Review: (Winnipeg) Play Actually (Fringe: Saskatoon, Edmonton)
Four Neggings and the Virtual by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Off the beaten path, around a corner and down an alley, is the best show I've seen during the Fringe this year.
Theatre company Idiot Presents took Play Actually on the Fringe circuit this year--hitting up festivals as diverse as Prague and Adelaide while also including Canadian mainstays Montreal and Toronto, with Saskatoon and Edmonton to follow--but failed to get an official slot at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. In the face of this, the company has put on the show anyway, arranging their own venue at The Purple Room in Winnipeg's Exchange District and relying on word-of-mouth alone since they are technically not part of the Fringe proper.
I was lucky enough to attend this play's first performance in Winnipeg with an audience of about a dozen, and we were rewarded with a hilarious production. American Katy Houska and Australian Tim Monley draw on their own dynamic as a real-life couple and the vagaries of so many modern relationships to offer a series of sketches counterpointing (as the title implies) the notions of romance offered up in our popular culture by writer-director Richard Curtis and his ilk.
Each of the arcs running through the show comments on a way to seek out relationships that has evolved in the past few decades: self-help books, online dating sites, environments similar to Second Life populated by digital avatars, and the so-called Pick Up Artists (PUA) f community. With a screwball approach and many fantastic moments of physical comedy, the absurdities in all of these are pointed out and deflated--especially the many sleazy PUA techniques, which (of course) collapse instantly in a real-world situation with an unsuspecting human being.
Between sketches, a subplot of sorts plays out in which Houska and Monley seem to come out of character and express some moments of jealousy and insecurity, reminding us that despite the wacky comedic caricatures, these relationship issues do come up between real people. The sketch arcs also come together unexpectedly towards the end of the show, offering an optimistic resolution promising that love is still possible in this disconnected age, regardless of how weird and screwed-up we all are as we seek it out.
When a production is so impromptu that the lights fade and come up again by closing and reopening your own eyes, you know it's flying by the seat of its pants, but I loved every minute. This is exactly what I look for in the Fringe--talented artists making great work happen in unexpected ways--and I had to take a detour from the Fringe to find it.