Made in Manitoba: New homegrown plays at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Made in Manitoba: New homegrown plays at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is a big deal for Manitoba theatre fans — there is no other time of year when you can see this many locally made productions at once. 

Our CBC review crew saw some of the many made-in-Manitoba productions and plays on offer. Here’s what they thought.  

Animosity

★★★★★ STARS

A love story in the abyss, Animosity is a perfect piece of absurdist theatre.

Two characters are trapped in a void. They feel no hunger or thirst. The temperature is constant, as is gravity. They seem to remember a life before but they cannot be certain.

Without any external distractions, the two characters focus their attention on each other. Friendship turns to love, and love turns to fear and hatred.

The trappings of traditional theatre have been stripped away. Performed in a bare basement on a thrust stage, there are no sets and props, no elaborate costumes, no complicated light and sound cues. This is theatre concentrate. With nowhere for the actors to hide, every blocking choice and tempo change is magnified and scrutinized. Their work is strong and true.

Playwright Wren Brian elegantly grapples with essential questions of human existence. How do you imbue meaning into a purposeless existence? Can you choose love?

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

‘Watching The Ballad of Johnny Boy is like eavesdropping on three best friends while they play dress-up. It’s a bit rough and tumble, but infectiously fun.’ (MaddyWery)

The Ballad of Johnny Boy

★★★★ STARS

The Ballad of Johnny Boy is the high-energy story of a schmuck from small-town Newfoundland who wants to be a somebody, told by a trio of charismatic, musical dude bros.

Duncan Cox, Tanner Manson and Ben Townsley bring life to their ordinary hero “who might not go down in the history books” with their boyish charm, a burst of chest hair and the most eclectic set of props I’ve ever seen in a Fringe show. This includes a canoe, a ukulele, an accordion, an abacus and a coat hanger that doubles as a stripper pole.

Watching The Ballad of Johnny Boy is like eavesdropping on three best friends while they play dress-up. It’s a bit rough and tumble, but infectiously fun.

With a little focus and tightening, these guys could take their labour of love on the road. See it after a few beers.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

Macbeth: The After Party

★★ STARS

You have to give Brandon playwright Deanna Smid’s play points for creativity — I’d be hard pressed to think of another comedic murder mystery set during a post-performance Q&A with a Jacobean theatre company.

The original premise, though, isn’t quite followed through on.

A cast of quirky characters — who have just finished performing Macbeth — gather post-show, but before long they’ve got a dead body and a mystery on their hands.

It’s mostly an excuse for some corny jokes and hammy acting, and Smid’s script and the 7 Ages theatre company deliver with mixed results. Some of the jokes land (including plenty of clever gags for Shakespeare fans), and the cast commit themselves admirably to goofy performances.

But the premise, and the one-note characters, wear too thin in an hour that just doesn’t deliver enough laughs.

A tale told by an ambitious community theatre company that doesn’t quite add up to great comedy.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Medea and the Argonauts

★★★★ STARS

Medea is usually portrayed as something of a villain in Greek mythology, being a sorceress and (spoiler alert if you don’t know the 2,000-or-so-year-old story) murderer of her own children.

Here, writer/performer Hailley Rhoda gives a more sympathetic — and compelling — take on the character, with the help of some creative object puppetry.

From Medea’s perspective, Rhoda tells the story of her relationship with Jason (of the Argonauts fame) after she is cursed by the capricious gods to fall in love with the so-called hero.

Rhoda’s performance is delicate and nuanced — sometimes cheekily funny, sometimes quietly haunted.

The grimness of the material is leavened by the clever use of puppets, including some of the funniest/goriest puppet murders you’re likely to see at this year’s Fringe.

It doesn’t all hang together perfectly — Hailley’s script sometimes rushes to cram in names and details, and its tonal shifts can be jarring.

But it is nonetheless a fresh and intriguing take on a familiar story.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

One Date City

★★★ STARS

A modern girl’s guide to dating, One Date City runs through the litany of latest dating behaviours: ghosting, breadcrumbing, cuffing. If you don’t catch these references, walk away from this post and give your loved one a hug. It’s rough out there on the dating scene.

In One Date City, two roommates go on a series of nightmare dates in order to find love. (Leif Norman/One Date City)

Two roommates go on a series of nightmare dates in order to find love. What follows is a series of familiar dating tropes. Writer/co-star Reba Terlson does bring some fresh takes to the rom-com genre. On a date with “no labels” guy, she discovers he has a “girlfriend” but wants to continue playing the field. Enraged by his attitude, she proceeds to slap him with sticky notes detailing all of the labels she thinks he richly deserves.

A weak tempo detracts from otherwise strong performances, and long blackouts sap some of the vitality of the show.

Bonus points for the midpoint dance break.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Scandals of the Boy-Mind

★★★ STARS

Promising in its program blurb to be either “really good or a complete failure,” this curious Fringe offering from veteran actor and playwright Ross McMillan is definitely more the former.

Mixing drama with trippy video projections and a bit of dance, McMillan tells the story of two people meeting, falling in love and breaking up — and the aftermath. But the two are guided — and tormented — through all of this by their inner voices, played by two other performers.

With solid performances from the four-person cast, it becomes an appealing (and often wryly funny) exploration of not just relationships, but how our inner voices both help and hinder.

It may not have anything terribly new to say on those subjects, but at a lean half hour, Scandals tells its story with succinct style.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

See No Evil 

★★★ STARS

Set in 1966, Marc Moir’s throwback murder mystery is a radio play within a play, as we watch an in-studio cast perform See No Evil, a murder mystery in a Hitchcockian vein.

It’s a fun concept — for a while. The solid four-person cast (including Moir and members of his family) nicely capture the breathless, slightly melodramatic rhythms of the tail end of radio drama’s golden age. Sound effects performed live, mostly using period-appropriate props, and a couple of faux “sponsor announcements” are nicely executed.

Left to right: Marc A. Moir, Jenna Moir, Laura Moir and Scot Moir in See No Evil, a radio play within a play, at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. (Submitted/Looking Glass Productions)

The concept starts to run out of steam before the hour-long drama’s end, though. There are a few hints of the dynamic between the people performing the radio play within the play — something that might lift the show if explored further, but unfortunately not followed through on here.

It’s a nostalgic trip (and yes, that includes the casual sexism of the era) and good light entertainment, if not a must-see/must-hear.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

And for more made-in-Manitoba new work, see our reviews of:

Published at Tue, 24 Jul 2018 17:00:00 -0400