When I opened up the programme for Red Wine, French Toast, and the Best Sex You've Ever Had before the show and read the preamble by director/choreographer Jake Hastey about its origins in a trip he took through Europe due to his First World Problems and the inspiration of the Salvador DalÌ painting Surrealist Composition with Invisible Figures, I was afraid it would be one of those shows: an inscrutable, incoherent mess made up of random thoughts which make sense to the show's creator and no one else.
There is a peculiar phenomenon familiar to Winnipeggers who endeavour to travel elsewhere for any length of time--a kind of invisible bungee cord that always seems to draw you back to this city eventually. While people who aren't from around here might also feel this way about their own places of origin, almost any worldly Manitoban will surely identify with it.
Kaitlin Aiello and Rachel Smith attempt to explore these contradictory impulses in Wanderlust, but the result is too much of an esoteric grab bag of theatrical techniques to prove successful overall. Although the programme is straightforward in explaining that the show is a work of Devised Theatre, this collaborative creation can't sustain one's interest for any length of time--just as one scene begins to draw you in and get interesting with elements that feel universal, another scene in a completely different style comes along which is just as alienating as the preceding scene was relatable.
Thrice the Frustration by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Before seeing Nothing Serious, I was unfamiliar with the work of New York playwright Rich Orloff, but there is seriously nothing in the three (mercifully) short plays making up this show which makes me want to seek out more of his work.
Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson starts out promising to be an interesting metafictional look at the nature of dramatic conflict, but it says nothing particularly insightful and finishes with a gratuitously shocking 'twist' ending that isn't helped by having its characters pointing out the tropes as they happen.
Smiling for 75 minutes by Chad Dembski @surpriseperform
Until two years ago I had barely heard of Mike Birbiglia other than he was one of the many stand- up comics from New York. Then I saw his film Sleepwalk with Me (2012) and was blown away by the mix of humour, vulnerability and fantastic storytelling ability. I quickly followed up that film with his previous Off-Broadway show My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2013) that really cemented him as one of my favourite modern storytellers.
Go Big or Go Home by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Criticism of a show about accepting yourself just the way you are seems unfair.
I could say that some of the members (Ray Eskritt, Melissa Granovsky, Johsa Manzanilla, and Heather Witherden) of this Winnipeg burlesque and cabaret troupe seemed more comfortable on stage, coordinated, or well-rehearsed than others. I could point out that ChubRub Cabaret often falls into the same trap as a lot of Fringe shows in terms of pacing, with long transitions between some sketches and periods of darkness that halt the show's momentum. I could even list my preferences for which dances or jokes or videos were most entertaining and which fell flat for me.
(To be fair, I could also say I'm trying to have it both ways with that last paragraph.)
It's Not Me, It's Me by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Significant Me is a relatively rare phenomenon at the Fringe: a straightforward sequel to Christel Bartelse's previous show ONEymoon, seen at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2011, with the current show revisiting protagonist Caroline as she prepares to celebrate three years of solitary matrimony after choosing to marry herself over all other potential suitors.
As befits a sequel, Bartelse structures and performs the show in more or less the same style as before, including a mild amount of audience participation. (I didn't participate this time, but I was briefly brought onstage when I went to see ONEymoon to portray the role of Caroline's sexually adventurous ex-boyfriend. There are worse fates.) The odd mishap, such as a prop going astray, is handled smoothly with no interruption to the flow of the performance, and Bartelse has an easygoing charm that always makes her watchable.
There hasn't been an execution in Canada since a double hanging on December 11, 1962, but Bill Pats takes us into a hypothetical Canadian future where capital punishment has returned, with Daryl Kane scheduled to be put to death on April 7, 2030.
On a personal level, I consider the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment--I'm glad it was abolished in Canada and hope this future never comes to pass. Regardless of where your opinion lies in this debate, however, there is at least one element of the story Pats has crafted in Executing Justice to give you pause. For every heinous crime Kane has committed, there is someone else who benefitted from it; and for every seemingly ignorant opinion, there is a fact to justify it.
Anyone who has seen a concert by German siblings Astrid and Otto Rot (the alter egos of Australian non-siblings Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias) will already know what to expect from Die Roten Punkte's latest appearance at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, their first since 2010: rocking out and squabbling in equal measure.
Eurosmash! continues the fictional narrative of Astrid and Otto's rock career, with the pair finding themselves facing the classic musician's dilemma of art versus commerce. For all that they accomplished on their last album, Kunst Rock (Art Rock), the band needs to crank out some hits to pay the bills, so their newest tracks (such as show opener "Do You Speak Dance?") show a lot more of an electronica influence, and Astrid is quick to shoot down Otto's effort to include a socially conscious song on the new record.
Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
There are a lot of facts in Senior Fandom Correspondent Sharilyn Johnson's solo memoir at Venue 17 (The Fighting 17th!) about her personal and professional admiration for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Even as a regular viewer of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (enough of one to make all the references you'll see in this review, at any rate), I couldn't possibly better know a comedian than she does.
Expectations and Separations by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
For all that The Surprise (as the title suggests) concerns itself with how to confront something astonishing when it comes at you out of left field, the thing I liked most about Martin Dockery's latest show was its return to familiar territory.
I feel a certain amount of guilt in admitting that. I've been very happy to watch other Fringe performers like Shelby Bond get out of their comfort zone in recent years, but neither of Dockery's efforts to do the same thing in 2013 did anything for me. (I was especially unimpressed by The Pit, his play with Vanessa Quesnelle which I also reviewed on this site.) Hypocritical though it may be, I can't help my personal preference for having him stick to his usual popular storytelling style.
Recall the children’s game, Red Light Green Light, where everyone creeps forward while IT has their back turned? DNA Theatre’s Hillar Liitoja does and has created a five man “radical ballet” around the concept of a game with strict rules.
As demonstrated in the lobby with stage management diagrams of movement, numbered in order, durations denoted with lighting indicated, Red Light Green Light is a series of 24 variations. Seemingly, each variation has been inspired by a concept, word or emotion, like flummoxed, serene, obsessed or secretive.
Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads When this baby hits 88 miles per hour... by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Back to the Future is my favourite movie.
As such, I could've been a really tough crowd for Shelby Bond's latest show as it premieres at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. I know the residents of Hill Valley like it's my hometown, and I have to resist the urge to include endless trivia (Eric Stoltz was the original Marty McFly!) in this review. It's possible I could recite the entire film from memory if I tried, so when Bond took up the challenge of adapting the words of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for the stage, it was people like me he'd have to worry about most.
Taking It Private by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Kevin P. Gabel writes and performs the role of Julian in Undress Me, and he has obviously put in a lot of work getting to the emotional core of the character around which this show revolves, but the coherence of its plot suffers for it.
The play is framed as a conversation between Julian and Beth, the woman on the verge of marrying his brother, but it's unclear why he's telling her certain things, giving a lot of 'as you know' exposition about events she took part in or witnessed. The most intriguing part of the programme writeup for me (and a lot of other people, I imagine) is Julian's job as a webcam performer, but the play barely gets into how that affects Julian's life or what motivated him to pursue that living--especially since he's doing it with his laptop alone, implying he doesn't take it seriously enough to invest in a separate camera or any other equipment.
The Truth Shall Set You Free by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
Stephen Sim and Lee White are Winnipeg Fringe Festival institutions, having performed as CRUMBS at every Fringe since 1998. (In fact, when I went to double-check that date, I was surprised to discover they weren't already performing together when I first started attending the Winnipeg Fringe five years earlier.) As such, it's to be expected that their longform improv show is a well-oiled machine at this point, and Made Up Truths is no exception.
Howl at This by Jason Booker [This review has been corrected - Ed]
Wolf Sounds: howling, sign of territory, pack behaviour, isolation, identity and independence. All these themes briefly come to light in a new piece that mixes Down Syndrome and dance.
Two main threads emerge through Wolf Sounds from a series of short scenes – some more musical, some with dialogue combined with a handful of spontaneous or freeform dances and a few others intricately choreographed by the company of five, led by director Brooke Banning.
Be Your Own Hero by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
To the best of my knowledge, Buffy Summers is never seen wearing roller skates.
Neither is Ellen Ripley or Princess Leia Organa, but Amy (playwright Nancy Kenny) desperately needs to tap into their heroic spirit to make her life worth living when re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer just isn't enough, and roller derby gets her there. While going through her own heroic origin story, however--and worrying about whether she'll live long enough to see herself become the villain--Amy must also learn that every hero is only as good as their team, in whatever form that takes: Fellowship of the Ring, Justice League, Rebel Alliance, or Scooby Gang.
Light and fluffy and totally entertaining TUTS remount isn’t perfect, but it’s still fun to watch by Chris Lane @chrislanetweets
Just in case you thought the movie wasn’t campy enough, Legally Blonde: The Musical features even more pink and even more squeals, right from the energetic first number, Omigod You Guys.
It’s about as peppy as you would expect, but also somewhat formulaic and predictable. And yet it’s hard not to cheer for Elle, delightfully played by Reese Witherspoon’s doppelganger, Jocelyn Gauthier.
Catch the Fun by Jay Catterson The 2014 season of Theatre Under the Stars went off with a rousing start last Tuesday with the opening of Shrek: The Musical, based on the hit DreamWorks Animation film and storybook by William Steig. This show has changed a bit since its Broadway bow, but even with all the post-Broadway tinkering done to David Lindsay-Abaire's book and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori's music, the clunky parts of the show still remain; however, the majority of the show does work, and it is done justice by the TUTS cast, directed by Sarah Rodgers.
A Long, Hard Learning Process by Edgar Governo @pseudohistorian
When Nicholas Evans first wrote The Horse Whisperer and brought that term into the public consciousness, I'm sure he never imagined that people would also end up whispering to dogs and ghosts...and, eventually, penises.
This is my third look at the “I’m a Genius” Syndrome. In the first two instalments I looked at how various artists can see themselves as such geniuses that they will not rewrite, correct or alter their art, even when it’s necessary for the success of the work to do so.
I would now like to look at a group often thought not to contain any geniuses, or rather self-proclaimed geniuses. I’m referring to the audience. More accurately I’m referring to rogue audience members who are convinced that their unique 'genius' takes preference over the rest of the audience.
PG Titus? It’s Fine; Your Kids are Watching Game of Thrones Anyway by Spencer Malthouse Personally, I think there’s a benefit to exposing family audiences to violent themes in the context of canonical literature. Indeed, insofar as one can put a PG rating on suicide, rape, cannibalism, self-immolation, torture, arguable infanticide, and good old-fashioned murder, I’d say Canadian Stage has done quite well. If the kiddies don’t quite understand the language, then the parents can decide just how much they wish to explain.
Titus Andronicus, written by a temperamental young Billy Shakespeare, is a brutal tragedy that contrasts two wronged families vying for revenge. Director Keira Loughran has styled her production a cautionary tale and seeks to idealize the blood and darkness with flourishes of red and black fabric. She has muddled her setting between imperial Japan, contemporary Japanese pop, and ancient Rome. I wish she had focused on a single theme as the gladiator helmets and the addition of a rock guitar felt anachronistically out of place. The Japanese themes do strongly evoke morality, revenge, and honourable death, which effectively complement the Roman text.
More Than Just the Jiggle by Dena Jackson @DeenDawg
I was delighted when I found out that I was going to see Strapless during the Toronto Fringe Festival this year. As an ex-West coaster, I was more than excited to see these Vancouver-based comediennes perform. I sat down to a nearly sold-out show to watch Jackie Blackmore, Amy Auchstaetter, Lauren Martin, and Megan Phillips dance their way onto the stage in strapless tops that were often falling down and exposing their boobies. Yes, I saw naked comedy within the first 5 minutes of watching this show and it was delivered via highland dancing and a lot of jiggle!
Baker's Dozen is a fun one-man puppet show that delightfully pokes fun at the justice system.
A jury has been assembled to determine whether the Butcher killed the Baker. A motley crew of characters have been assembled, all portrayed by one puppeteer (Adam Francis Proulx) and a box full of interchangeable lips, eyes and hair.
Circumstance and Emotions by joel fishbane @joelfishbane
Sombre and serious right from the start, Birdy, written and performed by Karie Richards, is a one-woman show that dives headfirst into intimate territory as it crafts a portrait of a girl, her father and the issue of mental illness that at once divides and unites them. It’s a deadly earnest script which is given an equally earnest performance. This isn’t always to the script’s benefit; while intense and emotional, the show at times teeters on the edge of self-indulgence which threatens to detract from its impact.
When Hell Is Heaven by joel fishbane @joelfishbane
As irreverent as it is entertaining, No Chance in Hell - A New Musical succeeds in being something that’s all too rare these days: a musical comedy that’s actually musical and a comedy. With no aspirations other than to be entertaining, writers Chris John (book and lyrics) and Kevin Fox (music) have crafted a song and dance confection that, with its echoes of Damn Yankees, calls us back to the musicals of the golden age.The show isn’t perfect, but that’s something that can be fixed the next time around – and let’s hope there is a next time, hopefully in a production that includes the same talented cast.
Small Wooden Shoe, one of the big daddies of indie theatre in Toronto, has a show in the Fringe. Well, outside the normal Fringe venues. Well, outdoors altogether. And they call it a Summer Spectacular, which they hope is the first in a series.
A very casual atmosphere, participants assemble in a the appointed park, given a quick introduction by a man on stilts (Jacob Zimmer, Shoe’s AD) and then divided into smaller groups, each with its own tour guide/storyteller. I say participants since this isn’t really an audience show – we had a neighbourhood kid drop into our group for a while.
Chris Hunter, Sean Dixon, Amy Rutherford (photo by David Hou)
We’re all just Playing in the Forest by Spencer Malthouse
There is something decidedly pleasant about watching a play set in a forest while sitting in a park. Watching Canadian Stage’s As You Like It while the sky slowly darkens is an enjoyable, comical, and above all accessible evening. Shakespeare in High Park is a wonderful way to spend an evening with family, friends, or by yourself.
This year Shakespeare in High Park presents two shows on alternating nights with the same cast. The first, As You Like It, is a classic Shakespearian gender-swap comedy. The main female, Rosalind (Amy Rutherford) disguises herself as a man – for somewhat abstruse reasons – and proceeds to test the amorous zeal of her suitor, Orlando (Alexander Plouffe). Along the way Rosalind takes up farming, encounters her father (who doesn’t recognize her because she is dressed as a man), and attracts the affections of a bitter shepherdess. Hijinks ensue and everyone ends up married: classic Shakespearean comedy.
Food, Fucking, and Forgiveness...at the Fringe by Beat Rice
Married interracial couple Hassan and Epstein, claim to have the most successful marriage in the United States of America. (They are from New York ).
Their show is basically the two of them onstage being themselves, and talking about their relationship. This simple formula works for two main reasons: the pair are both outgoing and hilarious, but more importantly, they are genuine and honest about everything.
You Detective is an improv sketch comedy starring Evan Arppe, Eric Miinch, and Josh Murray, in which two competing detectives begin to investigate the kidnapping of Toronto’s Mayor. The only thing that makes this structured improv different from most others is that the audience has a say in which direction the story goes. When at a crossroads, the performer presents two ridiculous options and the one with the more enthusiastic applause is where the ‘detective story’ goes. It is a good idea to get audiences involved but most of the choices were absurd and were probably inside jokes between the performers. Some of the options seem to be derived from the sole fact that the performers had a hilarious prop lying around that they really wanted to use.
The tandem bicycle. A perfect symbol for marriage. After all, it takes two to make it work.
A Bicycle Built for Two is a light-hearted take on love, marriage, and relationships. Johnny Wideman has written a comedy about a pair of young to-be-weds and the people around them. A cast of four play several parts each.
Staged in and around a synagogue in Kensington Market, A Simple Twist of Faith needs a few more twists. This show, a two person song cycle about a Jewish soldier in WWI Germany who is taken in by a family for Shabbat dinner, and 20 years later repays the kindness, features beautiful voices and a live quartet of musicians.
However, with a plot that is obvious from the outset, the true story’s stakes never seem high enough. Since the story is told as a flashback, the narrator obviously survived the dangers of the wars, hopefully with help from the tale's hero.
All Ives, All The Time by joel fishbone @joelfishbane
A sharply written one-act by one of America’s great modern playwrights, Ancient History is eternally unassuming, pretending to be a simple romantic comedy as it delves into such thorny issues as bigotry and anti-Semitism. Written by David Ives, the play was written in 1989 but is only now getting its Canadian premiere thanks to Aware! Productions who have brought it to the Toronto Fringe with a decent, if at times underwhelming, production.
A performance piece that melds dance, movement, spoken word, and theatre, Return is an intriguing experience even if the last third falls a little flat. The show follows the early years of an unnamed girl (played by Caitlin Hutt) whose inner life is given a physical voice thanks to two dancers (Rebecca Bobrovskis and Alyssa Bartlett). Confronting issues of loneliness, cyber-bullying, and substance abuse, Return deals admirably with some heavy issues yet still fails to create a satisfying resolution.
I Was Born Whiteis essentially a dance piece, something I may be ill equipped to review. There are theatrical elements to the piece but there is no plot and little story. The piece is a physical exploration of a situation rife with emotion: an adopted girl, born white, eventually comes to realize she’s black. It’s an intriguing circumstance full of dramatic possibilities, but this performance is more interested in exploring the ideas through movement and spoken word.
Gunshot is very much a dance show, and not so much physical theatre as it states in the Fringe program. Amanda Pye and Rhanda Jones have choreographed an interesting and provocative ensemble work.
The piece begins with choreography set to recognizable orchestral scores.
At first this seems jarring because what we are seeing does not match what we are hearing. By the time we accept this as a stylistic choice the music changes. What follows musically for the rest of the show is more electronic and modern. It seemed to be the better choice because it fit, and made me question the opening number, which may very well have been the intention.
A silent film, presented live, with actors in whiteface makeup, exaggerated physical gestures, onstage musical accompaniment, sepia-black-and-white costumes and projected title cards. Well, actually Gold Fever is a double-bill, that takes the audience back in time.
If you were a kid in the 90s - and by that I mean Babysitters Club Books, the Backstreet Boys, and the wellbeing of your Tamagotchi were a part of your very existence- you MUST go see Hey ‘90s Kids, You’re Old!
This is a show with something to say. They want you to think. The extremist, radical feminist views expressed aim higher than simply bashing the male gender. Though I will admit, it was great fun watching the guys in the audience squirm a little.
Bursting With Talent, Nowhere to Go by Keely Kwok @kwokles
Socialite Vivienne Moore has a desperate problem: her arch-nemesis Helen Reisberg hosted the literary soiree of the season and had the audacity not to invite Madame Moore! Can you believe it? The nerve of that woman! Oh, and her husband Gerald has been accused of stealing employee pension money in addition to shredding important company documents. But! Back to more important matters: how to get revenge on that ruinous Reisberg! Vivienne resolves to throw a party of her own and invite her literary idol, Margaret Flatwood.
What do you do if your hunger is so insatiable that you can’t stop eating? You eat rats, bones, anything available to you. And what if you are a peasant in pre-Revolutionary France too? That is the unpleasant situation Tarrare finds himself in. And yes, he does eat his way out.
Not For The Faint of Heart by Lisa McKeown @lisammckeown
When I walked into the packed theatre I had high hopes for what seemed to be a play that had gotten quite a lot of press, and an award: it's the winner of the Fringe Best New Play Contest.
And I'm sorry to say I was rather disappointed. Written by Alexander Offord, this play is about a young emissary sent to a remote country to investigate reports of sexual violence at the mine. While she's there, civil war breaks out and she is taken hostage by a former miner.
Written and performed by Ardith Irvine, this is a one-woman mini-musical about learning to adapt to life with Multiple Sclerosis. This brave show consisted of some anecdotes about how she's had to adapt to her disease, along with some dancing and a couple of musical numbers.
The show certainly gave the audience some insight into the life of someone dealing with MS, and the only thing I would say is that I wanted more - more of her experiences, the kinds of trials that she has to endure on a daily basis, things that most of us take for granted and things we are oblivious to.
I Laugh, Therefore I Am by Lisa McKeown @lisammckeown
This is Canadian comedian Graham Clark's Toronto Fringe Festival debut. Clark is a natural comedian, or at least he makes it seem that way. His jokes are often self-deprecating, but there is, paradoxically, a deep security in his jokes that puts the audience completely at ease, providing a great atmosphere and providing context in which to relax and laugh for almost an entire straight hour.
One thing this latest play by the prolific and disciplined Kat Sandler does not need is a punch up. Punching up comedy (as the piece informs) is the act of hiring someone else to clean up, rewrite, focus and dramaturge an act or script.
A wonderfully titled comedy about parents who know too much or know too little about their kids and the journey of discovery, or: how to pull your head out of the sand and stop being an ostrich. But wait, the show tells us that is a myth. Just as it’s a myth to call this play by Matt Murray just a comedy. This is a comedy with heart.
A solo show with multiple characters structured around a classroom lesson. A lesson taught by Rosie when she returns home to Dominica to pass on her knowledge of head-tying, which she picked up at her granny’s feet. Rosie observes how unkempt her granny’s grave is; she notices how the young women of today are not interested in observing tradition or conducting themselves in the old ways.
Written by Susan Freedman, this piece is a one-woman show that tells the story of her parents' blissful marriage by way of their love letters to each other in the 1920s and 30s.
Freedman points out that when your parents have a beautiful marriage, they make it look easy. She had to find out the hard way that things are not quite as simple as they appeared to her growing up. She has excellent storytelling skills, weaving the romantic and the comedic, the frustrating and sad together into a beautiful juxtapositioning of the evolution of her parents growing intimacy with moments from her childhood as well as her initial, awkward attempts at finding love.
I Don't Think We're Quite There Yet, Toto by Lisa McKeown @lisammckeown
Written by Darren Stewart-Jones, this is the story of the characters from the Wizard of Oz, who have realized that their problems haven't magically gone away, and so they make the decision to go to group therapy facilitated by the ever-absent Dr. Oz.
Hugh and I, is a musical that delves into the youthful days of magazine mogul Hugh Hefner, starting from his high schools days until the conception of Playboy. Hugh starts off as a dorky kid in school who has no clue how to talk to girls. His cool buddy Jim shows him the moves and boosts his confidence. They meet girls, go to war, come home, and marry their girls. From the start, it is clear that Hefner has one strong ambition in life - work and write for Esquire magazine. His drive eventually leads to relationship troubles with his wife and friends. The production felt long but I suppose it was necessary in order to realistically justify Hefner’s complete character change.
A strong production of a script that needs refinement, Concrete Kid only mildly appeals.
The debut production from Ray Jarvis Ruby, Concrete Kid tells the story of Jamie, a young Toronto woman who has recently finished high school and come out to her parents but is being sent to her aunt’s farm for the summer. Trying for one last hurrah before facing the countryside, Jamie obtains a fake ID and heads to her first Gay bar, where she catches the bartender’s eye (Lindsey Middleton in a strong supporting role).
More theatrical exploration than theatre, Komunka is an improvised piece of theatre that focuses around the lives of several Russians living in a komunka, or communal apartment. Working from scenarios developed in the rehearsal room, the actors play out a series of scenes that deal with themes of abuse, homophobia, and despair. As an acting exercise, it’s fascinating and unique. As a piece of theatre, it fails more often than it succeeds.
Sketch - Always a Mixed Bag by joel fishbane @joelfishbane
A strong ensemble fights against a mixed bag of sketches in Rulers of the Universe: A Love Story. The various sketches, which run from Duelling Scalpers to a store where a Gold Card membership gains you some very special perks, all begin with a clever premise but only occasionally manage to spin it into true comedic gold. This is despite the talents of the troupe, a motley assortment of comedians, actors and improvisers.