Laughing and Crying: The Comic and Dramatic Shows of the 2012 Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Columns

By Stephanie Adamov

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival has a performance for every type of theatre-goer. Dedicated fringers impatiently go online or purchase their guide from the MLCC. Hours can be spent plotting and coordinating schedules. With their Frequent Fringe Pass, post-its and highlighter in hand they consider past performers, award-winning companies and for many the select plays that demand obligatory attendance from family or friends.

Other fringers accidently stumble upon the daily schedule as they pass through Old Market Square. By coincidence they may discover a show opening a few short steps away and perhaps learn about other plays from performers who are hand-billing while they wait in line.

And then you have the cautious fringer. They can be very skeptical of any show recommendation. This may be a result of past experiences of unexpected and extreme shock or surprise. However the curtain on their theatre days has not fully descended, they can usually be coaxed back… but it`ll take an eloquent speech and perhaps a free ticket.

Part of the excitement and thrill of the festival is that element of surprise. In my experience I`ve seen my share of ‘works in progress’ but that`s the beauty of the fringe. The potential for artistic experimentation is limitless.

After my previous article glancing at the festival`s musicals, in this second installment, I will review an array of the comedies and dramatic pieces brought to you by the 2012 Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Starting with the shows that won (or attempted to win) laughs from the audience, I will be covering the following in the area of comedy: Fools for Love, The BIRDMANN in Events of Momentous Timing, Burnt at the Steak and The Anger in Ernest in Ernestine.

In the genre of drama I will be looking at shows including: The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter, Minding Dad and The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Fools For Love; photo credit Marc Julien Objois

Coming off their 2011 hit, Sofa So Good, Rocket and Sheshells of Edmonton returned with Fools for Love. Their adult clown rom-com poked fun at romantic comedies. Don’t let the word clown fool you; this production contains some mature subject matter and impressive physical stunts. From orgasmic flashlights to catapulting Timbits this duo has a knack for maximizing minimalist sets and props.

With a bit of a slow start, the two performers soon had the theatre rolling and roaring with laughter. The creative and innovative scenes produced by a combination of movement and voice were delightful. From a plane crash to a picnic, to a roller coaster and a bus ride, this troupe developed a new definition of clowning for their audiences.

The BIRDMANN in Events of Momentous Timing fell a few seconds short of exhilarating. Attempting to bring to stage a film noir aesthetic to the John Hirsch theatre, the Birdmann’s storytelling capabilities were tedious, fragmented and unfulfilling. Straight from Surfers’ Paradise, this Aussie presented a few impressive gravity-defying stunts during his hour long show. However, he was unable to capitalize on climatic moments for an opening night audience during this Fringe Festival.

Armed with tear away slacks, fishnet tights and six-inch stilettos this vaudevillian attempted to bring a few last laughs to an unreceptive Winnipeg audience. Though this last act did regain the lost laughs from earlier on, it was a bit too late as an attempt for a finale. Incomparable as he may be, I do look forward with an optimistic lens for his 2013 Fringe performance.

With a golden smile and an iron grip on her provolone balls, the Italian Rose of Texas, writer and performer Carolann Valentino struts into the Rachel Browne Theatre. Burnt at the Steak describes her unique adventure of leaving Texas to pursue her Broadway career but somehow ending up managing a multimillion dollar steakhouse. Fluidly flipping between a wide variety of characters and clients she illustrates several episodes that transpired during her time at the restaurant.

Several audience participatory activities emerged throughout her one-woman show. Though it added a degree of spontaneity, it had the potential to be invasive if not taken lightheartedly. Valentino imaginatively uses songs like Do, Re, Mi, Mumbo Italiano and Moon River throughout her piece. By changing the lyrics she teaches the audience about how steak is prepared, different cuts of meat, and describes her less than classy clientele. No matter how rude, famous or underdressed patrons at her restaurant may be, she`d be obliged to cater to their sometimes ridiculous demands. This was of course to be executed with the same winning smile she presented when entering the theatre.

They loved.  They laughed. Then… they got married. Now in the closed quarters of their quaint basement apartment, all they have to do is survive each other. It’s a comedic battle of epic proportions as Colin D. Conner and Allisa Watson take the stage and try to win your support in The Anger in Ernest in Ernestine. Opposites that once attracted now repel as the neat and tidy Ernest has his strict routines ruined by a rambunctious Ernestine.

In a sequence that will forever change the way you view Cheerios, the tension begins to build. As the play proceeds, the audience grows unsure if there can ever be a winner as the stakes grow to unprecedented levels. Directed by Debbie Patterson, the physical comedy and impeccable timing of the performers caused audiences to laugh till they cried and waded in their pool of tears. In a brilliantly written script by Robert Morgan, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak, The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine relays some comedic truths about everyone`s perfect imperfections.    

The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter was certainly the ideal show for any perogy pinching (or eating) family in this city. Unfolding the tales her mother told her, Yana Kesala is endearing as she transitions from a child of three, to a patient bride waiting for her all too fashionably late groom. Balancing the task of telling multiple stories, this one-woman show truly grips the audience during her mesmerizing performance.

Enticing and endearing Kesala is genuine in the recountings of her mother’s past. The quest for a “good Ukrainian boy” brought patrons close to tears of laughter and recognition. Kesla fuses Ukrainian with English during several episodes of her story. Though she translates the sentiments immediately after, you can notice the Ukrainian speakers scattered throughout the very intimate theatre.

Kenneth Brown’s drama, Minding Dad, was about living with aging grandparents and working in palliative care, and had the potential to hit close to home. The humility, humour and morality revolved around the ‘father and son’ story. This drama characterizes a father who is fading fast from his attentive son as the father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I think that the script could have ventured farther into the realm of a disease that is confronting the realities of our aging population. However, for some audiences, it was perhaps was too close for comfort.

The dynamic between the son, Jon Paterson and father, Brown himself was curious to watch as it developed through several episodic scenes. Switching from past and present could have been utilized more efficiently through the use of sound and movement. However, it helped to break the intentionally repetitive dialogue between the characters.

District Theatre Collective took Mike Daisey`s controversial monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by the reins in their ninety minute adaptation. The four actors used the script to reiterate a brief, humour-infused history of Steve Jobs` role with Apple and the way he `changed the metaphor by which we see the world.` From Shenzhen China to technology hungry North America this piece exposes the ruthless behaviour behind passionate design. Revealing the irony of globalism and the mind virus of consumerism, this play was able to present didactic sentiments without sounding preachy.

It was evident that these young and talented performers had conducted their homework in exploring the provocative play. After the show, audience members had many questions. The actors happily answered all that they could but would also provide these patrons with links to their research inviting everyone to form their own opinion.

That concludes my review of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival 2012. This journey as a reviewer was certainly a wild ride of the good, the great and the not so pretty. The future does look bright for another twenty-five years of Fringing. May the spirit of the Festival foster artistic integrity, push boundaries, explore new territories and most of all enlighten and entertain audiences.

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Stage and Craft

Stephanie Adamov


Stephanie Adamov has a keen theatrical eye and is an avid theatregoer in Winnipeg, Stratford and abroad.

Copyright 2010 Great Plains Publications/Enfield & Wizenty

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