Manitoba·REVIEWS

Indigenous talent on the Fringe: Reviews of 4 shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival

The CBC review crew's Stephanie Cram saw four shows featuring Indigenous talent at this year's Winnipeg Fringe — either on stage or behind the scenes. Here are her reviews.

From storytelling to stand-up, Indigenous performers, writers and directors showcase their work at the Fringe

Josh Languedoc in Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land at the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. (Indigenized Indigenous Theatre)

The Winnipeg Fringe Festival — like most fringe theatre festivals — attracts a wide range of performers and types of shows.

But as has been noted before, there can sometimes be a lack of diversity on the fringe stage.

The CBC review crew's Stephanie Cram saw four shows featuring Indigenous talent — either on stage or behind the scenes. Here are her reviews.

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

★★★★★ STARS

Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land is First Nations storytelling at its finest. It weaves a family's long-forgotten stories with the present day, where we meet Nakota, a young Anishinaabe boy stuck in the hospital.

We begin with Nakota in front of his class, reading the story he wrote while bedridden. Originally, his thought was to write a story inspired by his beloved Wolverine comics. But a visit from his grandfather changes everything.

In the hospital, Rocko regales young Nakota with stories of his youth, and encourages Nakota to recall his memories — his stories — so he too can write a powerful, cultural tale.

The one-man play is written and performed by Josh Languedoc, an Anishinaabe performer from Edmonton. He gives a riveting performance, taking on several roles, both human and animal.  

Rocko and Nakota masterfully weaves colourful Anishinaabe stories into Nakota's sterile hospital life. It is a heartwarming tale about family, storytelling, and a First Nation boy's connection to his ancestors.

Whiteface

★★★★ STARS

In Whiteface, Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona subvert the idea of 'red face'. (Whiteface Productions)
Whiteface is a unique bit of theatre. It combines hilarious dialogue with sequences of physical movement, to provide biting commentary on the impact cultural appropriation can have on Indigenous people.

It's created and performed by Todd Houseman and Lady Vanessa Cardona. The pair are both Indigenous, but perform here as white people who love to dress up as Indigenous people and indulge in cuisine from around the world.

Their dialogue and performances are sharp, but a few sequences run a bit too long.

The production ends with a powerful monologue by Lady Vanessa Cardona, who tells the audience she'd rather not have to tell stories about the trauma and pain Indigenous people experience. But given that society still has a way to go in fixing relationships with Indigenous people, these stories still need to be told.

Indigenous audiences will laugh and relate to the truth found in Whiteface, while non-Indigenous audiences will hopefully come to a deeper understanding of why cultural appropriation is so damaging.

WOKE Comedy is produced by Fringe mainstay Frances Koncan, an Anishinaabe-Slovenian writer, director, and producer. (WOKE Comedy Hour/Facebook)

WOKE Comedy Hour: Fringe Edition

★★★ STARS

Woke Comedy Hour: Fringe Edition touts that it features some of Winnipeg's best and boldest women, non-binary, people of colour and Indigenous comedians — but the boldness comes in only small doses.

As with most stand-up showcases, there are some hits and some misses. Each show is a bit different, with a rotating cast of comedians. The show is produced by Fringe mainstay Frances Koncan, an Anishinaabe-Slovenian writer, director, and producer. 

Given the title of the show, one would expect that topics related to gender, sex, and race would be the focus of the sets. But on opening night, most the comedians delivered observational comedy and quirky personal stories.

Headliner Danielle Kayahara was the highlight of opening night, serving up a dry, self-deprecating set. From stories about her dating life, to making jokes about the death of her parents, sometimes it's hard to tell whether you should laugh or cringe at her jokes. I did both. 

The premiere of the show did come with a few production hiccups — from a muffled sound system to loud a loud ventilation system — which will hopefully be fixed over the course of the fest.

Mother's Little Secret Playwright Jo MacDonald was recently one of the finalists in the International Native American New Play Festival. (Broken Record Productions)

Mother's Little Secret

★★ STARS

In Mother's Little Secret, two daughters conspire to get their elderly mother into an assisted living facility, but in the process discover that her past is filled with high-stakes thrills and intrigue.

One sister even goes as far as suggesting their mother was once a spy.

The play very earnestly tries to write a different type of story about elderly parents in a retirement home, but it falls short in providing details of what makes this particular woman's life so exciting.

Instead, too much attention is given to the daughters, whose obsession with keeping an eye on their mother gets them into trouble. All of this unfolds in a very silly way, and at times the play feels like a Spy. Vs. Spy cartoon. But the humour doesn't change the fact that the script is thin in details, with very little plot development.

Mother's Little Secret is Anishinaabe playwright Jo MacDonald's Fringe premiere. The play is directed by Marsha Knight, who is also First Nation.

About the Author

Stephanie Cram is a Métis journalist originally from Edmonton. She currently works with the CBC Indigenous Unit, based in Winnipeg. Journalism has taken her to Montreal and Sachigo Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. She is a 2016 CJF Aboriginal Journalism Fellow.

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