fiona walk into a house party with visions of climbing the social ladder during their final year of high school. Suffice it to say, the night doesn’t go as planned. After waking up in a raccoon-infested park, the best friends harness the magical powers of Ritalin to retrace their steps.

The After After Party is created and performed by Katey Hoffman and Cheyenne Mabberley from Vancouver. It’s an hour-long cartoonish (in a good way) raunchy comedy filled with pop culture references from the 1990s and early 2000s — including a full-on Mortal Kombat-style street fight that showcases the performers’ mastery of physical comedy.

Under all of the risqué jokes about illicit drugs, Bob Saget and JonBenet Ramsey is some potent commentary on female friendships, empowerment and the lengths we’ll go to try and fit in. The zingers fly so fast you’re likely to miss a punchline or two on the first watch. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Eva Wasney



Chase Padgett | PTE Mainstage (Venue 16)

Chase Padgett’s past Fringe appearances in 6 Guitars and Nashville Hurricane, featured the Vancouver, Wash.-based storytelling/musician portraying various characters; this time, he opens up about a year in his life that goes from bad to worse to better than ever in a fast-faced, heartfelt one-hour musical comedy that rides a roller-coaster of emotions from gut-wrenching to glorious.

Padgett’s inspirational tale starts off in New Orleans, where he is studying voodoo folklore with his keyboardist Leif Ingebrigtsen. They get their tarot cards read, and one by one all the predictions seem to come true, except the fortune teller never mentioned he would suffer a heart attack during his first day on the job with Disney Cruise Line.

Padgett’s songs and snappy interaction with Ingebrigtsen provide the funniest moments in the production, while the humourous musical numbers range from zippy ditties to show tunes.

It’s a show with a big heart that can’t be beat. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Rob Williams



Rage Sweater Theatre Productions | Centennial Concert Hall (Venue 11)

Monica Ogden is the hero Gotham needs.

In this riveting hour-long one-person show, Ogden, who hails from Victoria, nails the experience of being mixed-race in the land currently known as Canada and puts in to words so much of the unspoken trauma we all hold in our bones.

She addresses the impact of colonialism in all of its insidious forms, and functions both as an educator and an expert standup comedian. It’s hilarious, painful, difficult, timely, necessary and extremely powerful.

This is a must-see more than once. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Frances Koncan



Outside Joke | The Gas Station Arts Centre (Venue 18)

If there’s one show to see at this year’s fringe festival, this is it.

Starring four hilarious improvisers with some serious vocal skills, Outside Joke is a musical completely made up on the spot, down to the instrumentals on the piano. The members of the troupe are ridiculously funny and quick on their feet. With only chairs and each other on the stage, they can act scenes, compose a soundtrack, and flesh out a character they just created in only one hour. Also, their improvised harmonies are awesome.

The performance that I saw was a wonderful frog-studded dark romance set in a university mortuary-studies class. You’d think that people can’t make this stuff up, but these guys do. I, along with the entire audience, was laughing out loud from start to finish.

If you like musicals or improv, go see this show. If you don’t like musicals or improv, still go see this show. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Gillian Brown



DnD Improv | The Gas Station Arts Centre (Venue 18)

Many Fringe shows can only envy this one’s passionate fans, who sell out shows and pepper performances with howls of laughter and shouts of glee.

The 12 cast members are welcomed like rockstars as they appear on stage as characters loosely based on the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game and improvise a 60-minute scene with considerable quick witted silliness.

But what if you’re not into D&D? Can you still dig the show?

Yes. Even for those of us who don’t know a changeling from an elf, the show is a master class of the A-list of Winnipeg’s improvisers, leading the audience into a precious state of playfulness that most of us have lost as we aged.

The question isn’t whether to see this show. The question is how long you have to line up to get tickets. (Showtimes, reader ratings and reviews.)

— Carl DeGurse



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