Manitoba·REVIEWS

Fringe finds: 6 top picks from opening weekend of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival

The first weekend of the 31st annual Winnipeg Fringe has come and gone, and our review crew has seen dozens of the 178 shows on offer. There are more reviews to come — but here are a few of our favourite shows from the first few days of the fest.

There are a lot of good picks at this year's Fringe. Here our some of our favourites so far

Andrew Bailey's Brain Machine is personal, smart and very funny. (Natalie Watson)

The opening weekend of the 31st annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre has come and gone, and our review crew has seen dozens of the 178 shows on offer.

We've got lots of reviews up already, and more to come — but here are a half dozen of our favourites from the first few days of the fest.

What are your top picks? Let us know in the comments!

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.

Animosity, a new play by local playwright Wren Brian, is a companion piece to Anomie, last year's winner of the Harry S. Rintoul Award for Best New Manitoba Play. (Andrea Case/Downside Up Productions)

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

Brain Machine

★★★★★ STARS

Andrew Bailey's solo show is about the fascinating (and little-known) people and stories behind the creation of the internet — and much more. It's also about how he accidentally went viral, and how the web has the power to connect — or destroy — all of us.

That he's able to tie all of this more or less seamlessly together is one of the things that makes Brain Machine so remarkable. That he's able to bring something fresh to the well-hashed "interwebs might be good, might be bad" theme may be even more remarkable.

Much of this comes down to Bailey's skill as a storyteller. He's got the timing of a seasoned standup and a scriptwriter's sense of when to reveal information — particularly a bombshell he drops well into the play.

It's personal, it's smart and it's also very funny. Check it out. Your brain will thank you.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Cranbourne

★★★★★ STARS

As performed by Fringe veteran Jon Lachlan Stewart, Quebecois playwright Fabien Cloutier's Cranbourne is a searing, haunting and utterly remarkable piece of theatre.

Cranbourne takes us into the dismal and narrow world of our narrator, who lives in small-town, working-class Quebec. Though he's crass (there's language here to offend just about everyone) and more than a little Islamophobic, he's also self-aware enough to know his life could be better — and so could he.

Cloutier's script (translated by Marie-Claude Plourde) is smart and pointed (think Daniel MacIvor at his edgiest, with a dash of David Mamet). It's also, in spite of its sadness, surprisingly — if darkly — funny.

Stewart's note-perfect performance drives it home, as he fully embodies the character, becoming someone we can't help but like — even as we're not sure we should.

It's theatre that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn't let go for 75 minutes. Not for the faint of heart — but not to be missed.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

★★★★★ STARS

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land is First Nations storytelling at its finest. It weaves a family's long forgotten stories with the present day, where we meet Nakota, a young Anishinaabe boy stuck in the hospital.

We begin with Nakota in front of his class, reading the story he wrote while bedridden. Originally, he thought he'd write a story inspired by his beloved Wolverine comics. But a visit from his grandfather changes everything.

In the hospital, Rocko regales young Nakota with stories of his youth, and encourages Nakota to recall his memories — his stories — so he too can write a powerful, cultural tale.

The one-man play is written and performed by Josh Languedoc, an Anishinaabe performer from Edmonton. He gives a riveting performance, taking on several roles, both human and animal.  

Rocko and Nakota masterfully weaves colourful Anishinaabe stories into Nakota's sterile hospital life. It is a heartwarming tale about family, storytelling, and a First Nation boy's connection to his ancestors.

— Reviewed by Stephanie Cram

Rob Malo's TiBert Is Back! is so good, you may be inspired (like our reviewer) to write a chant to sing its praises. (tibertlevoyageur.com)

​TiBert Is Back!

★★★★★ STARS

In place of reviewing TiBert le Voyageur's show, I have elected to create a song.

I have no musical training. There is not a tune to sing this to. I don't speak French. But it's what my daughter would do. So here, now, is my Chant for TiBert:

He's great with kids and juggling, too!

TiBert! TiBert!

He'll teach you how to drive a canoe!

TiBert! TiBert!

We'll play the spoons and dance a jig!

TiBert! TiBert!

With TiBert our fun will always be big! (I'm going to work on this line some more)

It's TiBert Le Voyageur!

Who wants to be in a York boat race?

TiBert! TiBert!

Or play the harp inside your face?

TiBert! TiBert!

He makes every kid a part of the show!

TiBert! TiBert!

When it's all over you won't want to go!

It's TiBert Le Voyageur!

It's TiBert Le Voyageur!

C'EST TIBERT LE VOYAGEUR!

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

The Wilds

★★★★★ STARS

The Wonderheads return with their signature full-head masks — and a tale that's darker than their previous shows, but no less captivating or magical.

It follows an elderly man who must enter a fearsome forest after his wife and their favourite tree vanish from their backyard.

What unfolds as he encounters a cast of curious creatures is a profoundly moving story of love, loss and hope.

The material in The Wilds is darker than normal for the Wonderheads, but older kids and any adult who has a trace of inner child left will delight in the show. (DesignEgg)

As always, much of the magic here is in how expressive the Wonderheads' masks are — performers Andrew Phoenix and Kate Braidwood convey emotion so beautifully, you forget the expressions on the masks aren't, in fact, changing.

They also incorporate wonderful puppet work — everything from simple stick puppets to full-body puppetry.

The material is darker than normal for the Wonderheads, and the show has some intense moments — it's probably not suitable for the youngest Fringers. But older kids and any adult who has a trace of inner child left will delight in The Wilds.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt​

With files from Stephanie Cram, Michelle Palansky, Kelly Stifora and Joff Schmidt

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