Manitoba·Reviews

The horror: From ghosts to monsters, 6 Winnipeg Fringe shows on spooky subjects

Horror is having a bit of a moment at this year's Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.

A resurrected widow and graphic violence involving puppets among eerie offerings at 2019 festival

'The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale runs July 18 to 27 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Barbara Zimonick/Chimera Theatre)

Horror is having a bit of a moment at this year's Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival.

A number of shows at this year's festival draw on ghosts, monsters or creepy vibes in their efforts to draw audiences in.

Here are CBC Manitoba's reviews of six shows that may give you shivers.

A Confederate Widow in Hell runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Dan Norman Photography)

A Confederate Widow in Hell

★★★★★ STARS

Dolores is 150 years old, a proud cotton baroness and mother to generations of hate — and she is not happy to be resurrected for our viewing pleasure.

However, her husband, who has clearly atoned (at least in part) for his sins, won't let her go. She's stuck with us until she reckons with our judgment and her family's dark legacy.

Arkansas-based Willi Carlisle and Joseph Fletcher's new show is a marvel of shoestring stagecraft. The atmosphere they create with an unsettling movement here and a curt bell ring there is much creepier than the sum of its parts.

Though we hear from Dolores's descendants, Carlisle and Fletcher aren't intent on using history to comment on contemporary politics. Rather, they pre-empt revisionism by punching a howling, Victorian-mourning-dress-sized hole through the notion that Dolores and her ilk were anything but a stain on human history, and they do so in gripping fashion.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

13 Dead Dreams of 'Eugene' runs July 18 to 28 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Dan Winters/Theatre Mobile)

13 Dead Dreams of "Eugene"

★★★★ STARS

If you're looking for a Fringe experience that will put a little tingle in your spine, the latest from Paul Strickland and Erika MacDonald should do the trick.

They tell the story of "Eugene" — the name given to the body of an unidentified man found on an Ohio roadside in 1929. For years afterward, Strickland and MacDonald say, residents allegedly experienced shared nightmares — the "dead dreams" of Eugene.

The duo bring those dreams to eerie life — and relate their own experience trying to unravel the mystery of Eugene — through story and song, but mostly through some very inventive shadow puppetry, created with back-projection and clever props.

Not all of the vignettes work, but enough do, and this show delivers an unsettling enough ending to make it a tasty treat for fans of the macabre.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Alabama Monster runs July 17 to 28 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by Trey Tatum)

Alabama Monster

★★★★ STARS

A 15-year-old's rage festers and foments as an incoming hurricane threatens without and his father's unchecked bipolar disorder wreaks havoc within.

Alabama Monster explores the intergenerational monsters that, left rampant, can choke out any possibility of love, leaving only fear and anger in their wake.

As a writer, Trey Tatum transports his audience with lyrical, visceral prose to the sick and sultry South, "a land of wonderful beasts and dreadful pirates."

As a performer, Tatum plays his tale like a virtuoso, gentling the audience into a semblance of calm only to disrupt and erupt into a volcano of rage and terror.

Tatum frames his tale of family horror and havoc within a story told to children, "Because scary stories always come first from a source you trust."

Alabama Monster releases the beast in all its gory grandeur. "Let the wild rumpus start!"

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Diary of a Monster Kid runs July 17 to 28 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by Magic Toaster Productions)

Diary of a Monster Kid

★★★★ STARS

(Add a star if you were born somewhere around 1970 and grew up loving horror and science fiction. Also, please picture a zombie wearing a bow tie.)

Greetings, Ghouls! Are you ready to froth up your Fringe with the nostalgic nattering of a good-natured, gore-obsessed suburban kid? Oh, it'll be fiendishly fun! Think A Christmas Story, but with Halloween!

Multi-hyphenate Alan MacKenzie's infectiously enthusiastic performance will make your heart ache so badly for those days when nothing seemed as important as winning a costume contest that you'll want to just rip it right out! Don't!

You'll need it so writer/director Kevin Doherty's poignant tales of growing up geeky can yank violently on its strings and make it swell with blood.

Are you ready for Grumpy Grandpa? Will you be able to stomach the Giant Pumpkin Heist? Can anything prepare you for (big, dripping font here) Diary of a Monster Kid?

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

Yellow Den

★★★★ STARS

Seating its audience directly within an already intimate set, Yellow Den forces us to get up close and personal with an unnamed protagonist who struggles to stay sane while confined to a room for an extended period of time, ostensibly for her health.

The staging choices made by Winnipeg company Lady of the Lake in this creepy reimagining of the 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper are absolutely fantastic — particularly a surprise that serves the unfolding story exceptionally well.

With nowhere to hide, we watch helplessly as this poor woman weaves in and around us, muttering about the menacing images she sees in the walls. Benign objects become ominous. Whispered asides feel sinister. It's an engrossing, claustrophobic, unsettling experience.

Billed as 45 minutes — already short for Fringe standards — the performance I attended ran only 30. Still plenty of time for the heebie-jeebies to work their way under your skin. 

— Reviewed by Marlo Campbell

'The Robber Bridegroom: A Grimm Fairy Tale runs July 18 to 27 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Barbara Zimonick/Chimera Theatre)

The Robber Bridegroom

★★★ STARS

The Robber Bridegroom has a graphic violence warning for good reason. Some of these puppets are up to no good. You've been warned.

An adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the show is replete with all the original cruelty and violence. A bride almost marries a monster but in the end her curiosity saves her life.

Presented through a mixture of mediums including a Greek chorus, shadow puppetry and expressive torso and head puppets, the performance is quite lovely in an old-world way.

Many Fringe shows have a frenetic tempo that suits the modern audience but The Robber Bridegroom's more languorous pace helps build the growing sense of horror and impending doom. It is creepy.

Some mishandled props did slow the already stately tempo and the conclusion is jarringly preachy. But the company isn't wrong — if we don't stand up to the wolves, who will?

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

With files from Kelly Stifora, Michelle Palansky, Marlo Campbell and Joff Schmidt

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