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.