Just when you think there can’t possibly be more fringe play reviews…
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
THE 11 O’CLOCK NUMBER: THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL
The 11 O’Clock Number
Gas Station Arts Centre (Venue 18) to July 24
With Winnipeg’s crack troupe Outside Joke apparently enticed away from fringe by Prairie Theatre Exchange this year, it falls on Edmonton’s 11 O’Clock Number to jump to the musical-improv pumps at the Gas Station. And yes, they fill ‘er up nicely, thank you. Challenged on opening night Wednesday to perform a musical set in a boxing ring, they came up with “Down for the Count,” a rollicking hour show about child gladiators (!) equally inspired by Annie and Rocky.
Performers Byron Martin, Dallas Friesen, Abby Vandenberghe, and Malachi Wilkins, with keyboard accompanist Simon Abbott, can often spin a tune more catchy than you’d find in some legitimate contemporary musicals. But even better, they deliver real laughs with combination punches of solid gags and impressive extemporaneous choreography. Talk about thinking on your feet. 4/5
— Randall King
ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY IN 7 STORIES
So Lonely Productions
The Fountain (Venue 4) to July 24
Georges Buri takes an hour to offer his view of human history in this Winnipeg show. It is a kind of sentimental, liberal-left distillation of his reading of some great historians/philosophers.
His conclusion: We lived in harmony in the Stone Age but shouldn’t despair at the horrors since, because love may conquer all. Well, it sounds nice. Buri is a good speaker, comfortable on stage, and he can punch home a point. Unfortunately, one gets the sense that he would have the same passion presenting a history of ice cream, used cars, you name it, as he is with “all of human history.” His attempts to compare a modern example with an historical figure, as with Genghis Khan to the Godfather — why a fictional character, why not a real Mafia don? — are adolescent. He even drags in Glen Murray. 2/5
— Rory Runnells
ASK ME ANYTHING
Keep It Movin’ Productions
The Cinematheque (Venue 7) to July 23
Talking about sex is awkward — especially in front of a room full of strangers during a show plagued with technical difficulties. Yet it was amid computer glitches that Una Aya Osato’s performance felt most comfortable and coherent. While their laptop rebooted, the playwright from New York improvised smoothly and engaged audience members in (consensual) participation.
The comedic storytelling show is framed as a sex-ed class taught by an ill-informed and intentionally awkward instructor whose curriculum acts as a gateway for Aya Osato’s real-life experiences with long COVID. It’s kind of about sex and mostly about the social, political and personal struggles of the last two years. There are moments of hilarity, but the concept is bogged down with an overstuffed PowerPoint presentation and too many implied punchlines. Masks, or rather face condoms, required. 2/5
— Eva Wasney
Drawing Board Productions
The Cinematheque (Venue 7) to July 23
Diapers are both a burden and a comrade in Tamlynn Bryson’s funny and poignant one-woman show about her 15-year battle with bedwetting. The Toronto performer plays herself, from childhood to teenagerdom, as well as a dozen or so supporting characters — swapping roles at lightning speed to the beat of well-timed lighting cues and voice-overs. Co-created with Bryson’s friend and apparent Britney Spears superfan Kyle Kimmerly, the coming-of-age story pulls back the bedspread on a typically taboo subject with humour, heart and an obscene number of diaper puns.
Bryson has a Molly Shannon-esque command of physical comedy that adds necessary depth to mostly true tales of sleepovers, bullies, summer camp and run-ins with a high school crush while shopping for leak-proof underthings. Bedwetter is an entertaining and relatable romp for anyone who has ever been embarrassed by uncontrollable bodily functions. 4/5
— Eva Wasney
A BROTHERS GUIDE
Sensible Chuckle Theatre
The Black Box at Théâtre Cercle Molière (Venue 19) to July 24
This runaway train of entertainment learning is funny, weird and, at times, outrageous. Over 45 minutes, Alex and Tim Coates, the all-encompassing lifestyle guides modelled after motivational speakers, provide a wealth of practical knowledge on everything from dating to business, meditation, becoming stress-free, opening a jar that’s stuck, avoiding drama and, well, just about anything. To establish a baseline of things to come, the brothers start their whiteboard presentation with an exploration of good and bad: Petting dogs = good. Hepatitis = bad. The next question is left for the audience to answer.
There were more than a few chuckles and giggles, and some elements of surprise. The show is well-structured, highlighting playful back-and-forth banter with some good writing, celebrating an extensive linguistic lexicon. If you’re looking for a different kind of life advice, this is one to see. 4/5
— Janine LeGal
AN EVENING OF MAGIC & MYSTERY WITH KEN SKY
Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 5) to July 23
Winnipeg-based, internationally renowned magician Ken Sky said he wasn’t packing his magic wand, but he did have several tricks up his sleeve during his hour-long performance. Sleight-of-hand illusions and misdirection dominated this show, with a side of sincere storytelling and off-the-cuff jokes.
If attendees were hoping to see grand illusions leaving them asking about the magic behind each trick, they won’t get it from this show — the illusions were simplistic and proved magic is only as believable as the audience allows it to be.
The core of the show was supplemented by audience participation to help with tricks. However, participation remained consistently low throughout the show, despite the performer’s genuine attempts to relate and engage with his audience. Despite some slow-moving segments, Sky creatively conveyed his love for adding lustre to the audience members’ lives. 2/5
— Nadya Pankiw
EVERYTHING’S ACTUALLY OK, A VARIETY SHOW
The Fountain at Portage Place (Venue 4) to July 23
At a compact 45 minutes, Everything’s Actually OK could be considered an early post-COVID test piece by Winnipeg writer-performers Erin Hammond and Laura Kolisnyk, as they tackle creating a fringe show in the context of a tense, endless two-year lockdown.
The danger is that such a show could turn cute or self-referential. For the most part that is avoided, owing to Hammond and Kolisnyk’s self-deprecating manner. Some skits work, some are on their way and many fall flat. The ones that do work are at least clever and at best, gently satiric and surprising. The show’s main strength, however, is in the easy and genuine affection the performers have for each other and, one feels, their audience.
There is, above all, a sense of melancholy in the show, especially in Hammond’s performance, that suits the moment. 3/5
— Rory Runnells
A GRAVE MISTAKE
A Little Bit Off
John Hirsch MTC Mainstage (Venue 1) to July 23
Dingy (Amica Hunter) and Grub (David Cantor) are a pair of impoverished, bungling swindlers in this physical comedy.
The pair are accomplished acrobats and jugglers with undeniable charm in relating to an audience, offering silly asides and pointing out their shortfalls. (“This is scary!” gasps Cantor while amazingly juggling a spinning shovel).
Unfortunately, their opening night was plagued by misbehaving props, although they recovered quickly and cleverly. (“I’m going insane and so is my microphone!”)
The bogus séance sequence was very cute, featuring a little ghost riding on a Roomba. But when the spirit “came into the light,” a very bright bulb was directed at the audience, making it hard to watch. The pair also illuminated audience members — and themselves — with flashlights, which led to other issues… The kinks will undoubtedly be ironed out during the run, and some will find these lovable goofs adorable as they gain their footing. But less-forgiving spectators may equally view the show as insufficiently rehearsed and haphazard, and may even demand their retinas back. 3/5
— Janice Sawka
GENERIC MALE: JUST WHAT WE NEED, ANOTHER SHOW ABOUT MEN
PUSH Physical Theatre
Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8) to July 24
To call one’s own play “generic” and to question its necessity in the title is a major gamble. And it’s too bad that for the most part, PUSH Physical Theatre rolls snake eyes.
Though filled with thought-provoking movement — with stars Ashley Jones and Darren Stevenson of Rochester, N.Y., elevating two men hugging to physical spectacle — the performance missed the mark on what could have been illuminating work about masculinity in the 21st century, instead reverting to well-trod territory.
That may have been the point: that in the hands of two admittedly generic men who’ve been moulded by societal pressure to shirk individuality, flair and vulnerability, to “be a man,” it is near-impossible to have intelligent discussion about privilege and status.
Perhaps it’s a metaphor. The physicality is all there. What’s missing in the spoken segments is introspection and structure. If that was intentional, good on them. 2.5/5
— Ben Waldman
GABE MOLLICA: A SOLO SHOW ABOUT FRIENDSHIP
The Cinematheque (Venue 7) to July 24
“My sister goes to the bathroom and comes back with three Instagram followers,” comic Gabe Mollica says. “I have not made a new friend since the Obama administration.”
Mollica isn’t sure he has a single friend. He has guys he hangs out with for hours, listing retired baseball players and making jokes about a former classmate who dressed as Batman. But someone he can share the deepest version of himself with? That’s harder to come by.
In an easygoing, light style, Mollica analyzes his male-male friendships, including one with a buddy who became more like a soulmate, showing his spirit as a performer.
Filling 60 minutes as a solo artist is no easy feat, but Mollica does it with charm and good humour. He’s a guy you could hang out with for hours, even if you don’t know who started Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS for the New York Yankees. 4/5
— Ben Waldman
JAMES & JAMESY: RIGHT THIS WAY
PTE — Mainstage (Venue 16), to July 24
Perennial fringe favourites James and Jamesy — a.k.a. Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles, respectively — are incredibly charismatic performers and deft physical comedians, no question. But their new work, while packed with potential, isn’t quite ready for prime time.
The premise is good. The duo play a pair of clowns with a pressing, performance-related problem: James has a repressed trauma that is preventing him from getting a pie in the face. With bestie Jamesy, they journey into the depths of James’ mind — which is cleverly all done in black light, making their clown makeup garish and terrifying — to figure it out.
Right This Way has the makings of a sweet rumination on the fickleness of memory and overcoming one’s fears, but it left one wanting more. Some of the jokes just weren’t landing; an early prop mishap got the biggest laughs — a testament to their ability to think on their feet — but overall, it felt like an underdeveloped showcase for their undeniable chemistry. Note: While this may be a debut-performance issue, the show ran about 35 minutes, not 60 as written in the program. 2.5/5
— Jen Zoratti
THE SEX LIFE OF BUTTERFLIES
Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 5) to July 24
Martin Dockery spent the first 15 months of the pandemic performing for an audience of one in New York: his wife, Vanessa. So it makes sense he’s excited to be back on stage telling stories — about his daughter, about the very silly installation he made at Burning Man, and about a flight to Mexico to see a butterfly orgy — to complete strangers.
The audience was just as excited to hear them. Dockery struts his gangly frame around with undeniable magnetism, his hands and legs the only props he needs, recounting life’s tiny and big moments in a manner similar to comedian Mike Birbiglia, had he consumed 12 cups of coffee before showtime.
Broken up into three segments, each centred on a theme of the search for control, Dockery’s hour-long performance is profoundly human, with lyrical prose and movement that refuses to surrender. 4/5
— Ben Waldman
Gas Station Arts Centre (Venue 18), to July 24
Instead of being inspired by T.S. Eliot, this bawdy, silly musical parody from Edmonton’s Grindstone Theatre takes as its template the ‘80s animated series ThunderCats, yet it still shares genetic material with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, i.e.: “There’s no plot.” As with Webber, this show gives various cheesy felines the spotlight, with Paul-Ford Manguelle going all Rum Tum Tugger as Panthro, or Cheetara (Stephanie Wolfe) offering a cheeky counterpoint to Grizabella’s signature tune Memory — crude and hilarious and worth the wait. (Instead of choosing one to journey to the Heaviside Layer, our characters are auditioning for a ThunderCats reboot.)
What’s especially amazing here is how this troupe commits to the bit, with eight actors in full makeup and costume and three musicians on stage, all working very hard indeed throughout the hour. The quality of dance and singing range from non-equity-tour quality to church basement. But the humour is always on point, pointedly deflating the bombast of Webber. It may perhaps be best appreciated by adults who once tuned into the first iteration of the show: ‘80s kids, assemble! 4/5
— Randall King
TOMATOES TRIED TO KILL ME BUT BANJOS SAVED MY LIFE
Colin Jackson Theatre (Venue 17) to July 24
Former accountant and real-life cancer survivor Keith Alessi returns to the fringe with his journey of healing and hope in this finger-pickin’ love letter to the instrument that saved his life – the banjo.
Equal parts bluegrass concert, inspiring pep talk, geography lesson and preventative-health lecture, the feel-good, one-hour show includes plenty of banjo jokes and nifty musical numbers (including a to-die-for performance of Shady Grove). It’s bit rapid-fire at times — more pauses or musical interludes would allow this tale to breathe — and the initial emotional shock and the critical turning point of his cancer recovery are merely glossed over, weakening the show’s narrative arc and thwarting its dramatic punch. Still, the plucky artist hailing from both Vancouver and Meadows of Dan, Va., proves himself a compelling raconteur with an easy, aw-shucks charm as irresistible as a banjo tune on a sultry summer’s night. 4/5
— Holly Harris
A VERY SERIOUS NIGHT WITH BARNEY MORIN
River Road Productions
The Black Box at Théâtre Cercle Molière (Venue 19) to July 23
There’s something infectious about local comic Barney Morin. (The good kind of infectious.) You can’t help but like him, a natural storyteller, even if all the pieces in this 45-minute piece don’t always flow.
Among the several segments to this mostly standup show, the pre-recorded television skits exploring addiction and politeness are comical. His lively banter with the audience has its moments, and his interactions with his sidekick, non-speaking Sargent Serious, are delightful and entertaining. Poking fun at the world as a serious place, and tackling hard-hitting issues with humour, Morin jokes about politics, religion, sexual proclivities and how people like to dress their hotdogs. With his high-energy stage presence Morin manages to lead a meditation, do a workout, demonstrate a Norwegian healing ritual, sing, dance and do improv.
Morin is passionate, engaging and committed to his craft. It’s hard not to appreciate all that. Seriously. 4/5
— Janine LeGal
WAIT, SO DO I MAKE OUT WITH A PAN?
Buried Seeds Productions
MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2) to July 24
This charmer of a one-woman show features Winnipeg writer and actor Marie Kozyra as Lea, a late bloomer who is questioning her sexuality and finding Google the opposite of helpful. So, she fires up her iPhone and films a vlog in her childhood bedroom in order to reach across the vast expanse of the internet, and maybe help out other questioning explorers as well.
The result is an insightful, vulnerable comedy that skilfully addresses the cultural and societal erasure of bisexuality as well as the pressure to be “queer enough,” while also serving up big laughs: Kozyra is a one-to-watch when it comes to physical comedy, and her timing is terrific. At 30 minutes, however, the show felt a bit tightly packed; a 45-minute run time might allow for a more natural denouement.
Solid sound and set design also make this show sing. The fact that her iPhone was propped up by the double-VHS edition of Titanic is a sight gag not to be underappreciated. 3.5/5
— Jen Zoratti
CHASE PADGETT: LUCKY BREAK
PTE Mainstage (Venue 16) to July 24
Winnipeg fringe fans are the beneficiaries of Chase Padgett’s emotion-packed pandemic adventures.
The American musical storyteller, who lives in Vancouver these days, has been a fringe fixture at the PTE Mainstage for years with hit shows such as 6 Guitars and Nashville Hurricane, as well as 2019’s more personal Heart Attacks & Other Blessings.
He has more of his own tales to tell in Lucky Break, and Padgett ably meshes reflections about caring for his mother after her hip surgery with the anxieties over performing on Alter Ego, the strange Fox talent show and his disappointment with theatre’s forced shift to social media — “millions of views, zero impact.”
While he re-enacts some highlights from his Alter Ego performances in the hour-long Lucky Break, Padgett is at his best distilling his thoughts about the show, American politics and parental problems into satisfying poetry and rap. 5/5
— Alan Small
DIRK DARROW: MAGIC OF FUTURE PAST
PTE Colin Jackson Studio (Venue 17) to July 24
Australia’s Tim Motley returns with Dirk Darrow, “everyone’s favourite paranormal investigator,” to solve a time-travelling sci-fi mystery that is more of a platform for his Jedi-esque mind games.
Darrow, bedecked in his film-noir detective’s fedora and trenchcoat, is more Kreskin than Kenobi, though, and the story’s plot eventually takes a back seat to the mentalist’s wonderful skills: his knowledge of body language, his wits and his witty use of a phoney lie detector to solve his entertaining problems.
There’s some audience participation that isn’t cringe-inducing for the audience or the participants, and those who pay keen attention to Motley’s patter will be rewarded as he uses numerology to tie the hour-long show together. 4/5
— Alan Small
Updated on Friday, July 15, 2022 9:45 AM CDT: Formats copy