Manitoba·Reviews

Going it alone: 8 solo shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Many, many brave performers will take to the stage all on their own in this year's Fringe festival. Here are our reviews of some of them.

Read our reviews of eight performers who brave the spotlight solo in this year's Fringe

Eye Candy runs July 17 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Thaddeus Hinks/Merkin Sisters)

Sure, there are big-cast musicals and ensemble dramas to be found at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe.

But there are also many, many brave performers who take the stage all on their own.

Here are our reviews of eight solo shows at this year's festival.

Chase Padgett: Heart Attacks and Other Blessings runs July 17 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by Chase Padgett)

Chase Padgett: Heart Attacks and Other Blessings

★★★★★ STARS

Chase Padgett has brought some fantastic storytelling to the Fringe with past hits 6 Guitars and Nashville Hurricane — but it turns out the more remarkable story might be his own.

Detailing a wild year in his life involving a voodoo-practising tarot reader, heartache (both figurative and deathly literal) and the weirdness of performing on a Disney cruise ship, Padgett's new show is part standup, part storytelling and part musical — and consistently engrossing.

The show is a new work, and in spots, it meanders a touch. But Padgett keeps his audience engaged with charismatic wit, great music — including a very funny take on Be Our Guest — which he performs accompanied by Winnipeg pianist Leif Ingebrigtsen (so this isn't technically a solo show), and some deeply personal and moving moments.

It's an hour with a gifted entertainer that's full of heart.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

Eye Candy runs July 17 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Thaddeus Hinks/Merkin Sisters)

Eye Candy

★★★★ STARS

Fans of Stéphanie Morin-Robert's past Fringe hits Blindside and The Merkin Sisters will find much to like in her latest — a piece that pushes into deep personal territory, with often powerful results.

Morin-Robert delves deep to relate the story of her pregnancy, her epic labour and the first stages of motherhood (her 17-month-old daughter makes a touching cameo).

Sometimes, that involves bizarrely funny bits — Merkin Sisters fans will love the outrageous body puppetry she projects via a live-feed camera ("I told you it would get weird," she deadpans).

At other times, she digs fearlessly into raw, wrenching personal moments. She's brutally frank and a disarmingly, captivatingly vulnerable performer.

While the raw elements here are very powerful Eye Candy feels, at points, like it's perhaps still trying to sharpen its focus.

But Morin-Robert tackles compelling and difficult subject matter bravely. If you're looking for storytelling with emotional heft, Eye Candy will satisfy.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

The ADHD Project runs July 17 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by Squirrel Suit Productions)

The ADHD Project

★★★ STARS

Carlyn Rhamey, the star of The ADHD Project, is like that fast-talking friend who invites you out for coffee and can't. Stop. Talking. Those friends are often entertaining. But their non-stop chatter can also challenge your attention span — much like Rhamey's show.

Rhamey has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and provides plenty of stories to prove it, from messy bedrooms to forgotten Fringe performances. She even has childhood videos to back it all up. 

But Rhamey seems so frantic to keep the punchlines coming that she almost forgets to address the seriousness of her subject matter. Kids bully and tease her, but it almost seems like an afterthought. And without clear stakes, The ADHD Project feels more like a TED Talk than a play.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

Am I Blue runs July 17 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Eric Michael Pearson)

Am I Blue

★★★ STARS

Take it from a reviewer who has a half-dozen mindfulness apps gathering dust on his smartphone: the concept of "wellness" can feel hard to escape these days.

"Finding yourself" is an industry — one that Am I Blue is more than happy to send up. 

Manifesting your destiny, chasing your bliss, the power of positive thinking: there's nothing the self-absorbed protagonist of this one-woman show hasn't tried. For her, true happiness might be a life coaching session away. 

As a twentysomething lost in a sea of millennial ennui, New York-based actor Elizabeth Blue is a force of nature. Beneath the laughs, a deep reservoir of desperation bubbles below the surface. 

Am I Blue takes pleasure in skewering the world of pop psychology and Instagram wisdom, but it doesn't quite sustain its hour-long run time. Your enjoyment will depend on how much sympathy you can muster for a white 28-year-old with a vision board. 

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Denial Is a Wonderful Thing

★★★ STARS

There is no denying Christina Augello has lived a colourful life and has the storytelling chops to share some of her true-life adventures with a Fringe crowd. 

While past Fringe productions have seen Augello embody other people — like Boxcar Bertha (2004) — this time out the sexagenerian tells her own truth, one that's got plenty o' sex.  Also drugs, but no rock and roll, as she misses out on attending Woodstock. Augello is refreshingly cavalier about her time in the company of drug mules, junkies and free thinkers as she continent-hops from the dazzling streets of Mumbai to the dusty outback of Alice Springs. 

The scattershot feel of the piece belies some effective structuring and, given Augello's yarn-spinning sophistication, the sound design was unnecessary and distracting.

Our host has been through the ringer but has come out the other side whole, unfazed, hedonistic and sex postive.  In this ruminative era when some tales can be bogged down with hand-wringing and psychobabble, Augello's refreshing denial that some of her choices might have been borderline destructive is, for the audience, a wonderful thing to experience vicariously. 

— Reviewed by Lara Rae

Mix Tapes From My Mom

★★★ STARS

Using a plastic bin of his mom's old mix tapes as inspiration and backed by a live band, Cory Wojcik talks and sings us through Nov. 11, 2010 – the "worst/best" day of his life.

Wojcik delivers a solid performance. Several jokes land perfectly, while his recounting of a hospital room goodbye is heartfelt and poignant. I also enjoyed the repeated live rendition of a phone ring tone, the use of a time-lapse video and the slide show of personal photos.

The musical bits, on the other hand, were just OK. The band competently handles an assortment of classic covers, but I found myself waiting for the songs to be over so we could get back to the storytelling. Plus, the sound mixing was rough.

Ultimately, Wojcik's show is a loving homage to his mom, a beer-drinking, fart-joke-loving cancer survivor who came to life through his memories. He did her proud.

— Reviewed by Marlo Campbell

Magnificence runs July 17 to 28 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Submitted by Doctor Keir Co.)

Magnificence

★★ STARS

There are many things that Magnificence does well. It paints a vivid picture of a time long past. It asks thought-provoking questions about the power of storytelling. It's polished and well acted.

But it's also a show that has a non-Indigenous man, Fringe veteran Keir Cutler, telling the story of a Mohawk woman. 

Magnificence is an adaptation of Cutler's mother's biographical novella, I Once Knew an Indian Woman. Originally published in 1967 under the now-problematic title of The Last Noble Savage, it tells the story of Madame Dey, an Indigenous woman living in a small French-Canadian community in the Laurentian Mountains. 

Madame Dey is a woman with an incredible story, one that deserves to be told. Unfortunately, Magnificence fails to address difficult questions about the appropriation of Indigenous stories.

Should Madame Dey's life story be told through the lens of a white family? Should her words be spoken by a non-Indigenous actor? Did Dey or her family give their blessing for her story to be told in this way? Those questions, which are left unanswered, are important for audiences to consider.

Cutler is an incredible storyteller, to be sure. But I'm not so sure this is his story to tell.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

Tymisha Harris: La Baker

★★ STARS

Tymisha Harris's Josephine was a breakout hit at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe. Her new show also draws its inspiration from the life of the trailblazing performer Josephine Baker — but with far less satisfying results.

Backed by accompanist (and Josephine co-creator) Tod Kimbro (so again, not entirely a solo performance), she presents what she describes as a Behind the Music-style take on their hit show. That includes reprising songs from Josephine, performing a few numbers that didn't make the cut, and scattering biographical facts about Baker between songs.

The music is fantastic. Harris is charismatic and has an incredible voice, and her renditions of songs like La Vie en Rose are showstoppers.

But the odd hodgepodge of biography, behind-the-scenes detail and music never quite hangs together.

For much of the audience at her sold-out opening show, the music seemed to be enough — many gave a standing ovation. For me, La Baker just felt underbaked.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

With files from Lara Rae, Kaj Hasselriis, Andrew Friesen, Joff Schmidt and Marlo Campbell

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