Manitoba·Reviews

Looking back: 4 Winnipeg Fringe shows that probe the past

Some Fringe Festival shows take on trendy topics — but others draw their inspiration from historical facts and figures.

Check out our reviews of four plays that breathe new life into old stories

Sansei: The Storyteller runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo/Cloudsway Dance Theatre)

Some Fringe Festival shows take on trendy topics — but others draw their inspiration from historical facts and figures.

Here are CBC Manitoba's reviews of four such shows, that look back at everything from the early days of the space race to a physicist famous for not winning the Nobel Prize.

The Walk In the Snow: The True Story of Lise Meitner

★★★★★ STARS

With three decades of Fringe under his belt, Jem Rolls continues to dazzle. 

Way up on the top floor of a carpeted office space (elevator available) in the heart of the Exchange, the lanky Brit shines brightly, bringing us the tale of an important hidden figure in the history of physics.

Her name was Lise Meitner and that's all you're getting from me.

This compelling tale is very much in the telling. Rolls radiates with such atomic energy you fully expect him to glow. Serious quantum concepts are made sensible and the history of that crucial period in science, from the start of the First World War to the destruction of Nagasaki, is impossibly contained in the traffic of an hour.

Ever political, Rolls knows too much to let this story stay in the past. This is very much about today, redressing the forgotten contributions of women and reminding us how, in a flash, our times can change utterly.

I left the venue with the line, "Decent people won't let it happen, until they do," ringing in my head like an alarm. Essential.

— Reviewed by Lara Rae

Franz Ferdinand Must Die

★★★★ STARS

"What the f—k else could go wrong?"

That's the opening line — and a repeated refrain — in Adam Bailey's smart examination of the assassination that precipitated the First World War.

It's also a clue this is not exactly the type of history lesson you may have got in school. 

As narrator, and slipping into a host of characters, Bailey tells the story of Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who shot Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He dives deep into Princip's life and the world around him — and how a disaffected 19-year-old changed the world.

It's part biography, part history lesson and part docudrama. While those elements make for an engaging hour, they don't always blend seamlessly. Transitions from narration to dialogue exchanges are sometimes awkward, and while Bailey is undeniably energetic, his performance is also sometimes a bit too earnest.

But Franz Ferdinand Must Die is overall absorbing — and pierces into a fascinating piece of history.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Sansei: The Storyteller runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo/Cloudsway Dance Theatre)

Sansei: The Storyteller

★★★★ STARS

"I'm not a good storyteller," creator/performer Mark Kunji Ikeda says in what proves to be a flat-out falsehood in this moving, surprisingly humorous and tenderly beautiful story about his family history.

It's focused around his family's experience in Japanese internment camps in Canada during the Second World War, but also looks back to his feudal Japanese ancestors to tell a story explaining why a will to survive — and move forward — can trump hate.

Ikeda tells that story not just through monologue — delivered not always flawlessly, but with an almost surfer dude, self-effacing charm — but also through stunningly graceful dance and movement, and even a bit of performance poetry.

While drawing on history, it's a timely story presented in a uniquely beautiful style.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

The Mercury 13 runs July 17 to 21 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by MaxQ Productions)

The Mercury 13

 STAR

Much like the early years of NASA's space program, the opening night of The Mercury 13 was plagued by issues.

It was terrible. They could not have had a proper dress rehearsal for lights and sound: a phone continued to ring after a conversation was begun, a reporter was left to type in the dark.

But beyond the missed cues, there was a lack of basic stagecraft. Many of the actors did not know how to project their voices nor how to pick up their lines. Transitions were awkward, frequent, long and performed in silent darkness.

It is a laudable enterprise to try to tell the story of the first female candidates for the space program. But good intentions were not enough to put a man on the moon or launch a play to the stage. 

What we have here, folks, is a Fringe Festival failure to launch.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

With files from Lara Rae, Joff Schmidt and Michelle Palansky

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