A Week of Fringing

Standing in line, waiting to get in to see the next play, it is a tradition to ask the people near you “Are you having a good fringe? What have you seen? ” And everyone has a recommendation that makes you want to add another play to the schedule, which becomes impossible if you want to eat or sleep.

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival offers 188 events, spread over 30 venues over a ten day period. I am here for a week of fringing with my sister. Jean is an experienced fringer, so we preordered tickets to 11 shows. I just went with her recommendations and we cut her long list of 30 down to 11 using a very sophisticated method. Either she had seen a show by the actor before or we liked the title.

The first method meant seeing two very different shows by a west coast performer, Mike  Delamont, both of which were great. The Devil reveals that The Devil is really just a middle management guy in a cardigan. It was hilarious.  (Apparently God is a Scottish drag queen, according to earlier Delamont plays.) Mama’s Boy is the story of a boy’s relationship with his alcoholic mother. It was funny, sad and very moving. It got the only standing ovation we have seen.

The second method took us to shows like “The Ladies Guide to Deceit and Debauchery”, “Dr Whom”, “Hotter than Potter” and “Roller Derby Saved my Soul”.  We loved them all. Two are magic shows, with very talented performers. Carisa Hendrix the creator and performer of Ladies had us all in stitches from the first moment and amazed by her magic tricks to the end. Keith H Brown called his show Hotter than Potter after it was described that way in a review. But he warns you right away that Hogswart has no place in the show and neither does a sexy Harry! But some wonderful magic tricks and a charismatic performer.

Roller Derby Saved My Life was another one woman show performed by Nancy Kenny. There was roller skating and a great story about …you guessed!

Doctor Whom had a three person cast, supported by two audience menbers selected to play the Tardis and the Faithful Sidekick. Both audience members got into the spirit of things and added a lot to the show. It was done in improv format and was  very funny. The ending was very topical, as the new Doctor was revealed as a woman.

Two other shows had more than one performer. Schrodinger’s Cat has been the weakest play so far this week. It gave me time to have a little nap and catch up on my sleep. The Canada Show was a quick review of 6000 years of Canadian History.  Very funny and with a sharp first nations’ flavour.

Beers About Songs is hard to describe. It is a story told in songs, so opera comes to mind, except the songs are guitar ballads. The title suggests beer, but the story is actually about partner abuse. It was very powerful and very funny, a hard combination. Ryan Wells is also a member of Sound and Fury, who performed Doctor Whom.

Shakespeare Crackpot was a great lecture about the refusal of the academy to consider the evidence about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. So it was a weird mixture of criticism of teaching and lots of information about the Bard. A great lecture, with lots of fascinating information: this could be a great Forum presentation.

Desdemona was a three woman play, looking at what went on in the women’s rooms while Othello and the boys were not there. Desdemona is not an innocent. She is a woman who wants to be free and see the world, but has to satisfy her desire for adventure by being a part time whore for Bianca. Bianca really just wants to get married to Michael Cassio and have babies. And Amelia is not the faithful maid, but a disappointed woman who would love to get rid of her husband. Different but fascinating and very well acted. Another Forum possibility.

The Winnipeg Fringe venues are close enough together that you can walk between them. Two major groupings are in the downtown Exchange District and at The Forks. This means there are restaurants and patios clustered near by, so can can spend time between shows relaxing in the sun on a patio. In the Exchange District a small park has been converted to an outdoor performance space, surrounded by an outstanding collection of food trucks. We saw an Australian Chinese Polish clown perform twice on the seventeen foot pole, held inplace by four volunteers from the audience. He used to be with Cirque du Soleil. Funny and amazing.

So the conclusion? We should try the Toronto Fringe next summer, if we can. Or consider another trip to Winnipeg. I doubt if Toronto will compare well, largely because the whole of Winnipeg seems to be involved. There is great media coverage and a host of 800 volunteers to keep things moving efficiently. In Toronto, we barely knew it was happening.

Below is a list of the shows we saw, performers and my rating on a five star scale.

The Devil – Mike Delamont – 4

Roller Derby Saved My Life – Nancy Kenny – 4

Schrodinger’s Cat – Dan Robertson et al – 3

Doctor Whom – Sound and Fury – 4

The Ladies Guide to Deceit and Debauchery – Carisa Hendrix – 5

Mama’s Boy – Mike Delamont – 5

Beers about Songs – Ryan Adam Wells – 5

Shakespeare Crackpot – Keir Cutler – 4

Desdemona – Paula Vogel – 4

Hotter Than Potter – Keith H Brown -4

The Canada Show – Ryan Gladstone and Bruce Horak – 4


Just to keep things complete, here is a list of shows we did not see, but wanted to after meeting the performers in line and listening to their sales pitches or listening to audience recommendations.

Tough – Erin Rodgers

Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour – the Fourth Wall

Your Princess is in Another Tower – Was Babcock and Nancy Kenny

Josephine – Tod Kimbro

Roller Coaster – T J Dawe

Olive Copperbottom – Penny Ashton

The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over – Gemma Wilcox

6 Guitars – Chase Padgett and Jay Hopkins

Eastport – Laurie Duncan

Letters to West 113th – Jeff Newman and Hannah Rud


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The Virgin Trial

Written by Kate Hennig

Starring Bahia Watson as Bess, Yanna McIntosh as Eleanor, Nigel Bennet as Ted, Brad Hodder as Thom, Andre Morin as Parry, Laura Condlin as Ashley, Sara Farb as Mary

Part Two in a trilogy about the Tudors,this is history from a very different perspective. This play gives us Bess as a young teenager, young enough that no one expects her to do much or to have any power. They don’t expect it, so she can get away with many things. She is questioned but not believed. And she is a master of equivocation!

The choice of a modern seting and costumes adds greatly to the power of the play. As torture goes on in the background, the hooded victims must remind us of Abu Grhaib and the fact that such things still happen today.

Fantastic cast as usual. Bahia Watson had just the right balance between innocent girl and scheming young woman. Sara Farb’s cynicism and annoyed patience hit just the right notes.  And Nigel Bennet and Yanna McIntosh question and disbelieve.

And I have to admit my shallowness – I want Yanna’s arms and biceps!

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Confederation, I and II

Video Cabaret presented these plays at Soulpepper as two sets of two. Confederation I included Confederation and Riel. Confederation II was Scandal and Rebellion. All four  plays concerned the period from 1861 to 1885 and re-introduced us to John A Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, George Brown, Georges Etienne Cartier and a host of other characters important around the time of Confederation, the building of the CPR and the Riel rebellion.

The historic figures are revealed with al,their warts and pecadillos, which makes the history funnier and fairer.

An interesting side note was to find out that the Blake House, around the corner from our condo, was named after Edgar Blake, a politician of that era.

And as the characters pointed out several times, it is a long walk from Winnipeg to Ottawa!

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Original play by Euripides. New version by Anne Carson.

Directed by Jillian Keiley

A stellar cast, a dramatic set, great costumes and a strange plot. Even an updated version cannot get around the plot, where Dionysus comes to earth to take revenge on humans who have disrespected him. Women follow him to the country side, where they are free to indulge their carnal desires. The king dresses as a woman to spy on them. His mother Agave returns from the country bearing a trophy – she thinks it is a lion’s head when it is actually her son’s head. You can take it from there.

I must mention Mac Fyfe’s performance as Dionysus, Gordon S Miller as Pentheus and Lucy Peacock as Agave. All were superb.  Graham Abbey as Teresias and Nigel Bennet as Kadmos were equally good in smaller roles. And of course, I have to mention the Bakkhai, the chorus who told the story. They wer visually very impressive, but I must confess that I would have preferred chanting to singing, as it might have been easier to hear the words.

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The Changeling

Written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

High Speed Havoc is how Jackie Maxwell described her production of The Changeling. And high speed it was! As with the only other Middleton play we have seen (The Revengers Tragedy), the play moves along at a very fast pace. Characters arrive and depart. Plots arise and change. There are actually two plots, although I have to confess I never did figure out what was going on between Antonio (Gareth Potter) and Isabela (Jessica B. Hill).

The main plot was the usual story. Beatrice Joanna’s (Mikaeal Davies) father wants her to marry one man. She wants to marry another. She enlists help from a servant she hates to have her father’s candidate murdered. De Flores (Ben Carlson) demands sex in payment. She complies, but then has to figure out how to be a virgon on her wedding night. Enter the maid servant Diapahnta, (Ijeoma Emesowum), who agrees to sleep,with Joanna’s hisband Alsemero (Cyrus Lane) on her behalf. She enjoys it too much and has to be eliminated. More murder.

The overall experience was interesting but to me unsatisfactory.  I went home, not sure who did what, why. And I had nomidea whomThe Changeling was. According to the program, it was Antonio. But the actions of the characters leave the title open for anyone to claim.

The play was set in Spain, updated to the Spanish Civil War era. I am not convinced that this added anything, or detracted. But the costumes were easier for people to move around!

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School for Scandal

Director – Antoni Cimolino

Starring – Maev Beatty as Lady Sneerwell, Brigit Wilson as Mrs Candour, Joseph Zeigler as Sir Oliver Surface. Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Peter Teazle, Shannon Taylor as Lady Teazle, Brent Carver as Rowley, Sebastien Helms as Charles Surface, Tyrone Savage as Joseph Surface.

The audience loved this gorgeous, funny production. And what’s not to like? You need to see it for the performances alone. Brigit Wilson as Mrs Candour was hilarious. Maev Beatty was suitable hauty as Lady Sneerwell. Geraint Wyn Davies was funny and sad as the lovelorn husband. And Joseph Zeigler was perfect as Sir Oliver.

The costumes were gorgeous and the sets elegant.

I rarely disagree with Antoni’s choices as a director, but this time I do. In costume for the period, the play seemed dated, but if it had been done in modern dress, the concept of fake news would have resonated much more clearly. The couple of modern references (Sean Spicer) and the twitter crawl at the end suggested that Antoni might have been torn. As it was they seemed out of place.

But at the end, I went home feeling dissatisfied. The play is dated, but it could have been so relevant. Maybe I am just shallow because I wanted it to seem more current on the surface (pun) instead of having to work to get the underlying theme: gossip  (fake news) is dangerous.

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Treasure Island

Director – Mitchell Cushman

Starring – Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Jim Hawkins. Randy Hughson as Squire Trelawney, Juan Chioran as Long John Silver, Jamie Mac as Allardyce, Jim Codrington as Captain Smollett and Katelyn  McCulloch as Ben Gunn

Fun for the whole family. Pirates, a parrot, battles, singing, dancing  and the amazing aerial work of Ben Gunn (Katelyn McCulloch). Juan Chioran was pefect as Long John Silver, with just the right blend of piratical evil and soft guy dad underneaith. Jamie Mac did a terrific and very funny bit speaking in a dialect that no one could understand, but might have been Newfoundland?

The kids in the audience loved the whole thing and so did the rest of us.

We have already issued invitations to the grandkids to come see it. You should too.


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