Manitoba·Reviews

Everyone's got a story: 8 storytelling shows at the Winnipeg Fringe

Here are our reviews of eight shows with a storytelling focus at the 2019 Fringe.

From Jeopardy to the paranormal and most things in between, performers share their stories at the festival

Didn't Hurt runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Diane Smithers/Tonic Records)

Just about every show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival aims, in its own way, to tell a story.

But the performers in some shows mine their own personal experience to bring their stories to the stage.

Here are our reviews of eight shows with a storytelling focus at the 2019 Fringe.

The Ghost Project

★★★★ STARS

"There are two types of people: people that believe in ghosts, and people who think that is crazy-ass crazy."

Whether you fall into the former demographic or the latter, you'll find something to appreciate in Karie Richards's (Birdy) new one-person show.

Richards presents 13 excerpts from interviews she's conducted with people claiming to have encountered ghosts. Aided by one prop or costume piece for each, she convincingly takes on different voices and mannerisms for every "character."

What's more impressive is how effectively she reproduces the emotions experienced by her interviewees as they tell their stories. Some of them have trouble believing themselves.

Full disclosure: I lean toward the latter group from that quote above. That said, I believe very strongly in the power of belief, and of a story well told. As such, I found The Ghost Project to be a profoundly engaging and affecting experience well worth having.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

I Lost on Jeopardy runs July 18 to 26 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by So Lonely Productions)

I Lost on Jeopardy

★★★★ STARS

"I'll take the category 'Pleasant Surprises of the Winnipeg Fringe,' for $1,000, Alex."

Look, I Lost on Jeopardy is not a challenging show by any stretch. This one-man monologue about losing at a reality TV quiz program is about as crowd-pleaser-y as it gets. Underground theatre this isn't. 

But gosh darnit, it's really good.

It's not surprising that writer-performer George Buri was selected to appear on Jeopardy. Encyclopedic trivia knowledge aside, Buri is perfect for TV (and, in this reviewer's humble opinion, the Fringe). He's charismatic. He's energetic. And, unexpectedly and thrillingly, he imparts some seriously profound life lessons he learned after losing at the iconic game show.

So come for the behind-the-scenes peek at a daytime TV trivia show, stay for the profound meditation on the nature of failure and hope.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Operatic Panic Attack

★★★★ STARS

Few storytellers can blend Verdi, Star Wars, the Marx Brothers, sexual awakening and panic attacks into a seamless monologue.

TJ Dawe pulls it off pretty impressively with this new solo work, which looks primarily back through his time as a theatre student to explore the panic attacks he's lived with throughout his life.

This is a work in progress — it's a new show, but also one that tells the story of an issue he confesses he has yet to fully address. The story itself is, in some respects, unfinished.

The monologue, meanwhile, needs an edit (it ran closer to 85 minutes than the advertised 75 on Friday night) and to sharpen its focus — it's not entirely clear how some of Dawe's tangents tie into the bigger picture of this piece.

But they're entertaining tangents, and Dawe has lost none of his mastery for weaving a compelling yarn.

He ends on a powerfully personal and beautiful note. With some tweaking — and perhaps a bit more time for reflection — this may prove to be among his best work.  

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Didn't Hurt runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Diane Smithers/Tonic Records)

Didn't Hurt

★★★ STARS

Rodney DeCroo suffers from complex post-traumatic stress disorder due to his upbringing, and that's what his Fringe show is about. He makes this clear at the start, inviting anyone who feels triggered or uncomfortable to leave.

DeCroo is an at times engaging, at times repetitive and at times overwhelmed storyteller. His show (with dramaturgy and direction by TJ Dawe) feels less like performance than like he's just telling horrific stories about his childhood, some of which he is still having visible difficulty with. At times he veers into "you don't know" lecturing.

A lifetime of violence and trauma is not something that can be reviewed. Anyway, DeCroo's story isn't over; he indicates he's started healing, but also that it's a difficult path.

In the end, I just hope his show helps him get to a place where each performance doesn't seem to make a lie of the title.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

A Glimpse of Sunshine

★★★ STARS

Longstanding queer pub Club 200 is home to two shows this year that raise funds for Sunshine House, an invaluable street level safe space and resource centre for LGBTTQ+ young people in Winnipeg.

A Glimpse of Sunshine is one of those shows, featuring a rotating cast of supporters of Sunshine House and Like That — a drop-in program at the centre that gives people space to explore their gender and sexual identity.

Performers of many genders each get a small turn to shine with their own drag performance, while a wafer-thin fairy tale read by a regal drag queen holds it all in place.

It's short and very sweet and a nice way to pass a cool hour while making the world a better place.

— Reviewed by Lara Rae

The Light Bringer

★★★ STARS

The United States is supposed to be a melting pot, right? You immigrate, absorb into mainstream culture and add "-American" to the end of your nationality.

But what if it doesn't work like that? What if you grasp onto your culture and traditions and hold tighter to them than ever before?

In The Light Bringer, Laila Lee details exactly that experience. Immigrating with her Palestinian family of nine, Lee arrives in South Florida and experiences profound culture shock.

While the kids embrace Disneyland and Madonna with open arms, their parents harden in their conservative Islamic faith. Lee, along with Winnipeg director Bill Pats, is not afraid to ask difficult questions about faith, freedom and radicalization.

The content is brave, indeed, but the production has some quite rough edges. A handful of missed cues, awkward staging, an inconsistent tone and a sometimes-unpolished script take power away from this true story.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Monica vs. The Internet: Tales of a Social Justice Warrior runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Monica vs. The Internet/Facebook)

Monica vs. The Internet: Tales of a Social Justice Warrior

★★★ STARS

Colonization. Fatphobia. Anti-Black racism. The list of content warnings posted prior to the curtain rising on Monica vs. The Internet is long.

Advertised as a "deep dive into the comments section" of a budding YouTuber and "social justice warrior," Monica Ogden's show spares no venom when it comes to taking down internet trolls. In case you were wondering, YouTube isn't a safe space for a mixed-race Filipina comedian — she's recieved some truly vile comments.

But this is more than a social media takedown. Ogden also unfurls the history of her mom and grandmother. And she breaks into dance. Plus, she unpacks intersectionality and the problem with "white feminism."

If that sounds like a lot, reader, you'd be right. Monica vs The Internet suffers from a focus problem, swinging between standup comedy, social commentary and an intro Gender Studies lecture.

But Ogden's message remains an important one: supporting performers and creators of colour is important. So go buy a ticket to a show from a non-white creator, folks. 

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Erik de Waal's Trolls, Bullies & Rock Stars or A Kerfuffle in a Doodlesack

 STAR

The official Winnipeg Fringe description for Trolls, Bullies & Rock Stars lists the following warnings: Coarse language. Violent content. Sexual content.

None of these are repeated at the beginning of the show. Nor is there any warning whatsoever of the show's triggers for people who have experienced trauma — in particular, sexual trauma.

So let me be more specific about what you'll hear in this performance. You'll hear homophobic slurs. You'll hear stories of rape. You'll hear graphic stories of extreme violence against queer and trans people. 

Erik de Waal is a queer performer, and he tells the audience that he's upset by the violence that women, queer and trans people face in his home country of South Africa and around the world. We need to do better, he says. So he created a show that is full of true stories he's collected — stories that contain descriptions of some of the most intense trauma imaginable.

We cannot pretend that violence against marginalized people doesn't exist. But throwing the audience, without warning, into these graphic scenarios is not only confusing and disorienting — it left me feeling like queer trauma was being used primarily for its shock value.

Late in Trolls, Bullies & Rock Stars, de Waal says, "The time for being triggered is over." This reviewer begs to differ. 

I identify as a queer man. I'm also somebody who has experienced sexual assault. I was triggered by this show, and I would have liked to be warned.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

With files from Andrew Friesen, Joff Schmidt, Lara Rae and Kelly Stifora

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