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Fringe Reviews


Femmes du Feu

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (Venue 13), to July 29

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Femmes du Feu

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (Venue 13), to July 29


TWO members of Femmes du Feu, a circus-style aerial troupe from Toronto, were here in 2010 with The Plank, a beautiful show on a pirate theme.

Sadly, nearly everything that was right with The Plank goes wrong in the theatrically weak, 55-minute Airship, in which five performers depict the crew of a human-powered flying machine.

While the pirate show had a gorgeous soundtrack, this one has original music that is far too dark, grandiose and monotonous with its heavy, club-style beat. It's a soundtrack for the Hindenburg. The composer-keyboard player attempts laboured clowning and dancing. The four female aeronauts also dance, but they're not well matched and the choreography is rudimentary.

The voice-acting of a recorded authority figure is amateur at best. The women execute some impressive feats — particularly at the end when all four become a human machine on a hoop that flips — but by then you feel you've been stuck in a steampunk boiler room for much too long. 'Ö'Ö1/2

— Alison Mayes



Stars and Hearts

WAG (Venue 12), to July 27


THE beat goes on in fringe magnet Jayson McDonald's homage to junkie wordslinger William S. Burroughs.

The London, Ont., writer-performer's rambling, hallucinogenic circle tour of Burroughs' life is an artfully conceived 60-minute tangent that incorporates a skilful cut-up of biographical notes, along with cameos from beat contemporaries Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Rife with visceral imagery — "The baby erupts from her womb like a cork from a champagne bottle" — and poetic virtuosity, it packs an impressive cerebral punch.

If only the performance connected on a gut level, this drama would be unbeatable. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Pat St. Germain



Dependent Theatre Productions

Shaw Performing Arts Centre (Venue 9), to July 28

AS the title suggests, inhalant abuse is the coping mechanism of choice in this dark and disturbing one-man drama that blurs the line between hellish reality and gas-induced hallucination.

When we first meet Wind, he has a plastic bag duct-taped over his head with his hands bound behind him. Things only get more desperate (and violent) from there as he recounts how he and his two brothers turned to, and on, each other in the aftermath of their mother's suicide.

Toronto's Cliff Cardinal (son of prominent Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal) is a compelling performer. But he tries to portray too many characters — real and hallucinated — and his script tries to cover too much ground, relevant though it may be. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Carolin Vesely



Virginia Bryan

Alloway Hall (Venue 4), to July 28

THIS depressing one-woman drama should have been called Three Funerals and Some Grating Southern Accents.

New York actor-writer Virginia Bryan plays a struggling New York actor who travels back to her small-town Georgia home on three occasions for the funerals of her birth mom, her stepmom and the maid who raised her.

She portrays her dysfunctional family as southern American Gothic; imagine William Faulkner penning Steel Magnolias. This lets Bryan impersonate several of her relatives, who are either dim or cruel, and to exorcise her personal demons.

The autobiographical material is clearly meaningful to her. But she's neither good enough a writer or performer to make it resonate with anyone else. 'Ö'Ö

— Morley Walker



Black Sheep Theatre

Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8), to July 29

IT'S 1892, and Sherlock Holmes is on the hunt for a killer. But for some mysterious reason, he loses his deductive qualities whenever he leaves his flat. We join Holmes (writer/actor Chris Bange), Dr. Watson (Brian Kuwabara) and wily housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Emily Windler) as they romp through a very silly mystery indeed. The set is clever, using shadow puppets to augment a cast of thousands, but 80-plus minutes of a throwaway plot is too long.

All the fun, and there is lots of it, is in watching these three pros grapple with each other's and their own outlandish costume changes every five seconds. "Maybe you can solve the case of why the Velcro doesn't work," a sweaty Holmes ad-libbed at one point, cracking Watson up. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

— Margo Goodhand



Minute and a Huff Productions

Son of Warehouse (Venue 5), to July 28

THE 50-minute comedy Next by Michael Nathanson is an earnest, honest look at that thespian hell, and occasionally heaven, known as the theatre audition.

Winnipegger Tracy Penner is a personable performer who soon has the audience rooting for the heroine as she suffers through three auditions in one day, each worse then the last. Almost anyone who has ever second-guessed her career choice will relate to the actor as she swings from praise to rage at her chosen profession, self-examining and self-cajoling along the way. While self-doubt can get somewhat tedious — there are no big revelations here — there are also some good one-liners and observations on the nature of competition. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

— Janice Sawka



The Birdmann

John Hirsch Mainstage (Venue 1), to July 28

MONOTONE vaudevillian The Birdmann's brand new creation is a mixed bag of physical comedy and jokes, with an attempt at imposing a noir-esque "story" into the proceedings. Unfortunately, this attempt falls flat and while juggling plastic bags to the music of the Cure is fun to watch, lip-syncing to Cher, very poorly, is not.

The Birdmann seems to have confused his one-note delivery for deadpan, which makes it difficult for many of his jokes to take off, let alone fly. Somewhere in this bird's nest are attempts to be edgy and meta, but men in stilettos haven't been edgy since Rocky Horror. The Birdmann obviously knows he's funny and clever; it's just too bad this one-man show doesn't prove it. 'Ö'Ö

— Barb Stewart



Big Sandwich Productions

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to July 27

CORIN Raymond loves to read. And a lifetime spent reading has taught this 39 year-old Ontario singer-songwriter a thing or two about spinning tales. While Redmond's regular gig finds him sharing those tales in song, in Bookworm, his first foray into fringe-performing, he takes us behind the dust jacket of a life spent reading.

Showcasing Raymond's obvious talents as a storyteller, Bookworm tells a very personal tale of one man's love of story, from Greek myth to Spider-Man to Ray Bradbury and beyond. As he stands alone on the stage, with only piles of his beloved books as company, we're rooting for this voluble figure, even if his acting hasn't quite caught up to his enthusiasm for the subject. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

— Barb Stewart



Merlyn Productions

School of Contemporary Dancers (Kids Venue), to July 28


MERLYN Productions transports children into the world of the Brothers Grimm, which can be a little grim, sexist and darker than most contemporary kid's entertainment.

In the first of three fairy tales, King Thrushbeard teaches his foolish princess daughter a lesson after she rejects every suitor in the land because of their looks. The youngsters will recognize her as the original mean girl. A happy ending is ensured when she mends her wicked ways.

The fisherman's greedy wife gets her comeuppance in the second story, followed by The Elves and the Shoemaker, which sends everyone home with a comforting message.

The stories are enthusiastically presented but not necessarily received the same way by the kids. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Kevin Prokosh



Martin Dockery

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (Venue 13), to July 29


NEW York storyteller Martin Dockery is a mesmerizing performer. His words come out in a preacher-like torrent, while his extravagant gestures carve the air into vivid scenes.

This year's true-life Dockery monologue — part quippy standup routine, part confessional essay — recounts his pilgrimage to a cheesy Florida theme park called The Holy Land Experience, then to the real Holy Land, where he spends Christmas Eve. A non-believer, he has fun with the absurdities of both meccas, but the underlying theme is a quest for redemption from his own dishonesty.

In spite of his compelling presence, Dockery falls short of universal resonance — there's too much travelogue padding, too many easy jokes and not enough playwriting craft for this parable to be crowned with five-star laurels. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Alison Mayes



Big Empty Barn Productions

Aqua Books (Venue 20), to July 29

THIS darkly flavoured musical drama inspired by the 1931 Yiddish song Our Village is Burning captures the desperate last hours of a Berlin cabaret raided by the Nazis.

New Orleans/Paris-based opera singer/actor Bremner Duthie (who dazzled in last year's Whisky Bars) portrays a white-faced master of ceremonies who recreates a host of cabaret ghosts, including Milton the clown and hoofer Rafael, who have since fled the destruction.

At times the narrative is overly fragmented, further splintered by Duthie's unintelligible, polyglottal sputterings. The recorded musical accompaniments are often too jazzy for the era. But Duthie's theatricality is pure gold and his robust vocals outstanding. His riveting Boulevard of Broken Dreams and a drag queen-stylized I Never Do Anything Twice sung to a former lover are knockouts. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Holly Harris



Selchie Theatre/K.I.A. Productions

The Playhouse Studio (Venue 3), to July 28


DRAWING inspirations from clowning and contemporary puppetry, Edmonton artists Alexander Forsyth and Keltie Brown perform this two-character sort-of love story in full mask — relying on physicality and occasional prop gags to tell the story of a guy who falls in love with a girl who's in love with the idea of killing herself.

It's a sweet story, but unfortunately the girl's suicidal efforts never achieve the Wile E. Coyote-ish slapstick results they're clearly seeking. As a result, no one's likely to die... laughing. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

— Brad Oswald



Doctor Keir Co.

PTE — Mainstage (Venue 16), to July 28


MONTREAL'S Keir Cutler is back with the latest instalment of his Shakespeare franchise, this time a two-hander. The energetic Cutler plays Joe, a fanatical Oxfordian, one of those who believe Shakespeare's plays were really penned by the 17th Earl of Oxford. Sucked into Joe's web is shallow actor Conner Hamilton (Brett Watson), who is just trying to make a quick buck by lending his name to Joe's cause.

Problem is, we've seen this movie before. The Oxford question has been pretty thoroughly explored recently. And, while this is not at all lecture-y, much of Cutler's performance relies on miming every second phrase, like he's playing charades.

But it's also intellectually ambitious, exploring themes of manipulation and deception, and there are some fast-paced, funny moments, many thanks to Watson.'Ö'Ö'Ö/2

— Mary Agnes Welch



The Works

Richardson Hall at MTYP (Venue 30), to July 28


"WHEN Winnipeg is complaining, it's our way of bragging," local poet Kent Suss says, halfway through his one-man show, but we're not going to boast about this performance.

Suss clearly put a lot of work into perfecting his polished, energetic performance, and so you want to like it. Only hitch: the material is awful. Suss pledges irreverence, but his pieces veer from inscrutably weird to uncomfortably puerile, as when he opens with a poem about generating electricity with farts. Either way, they're never really poetic.

If there are hints of intriguing ideas, they're drowning under rudimentary rhymes - "Thule is cool, as a rule" sums it up — or downright painful wordplay. Unless "Whine-a-peg" turns your crank. 'Ö

— Melissa Martin




Richardson Hall at MTYP (Venue 30) to July 28


LIKE, OMG, 12 members of the MTYP Theatre School are trying to show that not all stereotypes about teenagers are accurate through 75 minutes of sketches, monologues and music.

Misconception features an old man complaining about kids having no respect and laughing at him while they are really talking about volunteering. In Turning Tables, it's the paranoid parents who are the problem.

Not every segment has a message — some are merely fun with Social Media and Hannah's Guide to Dating getting the most LOLs. A car ride with grandma listening to the radio went on a bit too long, but had a great payoff.

The talented and energetic cast may not be able to totally change your perceptions about the under-20 set, but if you think teens are lazy, uncreative and unprofessional, think again, because these kids are all right. 'Ö'Ö'Ö


— Rob Williams


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