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AFRICAN FOLKTALES WITH ERIK DE WAAL

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AFRICAN FOLKTALES WITH ERIK DE WAAL

YAP Theatre

MTYP Mainstage (Kids Venue) to July 23

Fringe veteran Erik de Waal impresses once again with his interpretation of traditional African stories for children. Two fables from de Waal’s home country of South Africa are shared, complete with a wide array of puppets and other characters.

The tales themselves are simple and accessible, effectively written to enchant the minds of young theatregoers. De Waal’s ability to genuinely connect with his audience is a marvel in itself. The performer relishes in audience interaction, earning emotional buy-in throughout his stories that will have everyone (kids and adults alike) participating enthusiastically.

Fidgety or exuberant audiences who might not have the patience for longer shows will appreciate the fast-paced production, while fans of all ages will find something to enjoy in de Waal’s delightful performance. 4/5

— Matt Schaubroeck

THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY BOY

Walk&Talk Theatre Company

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2) to July 23

The Ballad of Johnny Boy is an extraordinary show about an ordinary life. Throughout the hour-long musical, the stunning harmonies of the three Winnipeg-based actors kept audiences hooked. Meanwhile, the sheer variety of instruments (guitar, ukulele, accordion and more!), were played with ease, amid the action and juggling of props.

As the trio strung together a tale of Johnny’s life, elements of the overall storyline were slightly fractured at times. However, they were strung together cohesively with dances popularized on TikTok and lighthearted comedy. This show will keep you smiling, pull on your heartstrings and prompt reflection on how you will be remembered. 4/5

— Nadya Pankiw

THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE

Dark Horse Theatre

Cre8ery (Venue 11) to July 23

This ensemble piece from fringe vet Mike Seccombe (Lunatic Fringe) opens strong. Murphy, a luckless writer, is about to hang himself in his living room to his favourite Tom Waits song but gets interrupted by a freaked-out neighbour (Leslie Boardman) hiding from a drug thug. From there, a whole motley crew invades his apartment for various reasons, all slowly nudging him away from his intended purpose.

Dark Horse mainstay Karl Eckstrand is well-cast as the dour Murphy. But he’s also a missed character-development opportunity. For example, the reasons for Murphy’s desire to kill himself, when they are finally revealed, are a bit of a cop-out. Meanwhile, several of the other characters are a bit trope-ish — the hooker with a heart of gold, the pretentious artiste. The show is a bit ragged in parts and there’s a wee bit of slightly annoying over-acting. But, unlike many Dark Horse shows, it has an evident story arc, some cinematic moments and a real message about the power of neighbours and strangers to change our fate. 3/5

— Mary Agnes Welch

BUSHTITS, SHIH TZUS AND PRIVATE DICKS: ALL’S FUR IN LOVE AND NOIR

Theatrically Obsessed

Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8) to July 23

German surrealist Max Ernst titled one of his works The Hat Makes the Man, but in this madcap two-hander, it’s the hat that makes the show.

Lester leads a stultifying life stocking shelves at a dollar store but everything changes when he purchases the fedora Dana Andrews wore in the 1944 film Laura at an online collectibles auction.

This is no mere memorabilia; the wearer instantly emerges from the day’s drudgery to become stylish noir problem solver, with cool narration to match.

The Calgary duo of Melissa Dorsey and Trevor Matheson nearly run themselves off their feet during this 50-minute whirlwind of 13 crazy characters that uses a door on wheels to create an infinite array of imagined sets. They even throw in some laughs about former Jets coach Paul Maurice and the value of a Red River College education to get the locals on their side. 3.5/5

— Alan Small

CONTRACTIONS

Best of Luck Endeavours

The Fountain — Portage Place (Venue 4) to July 23

British playwright Mike Bartlett’s Contractions, presented by this Winnipeg company shows us the growing fascist power of “Human Resources” departments in powerful corporations and how “Managers” keep control of ordinary employees desperate to keep a job at the expense of seeing their private lives decimated in the ugly quagmire of “governance.”

Bitterly funny in its first half, the play descends later into ugly quasi-absurdism and never quite recovers the initial scariness of the early scenes.

Unfortunately, the current 60-minute production, sleek and strong, is wrong-headed. The Manager is beyond emotion, hence implacable, frightening. This production attempts to humanize her (sexual repression, embittered loneliness, etc.) and misses the point. The employee, awkward and abused, attempts to make a power shift where there is none. Still worth a look at today’s ugly corporate culture. 2.5/5

—Rory Runnells

Keeley Image Photography
Kateryna and Havrylo

HOW I MET MY MOTHER

RibbitRePublic

Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8) to July 24

Vancouver’s Jon Paterson (Hockey Night at the Puck & Pickle Pub), a 25-year veteran of fringe-festival comedies, takes on far weightier matter in this one-hour recollection of life with his mother.

The woman who raised the Paterson in Winnipeg in the 1970s and ’80s has become one of thousands of Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.

She isn’t the only one transformed; Paterson leads the audience on his journey from troubled and troublesome teen to a caregiver with few skills but loads of heart and decades of accumulated regret.

How I Met My Mother is challenging yet so important. It hits close to home, but the more society learns about dementia, the easier it will be to become like Paterson: someone able to look past the condition that affects a loved one and focus on the loved one with the condition. 4/5

— Alan Small

IS THIS YOURS

Al Lafrance

The Clock Tower (Venue 3) to July 23

Vancouver-based storyteller Al LaFrance offers a fast-paced 60-minute monologue about the nature of personal obsession and how it change one’s life: namely his.

In it, he relates how he came to know the owner of an obscure board game, tracked down finally to a roadside thrift shop. We hear in detail the unfortunate story of the creator, and about their growing friendship. Layered throughout are stories of what happened with LaFrance’s other garbage/thrift shop meanderings.

LaFrance is funny but mainly at his own expense. His comedy is refreshing, humane. His conclusion is a little rushed and prosaic — you never know what will come of your dream, so go ahead and create something even if it ends forgotten in a thrift store. OK, but you might think twice about what you put in the garbage with LaFrance prowling about. 4/5

— Rory Runnells

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Monster Makers

KATERYNA AND HAVRYLO

Ce-Lee Productions

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2) to July 24

Hearts will be warmed by this endearing five-person physical theatre performance that showcases the familiar folklore of Ukrainian culture.

The 60-minute show transports audiences to forests, farms, and freshwater as they journey with a Ukrainian couple, Kateryna and Havrylo, and encounter mystical creatures along the way. Whether they are searching for mushrooms, waiting for the fish to bite, or planning when to eat the picnic of pereshky and honey cake, Kateryna’s determined nature and Havrylo’s pragmatic, witty responses will keep the audience chuckling throughout.

The Winnipeg-based performers incorporated the Ukrainian language into the show, and while diction occasionally slipped, words were repeated consistently to ensure the audience wasn’t too lost along the way. Be prepared for a Ukrainian-Canadian cultural experience and beware of Baba Yaga! 3.5/5

— Nadya Pankiw

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How I Met My Mother

MONSTER MAKERS

North Kildonan Community Players

John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1) to July 24

Not quite a “graveyard smash,” but still pretty spooktacular, this 75-minute musical looks at three events in horror movie history. The cast, portraying real people, make no attempt at their appearance or accents (with the exception of Jordan Phillips, approximating Boris Karloff’s voice). This isn’t a huge issue, and handily circumvents comparison to keep the focus on the show’s strongest point: the writing. There are great puns in the lyrics (the plaintiff in the Dracula lawsuit sings about being “out for blood”) plus the obligatory comedic dialogue incorrectly forecasting the future (“If only film had sound!”).

Hummable tunes, generally strong singing, playful characterizations and clever rear-projection credits in the old silent film style add up to a winner. Even some uneven miking and a prop that fell flat — literally — couldn’t take the fun out of this one. 4.5/5

— Janice Sawka

Jap Fabella photo
The Morning After With Pam & Paula

THE MORNING AFTER WITH PAM & PAULA

Power Pause Productions

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2) to July 24

Vancouver’s Hilary Fillier and Joanna Rannelli are the titular heroes, two gals with gumption who compete for a slot on one of those cloying morning shows of the Regis and Kathie Lee variety.

The premise has been the meat and potatoes of every sketch show from SNL to SCTV, so if you are going to go one more round with this tired middleweight idea you need to bring your full game.

Here the skills on display are apparent: there’s great movement and chemistry from these two likable women, along with some tenderness and bright funny moments.

But over the course of the hour, the set pieces run out of gas and there is really not much of a story to speak of. However, the amount of effort that went into this light comedy — the hours of rehearsing, the flawless performance and tech savvy of opening night — is impressive and one hopes to see more fun shows from these women in the years to come. They pulled off what they set out to do and did so with heart. 3/5

— Lara Rae

ROMEO & JULIET

Indifferently Reformed

John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1) to July 24

Boy meets girl, they fall in love, old bloody rivalries complicate things and a tragic end. There are no surprises to be found in this 75-minute interpretation of Romeo & Juliet, but Shakespeare fans will have nothing to bite their thumb at.

The young cast does their best to balance the play’s heavy themes with its moments of lighter dialogue. Sophie Helmer (Romeo) and Lauren Andres (Juliet) embody the hotheadedness and anxiety of young lovers, while Ardyth Johnson’s Nurse and Laurel Fife’s Mercutio steal their scenes with top-notch physical comedy.

However, there were several scenes where dialogue was spoken too softly or too quickly, which might pose a challenge for those not already familiar with the plot. Few creative liberties are taken beyond some deft editing to cut down the runtime, which will please traditionalist thespians. 3/5

— Matt Schaubroeck

SE’ED

Jurasco

The Cinematheque (Venue 7) to July 24

An old man in a rumpled shirt, his long silver hair flowing into his long silver beard, stands alone onstage and starts ranting about all the things bothering him. And for Prairie farmer Wayne James, the list is long: Corporate greed. Poisonous pesticides. Lies about product safety. Science gone mad…

There are seeds of many good ideas here, topics that could carry an entire play, such as James’ recollection of his father and a group of farmers being “sold on DDT back when it was new.” But this gets buried in extraneous ramblings on the origins of language, mysterious bouts of paralysis, poetry reciting and more. It takes guts for anyone — let alone a 70-something with no theatrical background — to mount a solo show. But it equally takes focus.

Instead of scattering so many seeds across a huge field, James should select one or two, nurture them individually, see what comes up, and try again next season. 2/5

— Janice Sawka

Kenton Doupe photo
Something in the Water

SOMETHING IN THE WATER

S.E. Grummett

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2) to July 24

The brilliance of this 60-minute show is on display right from the witty title. The “something” in the water is a sea creature, with which S.E. Grummett, an amazing non-binary performer from Sasktaoon, forms a bond (literally) — but also what bigots say when confronted with things they don’t understand becoming ubiquitous.

In this case, that’s the rising desire of youth to escape the prison of gender essentialism. With savvy use of overhead projections, stuffies, Ken and Barbie dolls and short videos, this extraordinary human gives a comical masterclass on feminism, bullying, gender dysphoria, and otherness. This plea for inclusiveness is so needed and topical right now, but the comedy avoids polemics.

It is full of inclusive audience response and zany props, and is adult without being dirty. I laughed out loud frequently and went home and cried, because if this person had been around when I was a child, I would not have wanted to end my life. 5/5

— Lara Rae

Michale Muchnij photo
Andrew Broaddus, left, and Martin Dockery in The Stakeout

THE STAKEOUT

Big Word Performance

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 5) to July 24

This dramedy — the latest from New York playwright-performer Martin Dockery — came out swinging. Following the story of two men sitting in a van, watching people in another van, this intense, complex 75-minute work was filled with tension, humor, and empathy.

Two FBI agents (Dockery and Andrew Broaddus), one on his first day of work and other on his last, use tried-and trusted eavesdropping techniques (two cans on a string) to collect surveillance on the other van. Drawing on personal experiences of father and son relationships, the pair pieces together a story with themes of abandonment, forgiveness, and acceptance.

As the audience is drawn in with witty quips, the realities of the two vans merge allowing the stories to come full circle. A phenomenal story told with impeccable cadence. 4.5/5

— Nadya Pankiw

SONGS FROM A WINE-STAINED NOTEBOOK

Big Empty Barn Productions

MTYP — Richardson Hall (Venue 22) to July 24

An unapologetic celebration of bars, booze and bacchanalia comes together in this musical hosted by New Orleans resident Bremner Fletcher Duthie. This baritone crooner has stitched together an impressive cabaret playlist that showcases his formidable singing talent, pulling from a diverse variety of musical genres and performed admirably.

Between tunes, Bremner recites lines from American poet Charles Bukowski, mixed in with some interesting costume switches and personal musings about modern life — some which felt out of place, or needing further development. Regardless, the weaving of a love letter to New Orleans shines through as he pulls the audience into an appreciation for its infamous Bourbon Street lifestyle.

Although advertised at 75 minutes, Friday’s runtime was just over an hour. That gives Bremner an opportunity to add another song or two into his repertoire — but hopefully no more wardrobe changes. 3/5

— Matt Schaubroeck

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Melanie Gall in A Toast to Prohibition

A TOAST TO PROHIBITION

Melanie Gall Presents

Tom Hendry Warehouse (Venue 6) to July 24

It’s a few minutes to midnight the night before Prohibition will be repealed. Gladys (Melanie Gall), proprietress of the cheerfully named Tipsy Sparrow speakeasy, asks the clientele to join her in a few final forbidden toasts.

Fringe singing fave Gall continues her winning formula of combining vintage songs with neat historical trivia in this entertaining hour. Decked out in bejewelled flapper attire, she intersperses little-known and often quirky facts about Prohibition with tunes of the times. Did you know that doctor and dentists were allowed to prescribe alcohol for medical purposes, and prescription requests soared? (Remind you of anything more recent?) Or that Prohibition actually increased the number of places people could get booze? Yes, the song-info tidbit-toast-song structure gets repetitive, but her lovely voice keeps the audience in good “spirits” and you can drink to that. 4/5

— Janice Sawka

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