Okay, so i did five volunteer shifts (4 hours each) at the Winnipeg Fringe (July 16-27), and ended up seeing 14 shows out of a possible 140.
Shows i saw, in addition to the ones reviewed below:
- The Green Zone — I saw Winnipeg modern dance icon Jolene Bailie‘s solo show at the Vancouver Fringe years ago, and i just didn’t get it. All those shrugs, dramatic pauses, flailing limbs … i just didn’t have the movement vocabulary to make any sense of it. This time around, though: gorgeous. The movement was riveting, the lighting highly dramatic (something missing from every other Fringe show i saw), and it all somehow made sense. Jo has matured as a performer, and maybe i have too as an audience. Five stars.
- Totem Figures — Vancouver’s TJ Dawe, perennial Fringe workhorse, tells how it’s been for ten years of Fringing, in 90 minutes of wide-ranging, rapid-fire monologue that’ll make you listen closely and think hard to keep up. Impressive, but i’d like to have see a bit more theatricality (i.e. motion, lighting, variations in tone of voice). * * * * nonetheless.
- sucker – Truly creepy show about pedophilia, but not like you’re thinking, you fucking pervert. Men, stay away if you are anywhere near mid-life crisis. My gut wants to say two, but four stars for Fringeworthy impact.
- The Red Handkerchief — an ambitious pas de deux (quatre if you count the mannequins). Relationship story with ingenious theatrical twists — maybe too much so. Three stars.
- Manners for Men — I have to acknowledge this was well acted, by Justin Sage-Passant; it takes skill to maintain such a d-e-a-d s-l-o-w pace throughout, along with such rock-steady characterization of a wingeing momma’s boy. Not much of a story, though. I wanted to shake the piss out of the guy after five minutes. 3 stars.
- American Squatter – American humourist Barry Smith basically gives a PowerPoint show about his growing-up years, including living in a London squat. The delivery was smooth, the PowerPoint slides were okay, but really … PowerPoint? 2 or 3 stars, depending.
Fringe line-up, from the Mondragon Cafe
And more importantly, shows i want to see at the Vancouver Fringe, based on reviews and scuttlebutt heard on the Winipeggy streets:
- jem rolls: How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall — the best of spoken word and storytelling
- The Tricky Part — a tough subject (child abuse from the abusee’s point of view), but powerfully written and superbly acted. Played to rave reviews.
- Guernica – Deep, dark dance, a.k.a. physical theatre.
- The Aethernomicon – it’s got puppets. Can’t resist that!
- The Shakespeare Show or, How an illiterate son of a glover became the greatest playwright in the world — because it ain’t da Fringe unless there’s a Shakespeare angle.
- Yorick! See mandatory Shakespeare reference above.
- Crude Love — “a cynical eco-warrior falls in love with a Newfie woman dump truck driver in the harsh Alberta oil sands”
- How to Fake Clinical Depression — ’cause i might need to know about this sometime.
- ImproVision: Fast, Loose & Lovely – had the best posters, and ya gotta see at least one improv.
- The Wrong Hole — because i can’t resist the title. Sketch comedy.
- Sherlock Holmes & the Saline Solution — top marks from critics and audience.
- Demons of the Mind — ‘Cause i’m a sucker for dance.
- Spiral Dive — cousin Jim liked it.
- It’s a Gay Gay Gay Gay World. Maybe if i’m in a gay mood.
Plus about 30 others, of course. It’s the Fringe, it’s s’posed to be a crapshoot. Be adventurous.
Most of these shows are heading west for the Calgary Fringe (Aug. 1-10), Edmonton Fringe (Aug. 14-24), Victoria Fringe (Aug. 21-31), and Vancouver Fringe (Sept. 3-14). Catch them — and a dozen more — when you can!
Fringe street meditators
Oh, yeah. Jim and Val and i picked out two shows at random and got a couple of great shows, both nearly sold out. At the first one we slid into the back row. At the second, we lucked into three seats near the front of a packed bar venue, but had to climb over and under the tables to get to them.
Both shows, completely coincidentally, were offshore raconteurs who, with the aid of nothing but a chair or stool, told long, rambling tales punctuated by much digression and impromptu commentary. Ah, that Brit wit — when it works (and by the time it gets this far afield it always works), nothing beats it.
- The Spy — Aussie performer Jotto Katz is a master of deception, misdirection and sleight-of-mind in this mid-70s tale of espionage and shifting identity. Playing multiple characters, boldly inviting commentary from the audience, boldly ignoring the theatrical suspension of disbelief, and with a line of narrative as tangled as a plate of spaghetti, he truly seemed to be having a good time. So did we.
- The Further Advetures of Antoine Feval — Wonderfully confident Brit actor Chris Gibbs (now Toronto-based and with a 3-week-old Canadian baby, if his multifarious asides are to be believed), standing on a 4-by-10 makeshift stage against the wall of the top floor of the King’s Head restaurant/bar, addressed a full, full house of wined (beered) and dined patrons. (The remains of a fish-and-chips graced our table for the whole show.) Elocution, my dears: he learned it. It was learned by him. Very Shakespearean. Very Victorian. A long, looping, literate tale told in a plummy accent by a pro. It was delightful to watch the rapt audience following the tale like children.
I’m really enjoying the spoken word shows, and will make a delibelate effort to catch as many as i can during the Fringe. Alas, i’ve learned that mumsy has arranged several visits with the rellies during the coming week, which will sorely limit my Fringing time. I must approach it with military precision.
My 4-hour Fringe shift started with picking up all the garbage on the ground in Market Square — let me tell you about my newfound lack of respect for smokers later — then back to parking patrol. But it was most entertaining because i was right alongside the Kids’ Fringe open stage, and watched the Aussie acrobats, the Story Fairy (okay, not my cuppa), and the people from drumcafe.com (including the Amazon with the shekere, with whom i was enraptured at a drum circle here in Winnipeg two winters ago; alas, she still doesn’t know i exist).
Then it was playtime. Only two today because (a) it’s Saturday and was packed, and (b) i’m getting seriously short of sleep, what with the early-morning shifts and the late nights. Seen:
- Inflatable Buddha — bigger than Jesus — a travelling British band (mandolin, stand-up bass, harmonica, sax, drums) and spoken-word troupe. Great title, but a lacklustre show, i’m afraid. The performance poetry was repetitive, with little in the way of surprising ideas or images. Even the klezmer pieces didn’t have much life to them (and that’s a talent). The lady bassist’s solo ballad was the high point of a show marred by way, way too much rambling dialogue, which i note seems to be a common Fringe indulgence. When i do my Fringe play it’s going to be nonstop action. Others seemed to like it, though. Punters.
- Mating Rituals of the Urban Cougar — a pure-as-wine spoken-word piece by Toronto’s (ex Vancouver’s) Andrea Thompson. Black stage, one stool, one women — that’s guts. Poor title, i thought, but the show … goose bumps! A testament to the power that lies hidden in story, for those able to evoke it.
Personal tales, slammy poetry, a capella song, perspicacious social observation. So good i bought a CD, and felt my life take a slight left turn. Check out Juicy on her MySpace page. I will put her in contact with PRAS for a possible show at the Tofino’s community theatre. A venue that sold out seven shows of the Vagina Monologues can hold Cougar Andy for a night or two.
Sleep. Must sleep!
Whew. Four hours of volunteering (parking duty, ugh) at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, followed by three plays, then an hour’s bus ride back to Mom’s place. The line-up tonight:
- Skin Flick — three 20-somethings, all still living in their parents’ basements, get involved in making their first porno movie. Enthusiastic acting by young cast, fine comic timing, and beefy, witty writing by neophyte U of Winnipeg playwright Gonzalo Riede.
- Inferno Sonata, written and acted by Scott Sharplin (right) — Wow, a tour de force of acting in this highly eccentric, classical one-man show. Both annoying and riveting, it unfolds like a piece of origami on black paper. Sit up front. Best set you’ll see on a Fringe production.
- Old Growth — Had to see this one because it’s set in Haida Gwai — the demise of the Golden Spruce. Overly preachy, but a strong tale pulled, nay, dragged me through it. Alex Eddington wrote and stars, along with accomplished flautist Aura Giles (and i don’t even like flute). Passion! Drums! Nudity! Important Message! That’s what Fringe is all about, folks.
Okay, good night. It’s 12:16 a.m. and i have to get up at 7 to catch my 10-to-2 shift tomorrow morning — plus another couple of plays, of course!
Question: How come no older guys ‘n’ gals in the Fringe (so far)?
[In the face of repeated questions, Buddha] maintains what is called Noble Silence, sometimes later called the Thunderous Silence, because this silence, this metaphysical silence, is not a void; it is very powerful. This silence is the open window through which you can see not concepts, not ideas, not beliefs, but the very goods.
But if you say what it is that you see, you erect an image and an idol, and you misdirect people.
It’s better to destroy people’s beliefs than to give them beliefs. I know it hurts, but it is the Way. That is what cracks the eggshell and lets out the chick.
–Alan Watts, lecture series Out of Your Mind (from the section A Finger Pointirg at the Moon)