Manitoba·Reviews

A little bit comedy, a little bit drama: Reviews of 6 'dramedies' at the Winnipeg Fringe

Whether they're comedies with serious notes or dramas laced with laughs, there are plenty of shows billing themselves as "dramedies" at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe.

Family dysfunction, super fandom and the inescapable reality of death served up in 2019 dramedies

Wakey, Wakey runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Michael Osikoya/Visual Soul Studios)

There are comedies and there are dramas — and then there are those shows that don't fit neatly into either category.

Whether they're comedies with serious notes or dramas laced with laughs, there are plenty of shows billing themselves as "dramedies" at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe.

Here are CBC Manitoba's reviews of six of those shows.

Ross McMillan stars in The Open House, which runs July 19 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Sherab Rabzyor Yolmo/Snakeskin Jacket)

The Open House

★★★★ STARS

There's very little that's open about the house in this award-winning 2014 play from American writer Will Eno.

Rather, it's a suffocating den of dysfunction, presided over by a cruelly acerbic father (played with venomous bite by stage vet Ross McMillan).

The unnamed man is in failing health and his family — his two adult children (Heather Roberts and Adam Semchuk) and his brother (Kevin Ramberran) — have gathered in the home he shares with his browbeaten wife (Jane Walker). The father has literally not a kind word to spare for anyone — he attacks each with sarcastic vitriol, much of which is darkly hilarious.

I won't spoil what unfolds toward the end of the play's 90 minutes, but will say that Eno cleverly turns the dysfunctional family dramedy genre on its head.

George Toles's production is sharp, with good performances from the cast behind McMillan.

If you're looking for an outstanding script and comedy with a dark bite, this Open House is well worth a look.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Orbituary runs July 17 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Max Montesi/New Best Friend)

Orbituary

★★★★ STARS

You are going to die.

We all are, which is the point of Valerie Cotic's solo show. But it's not just people who will eventually expire — so will the stars in the sky. So will relationships.

She explores all of these endings — her own "existential dread" of death, the lifecycle of a star and the beginning and end of a relationship — in a piece that's far more reflective than morbid.

The back-and-forth between the lovers is sometimes awkwardly staged,  but she does create a believable relationship that we actually invest in — impressive for a one-person show. Also impressive is how accessible she makes the science of a star's lifespan — and how she makes it personal.

She's dealing with weighty philosophical questions here for a 45-minute Fringe show — but in the asking, she does begin to approach a sort of peace with that "existential dread."

For a show about death, it's oddly life-affirming.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Wakey, Wakey runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Michael Osikoya/Visual Soul Studios)

Wakey, Wakey

★★★★ STARS

Patience is a recurring theme in this play by Pulitzer finalist Will Eno. It's required of audiences here too, but is rewarded.

This oddly funny slow burner is a meditation on life and death, centred around a man (Ivan Henwood) in failing health and his nurse (Jen Robinson). For most of the play, the man struggles to connect with the audience, reciting seemingly disparate facts he's written on recipe cards and playing curious snippets of video (like a montage of screaming animals).

All of this is actually much funnier than it sounds — Wakey, Wakey mines humour from comically pregnant pauses and discomfort, and Henwood plays the man with just the right amount of awkwardness.

Eno's play, directed here by Kevin Ramberran, skates a fine line between profundity and tedium (just, perhaps, as life often does). But smart writing and Henwood's gracefully understated performance are enough to keep us not just awake, but engaged until the play's affecting conclusion.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Graceland

★★★ STARS

The Beyhive. Swifties. Deadheads. It can be easy to dismiss the superfans of the world. Why spend so much time obsessing over a person or band you're never going to meet?

Graceland follows two Elvis Presley devotees on a hot day in June, 1982. The pair of midwestern women, separated by age and life experience, share an encyclopedic knowledge of The King — and a desire to be the first to enter his iconic home when it opens to the public that day.

The plot of this well-acted production follows exactly the course you think it will. The two strangers bicker. They learn about each other. They become friends.

But while it may be incredibly predictable, Graceland does make a compelling case for all of the superfans out there. Elvis has not only bound these women together, he's filled in the emotional gaps in each of their lives — providing a soundtrack for all of the highs and lows that life brings.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

A Man Walks Into a Bar

★★★ STARS

The premise is simple. A woman, Mel Marginet, walks on stage to tell a joke about a man who walks into a bar. She is unsure of her abilities and her stage partner, Karl Thordarson, helps her flesh out the piece.

Almost from the beginning, the joke unravels. Much is made of the underlying power imbalance between a man and a woman, a server and a guest. There is an undercurrent of aggression and potential violence. It is very uncomfortable to watch.

And that is the crux of the show. The intent is to disturb. The play accomplished its goal and the players performed admirably, so what is this bitter taste that remains?

In order to receive the message, we must follow an inescapable, hour-long trajectory that escalates from gentle mockery to vicious browbeating to the inevitability of physical harm and sexual violence. And I don't have the stomach for that story anymore.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four

★★★ STARS

Fringe veterans John D. Huston and Kenneth Brown adapt the second Holmes novel for the stage and the result is, if at times confusing, a lot of fun to watch.

The Sign of Four is significant for introducing two oft-revisited aspects of the great detective's mythology: his drug habit and Mary Morstan. It also has a significantly labyrinthine plot about a conspiracy surrounding lost treasure and features too many characters. It might challenge one to keep up on the page, let alone in a minimalist Fringe production.

Fortunately, we're in good hands with Brown, Huston and accomplice Ellie Heath, who double down on the possibility for confusion by each playing every character, and then prove all it takes is solid acting chops to keep an audience on track. Watching these three superb performers toss the deerskin cap around the stage and across gender lines is what provides the real attraction here.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

With files from Joff Schmidt, Michelle Palansky, Andrew Friesen and Kelly Stifora

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