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Remember last year? 2015's five-star fringe

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2015 (1310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Our team of Free Press reviewers has powered through all 181 shows at the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The best of the fest:

SQUIRREL STOLE MY UNDERPANTS

Kids Venue (School of Contemporary Dancers), to July 23

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2015 (1310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Our team of Free Press reviewers has powered through all 181 shows at the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The best of the fest:

 

HAPPINESS (tm)

HAPPINESS (tm)

SQUIRREL STOLE MY UNDERPANTS

Kids Venue (School of Contemporary Dancers), to July 23

They Gotta Be Secret Agents

WHEN Sylvie (Bonnie Duncan) is sent out to hang laundry, a cheeky red squirrel steals her favourite underpants, sending her on a quest to retrieve her beloved unmentionables.

Excellent live musical accompaniment by acoustic bass (Tony Leva) and guitar (Brendan Burns) sets the bright pace and the emotional tone for this wonderful laundry and puppet-driven show for ages 3 and up, created and performed by Boston's Duncan.

The wordless Squirrel Stole My Underpants is both witty and eccentric. There are so many clever touches in the way laundry is incorporated into the set design and Duncan, sporting a head of ginger curls, is completely watchable as Sylvie and as the hilarious squirrel.

This 2013 recipient of a Jim Henson Family Grant is the best kids show this reviewer has ever seen at the fringe. It ends early on July 23.

— Wendy King

 

AIN'T TRUE & UNCLE FALSE

ManDamsel & FellaLady

The Cinematheque (Venue 7), to July 26

THE phrase "wildly imaginative" gets tossed around a lot during the fringe's 12-day run, but Paul Strickland's music-leavened hour-long monologue earns that description, plus whatever is applied to plays that are even more out-there than that.

The affable Kentuckian offers a fantastical look at the evolution of trailer-park life, leading us to the Big Fib mobile-home enclave inhabited by folks with such appropriately whopper-inspired names as the titular Ain't True, Will Perjure, Poppa Ganda and joined-at-the-hand twins Faye and Bree Cation.

When he's not spinning ever-wilder tales of the trailer park, Strickland offers a more measured and emotional reflection on his real-life grandfather, whose fondest wish was for his soft-spoken grandson to tell him a story. In this case, it's much, much better late than never.

— Brad Oswald

 

D'N'D IMPROV SHOW EIGHT

DnD Improv

Gas Station Theatre (Venue 18), to July 25

You know what's good? Joining the cult of the D'n'D Improv Show, a perennially sold-out serial blowout of improvised battles and zany fantasy tropes. Join us. We have 20-sided dice and delicious in-jokes.

You know what else is good? Change, that's good. This time around, Chadd Henderson traded his dungeon master job for a spot in the action. (He's got a wicked gig piloting Iris the Beholder, a floating eyeball villain.) Taking over his DM cape is Jesse Miki, who bounces off the walls as the action unfolds.

The ensuing hour of adventure is reliably uproarious. It all works, especially when it doesn't. This edition's costumes could be the most impressive the troupe has assembled, particularly the squidlike Dauwer'Lek (new adventurer Aaron Merke). But the heart of the show is all in the characters, especially the incomparable Fraz Wiest as time-shaping hippie Flex Stillwater. 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö

— Melissa Martin

 

TEXT ME

Pdance

Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8), to July 26

BALLET as social commentary is enjoying a renaissance these days. Winnipeg-based choreographer Philippe-Alexandre Jacques, in collaboration with Beyond Borders ECPAT, now takes his turn with this 45-minute contemporary ballet dealing with social-media predators who lure young tweens and teens into their ominous webs.

The choreography, performed by five artists from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Aspirants program, combines abstract movement with gestural language. A sickly, twisted pas de deux in which the generically titled, black-masked Faceless first seduces Child into cyber-sex, coaxing her into taking increasingly revealing selfies, chills the blood. A hooded Jacques even makes a cameo appearance, underscoring the fact that danger is everywhere.

At times, the narrative thread gets fuzzy. The reconciliation between Child and her hand-wringing Mother appears too neatly sewn up. The omnipresent role of activist Fuchsia, her head swaddled in purple silk, is not always clear as she interacts with Mother and Friend.

Still, Text Me packs an emotional punch, while proving a 400-year-old classical art form can sound the call to social action. But mostly, this impressive première shows that evil lurks in an age of texts and tweets, as close as your own seemingly innocuous cellphone.

— Holly Harris

 

STEVEN BRINBERG IS SIMPLY BARBRA

Theater Lab Houston

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to July 23

STEVEN Brinberg is simply amazing.

Not only is the New York performer an excellent female impersonator, he's a professional Barbra Streisand impressionist, convincingly duplicating her gestures, speaking voice, accent and — except for a few notes — her iconic singing in this one-hour cabaret.

LOON

LOON

But that's not all. At one point, "Barbra" mentions how many other female entertainers have covered her songs, and immediately demonstrates this by impersonating Eartha Kitt, Cher and Julie Andrews — and they all sound accurate.

Brinberg treats his subject with admiration and affection, but refreshingly never strays into hero-worship: there are many lines that (gently) mock Streisand's infamous controlling personality and physical business (brushing the hair aside in photo-op slow motion, opening the eyes a bit too wide) that remind the audience this is done in fun.

And if you're not a Streisand fan, buy a ticket anyway. You'll see an expert impersonation and hear some highly skilled vocals.

 

— Janice Sawka

 

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE

We'll Do It Live

PTE's Colin Jackson Studio (Venue 17), to July

WHAT a fringe-festival bargain to see a full-length Martin McDonagh black comedy for $10. A Behanding in Spokane is a treat for fans of the British playwright, celebrated for his disturbing way with murder, mutilation and dismemberment.

In a fleabag hotel is an agitated man with a gun and a missing left hand he is hoping to retrieve from a young con-artist couple for $500. When the dopey crooks present him with an appendage that's the wrong colour, he handcuffs them to the radiator in a room with a lit candle over a can of kerosene, which is the situation the busybody receptionist finds them in.

As always, McDonagh is bleakly funny as he explores the absurdity that is the United States. There are moments when it is hard to believe what you're seeing and other moments you can't believe your ears. The local cast — Bill Kerr, Paul Duncan, Claire Therese and Ray Strachan — is exceptional at finding the comic potential of this 90-minute shocker. 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö 'Ö

— Kevin Prokosh

 

HAPPINESS (tm)

May Can Theatre

Rudolf Rocker Cultural Centre (Venue 27), to July 26

THE power of suggestion is front and centre in this crackling hour-long comedy by Ottawa-based May Can Theatre. A pair of sharp, smart, ruthless and really self-impressed self-help hucksters storm the stage with a pitch for a new product that guarantees non-stop happiness; before long, however, we're offered a glimpse backstage, a short time earlier, as the boys get themselves (and each other) revved up for the big, flashy presentation.

It's happiness they're selling, but the private moments before they take the stage reveal a much darker side of eternal brightness. The script is precise and powerful — hilarious when the energy's high, and wrenchingly revealing as the layers of showmanship are stripped away — and the duo's flawless performance is a study in perfectly realized theatrical teamwork.

Here's a suggestion: whatever they're selling... buy it!

— Brad Oswald

 

3...2...1

Speakeasy Theatre

The Playhouse Studio (Venue 3), to July 25

GROWING up together in small-town Wetaskiwin, Alta., three young men have stuck together through a little too much thick and thin. Now, Danny is dead, and Kyle (Markian Tyrasiuk) and Clint (Tom Krushkowski) are throwing their own coarse little wake on his behalf.

Tyrasiuk and Krushkowski give seamless performances in this riveting drama with completely natural delivery as two wilfully stupid young men. At first, these characters, unlikable and bigoted as they are, make us laugh, but as they get drunker and higher, the bravado breaks down. Clint, we discover is weirdly politically correct, while Kyle wants nothing more than conventional success in his life. As they unpack their grief and fear, their redneck upbringing becomes their undoing.

This company based out of Vancouver brings 75 minutes of descent from whistling in the dark to a devastating cry for help.

— Wendy King

 

AIR

Major Matt Mason Theatre Collective

The Playhouse Studio (Venue 3), to July 25

MIKE and Kyle (Joe Perry and Evan Medd, respectively) are drinking beer and bantering over a game of backgammon in their shabby suite when Kyle's brother Doug explodes into the room, screaming about a drug deal that is quickly going south.

Thinking they've just got their feet wet in some low-level criminal activity, Mike and Kyle discover they are actually drowning — and fast. Desperate, they try to find a lifeline, but Malcolm, who has been sent by the dealer, is the anchor at the end of it. This is the moral dilemma of their lives.

This wrenching 60-minute drama is wickedly executed by this four-member cast from Calgary. Tom Cainer is absolutely volatile as Doug, and Geoffrey Brown is your worst nightmare as the dangerous, twitching junkie Malcolm. Air leaves the audience gasping.

— Wendy King

 

ELEANOR'S STORY: AN AMERICAN GIRL IN HITLER'S GERMANY

Offending Shadows Productions

Alloway Hall (Manitoba Museum) (Venue 4), to July 26

IN this incredible adaptation of a true story, Ingrid Garner, who hails from Los Angeles, recounts her grandmother's experiences as a young girl trapped in Berlin during the Second World War. In just 60 minutes, Garner covers six years of her grandmother's young life (from nine to 16) in sometimes horrifying detail, a stark reminder of just how bad things were at that time in Germany.

Garner is a beautiful storyteller; she paints vivid pictures with her words, both of the beautiful, simple moments and ones of terror and pain. The emotions she portrays are raw and uninhibited, the true way a child would express them, but without being excessively juvenile. Nothing feels contrived or overworked or over-acted — it's clear this is a story close to Garner's heart, which shows in the creative yet respectful way she presents it onstage.

— Erin Lebar

 

6 GUITARS

Chase Padgett Productions

PTE Mainstage (Venue 16), to July 26

TALK about hitting all the right notes — this energetic and exhilarating 70-minute solo show by Portland, Ore., musician-actor Chase Padgett is a jaw-dropper on every level. Portraying six different guitarists, each from a different background and each immersed in a specific musical genre, the multi-talented Oregonian showcases a virtuoso's range on his six-string instrument and a chameleon's instincts as he seamlessly shifts from one stage persona to the next.

One moment an 87-year-old bluesman, the next a 20-year-old wanna-be metalhead; after that a twang-twisting country star, a Mexican-born classical player, a sexually ambiguous folkie and a snooty but insecure jazz artist.

Despite their differences, Padgett finds a way to unite their artistic perspectives before the show's perfectly chosen closer. The acting is superb, the stories are smart and funny, and the music — including a couple of audience-inspired improv numbers — is flat-out stunning. All the right notes, indeed.

— Brad Oswald

 

TWELFTH NIGHT

Knavish Hedgehogs Productions

Asper Center for Theatre and Film (U of W) (Venue 12), to July 25

HOW lucky is Winnipeg to be the home of Knavish Hedgehogs? This extraordinary ensemble of young actors, under the impeccable direction of Mariam Bernstein, proves once again that age is absolutely no obstacle to loving and performing the Bard brilliantly.

The story of shipwrecked Viola and her twin brother Sebastian as they make their way through topsy-turvy Illyria during Twelfth Night is filled with detailed performance and insight. Although every actor demonstrates tremendous verbal skill and physical panache, some standouts are Kindah Rang'inya as the over-emoting Count Orsino, Daniel McIntyre-Ridd and Solmund MacPherson as the wonderfully debauched Sir Toby Belch and his milquetoast sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek, respectively, and Liam Berry, who plays Malvolio like a demented spider.

No fight choreographer is named, but whoever came up with the most hilarious sword fight this side of The Princess Bride is also to be commended.

— Ben Wiebe

 

LOON

Wonderheads

Tom Hendry Warehouse (Venue 6), to July 25

THIS is the tale of Francis the lonely bachelor, who finds an improbable love. It's delightfully wistful and masterfully done. Even more amazing is the complete, fine-spun world, inside Francis's head and out, created by Wonderheads of Portland, Ore. They create it without the use of two things most vital to theatre — words and facial expressions.

The Wonderheads, who are remounting this hour-long 2012 fringe hit, specialize in oversized, cartoony masks. Francis's fixed, fishy expression means actor Kate Braidwood must rely on small gestures or tiny shifts in carriage to covey big plot developments and great feeling. Add in some evocative but not-intrusive music, some lovely lighting and some funny bits and it's easy to get lost in Francis's bobbleheaded world.

 

— Mary Agnes Welch

 

H.U.N.K.S.

Wasteland Productions

Alloway Hall (Venue 4), to July 25

WITH sketch comedy, there's always the chance some portions won't be as funny as others, but that is definitely not the case for local comedy troupe H.U.N.K.S.

Every sketch the six-person group presented was a knockout, from Harry Potter's intervention to more issue-based humour about female nipples, every joke was well thought out and incredibly clever. It's smart comedy that had the audience in stitches for the full 60 minutes.

Not a minute of time was wasted; even the time setting up for their next sketch was filled with pre-filmed segments, including a genius series called At Home With Skeletor.

The performers (five guys and a girl) are professionals in the best sense of the word — they never broke character, flawlessly powered through tongue-twisting dialogue and paced their sketches perfectly, not allowing them to become drawn out and unfunny.

Get ready to laugh so hard your face will hurt.

— Erin Lebar

 

THREE MEN IN A BOAT

Pea Green Theatre Group

Alloway Hall (Manitoba Museum) (Venue 4), to July 26

HOWZAT! Three Victorian men, a.k.a. Toronto-based actors Matt Pilipiak, Scott Garland and Victor Pokinko, set sail in a rowboat down the Thames in this blazing stage adaptation by troupe co-founder Mark Brownell (with Sue Miner) of Jerome K. Jerome's 1889 British comic novel.

With the 60-minute show equal parts slapstick comedy and travelogue, the trio, superbly directed by Miner, set the bar high. They do battle with a pineapple tin, pluck at a "banjolele," swill whisky and warble the Jolly Victorian Boating Song in tightly knit, three-part harmonies. Sartorial period costumes, including spats and caps designed by Nina Oken, add further foppish charm.

The plot is admittedly thin, but "Bah, rubbish" to that. Seeing these three crackerjack actors' rich, detailed characterization — matched only by their flawless physical comedy skills, including razor-sharp comic timing — makes this boat float.

— Holly Harris

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