Manitoba·Reviews

Keeping it fresh: 7 new made-in-Manitoba Fringe Festival plays

Many frequent Fringers will tell you one of the joys of the annual theatre festival is discovering something entirely new and fresh — and that you may or may not ever get to see again.

A has-been playwright, W. B. Yeats and a table of teens at a wedding among cast of characters in 7 new shows

Trendsettlers: Episode IV runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Callie Lugosi/Trans-cendent Theatre Co.)

Many frequent Fringers will tell you one of the joys of the annual theatre festival is discovering something entirely new and fresh — and that you may or may not ever get to see again.

Here are our reviews of seven entirely new made-in-Manitoba plays at this year's Winnipeg Fringe festival.

Purge

★★★★ STARS

Writer/performer Ellie Caslake brings a rarely heard story to life in her new play — that of older transgender people.

She plays Connie, who has come out as transgender later in life. Now suffering a terminal illness, Connie faces the prospect of having to go back to presenting as a man — in order to secure a spot in a care home that has no space for a transgender woman.

As she prepares for the move, Connie relates her story, detailing the trials she has faced throughout her life as a transgender woman.

Caslake's script is tightly written and moving, while laced with bits of humour. It also avoids feeling like a history lesson on transgender rights — it details that struggle, but on a deeply personal level.

Caslake isn't a professional actor. Her performance isn't the most polished you'll find at the festival, but it is honest, relatable and affecting.

— Reviewed by Joff Schmidt

(Art)ist

★★★ STARS

Twenty years ago, a playwright (Steve Yurkiw) created a hit play. Attempting to revive his stalled career, he begins a new piece. Blocked and frustrated, his former fictional characters return to disrupt his progress and speak their piece. 

The protagonist (Ryland Thiessen) argues for his continued existence in a triumphant sequel. He wants to continue his no-consequences, bad boy life. The love interest (Bailey Chin) demands a complete lockdown, insisting that the abuse finally stop. The misogyny of the play has done untold harm and should be shelved for good. The playwright continues to insist that he is just misunderstood.

That is the premise and sole argument of (ART)ist. Although the performers are able, the debate stales after several iterations.

A quick dip into a question of some depth, (ART)ist grapples with the ever-topical issue of how to treat historical pieces of art that offend modern mores.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

The Great Pillow War of '96

★★★ STARS

It's 1996. The Spice Girls rule the world, Donnie is the cute one and the girls of Cabin Five are waging an all-out, week-long pillow battle against the boy's cabin.

The Great Pillow War of '96 would slay at talent show night at summer camp. The show is super tight, moves at an excellent pace and the '90s music and costumes are hella sweet!

I was really rooting for the girls of Cabin Five. They brought the Christian camp songs, the pre-teen sexed up Macarena, the crucial prepping-for-battle montage. I learned things too: Fairy Pixie Dust is the BEST Lip Smackers and you wear skorts NOT skirts into battle.

But the schtick could not sustain itself. There was plenty of adorable but not enough solid comic material to get through the hour. At the halfway point, the energy slump was palpable. Like a Pixy Stix sugar rush, the high was fun but left me jonesing for more.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Rook

★★★ STARS

Two Brits meet in a park. One convinces the other to play a game of chess, beginning a conversation that reveals everything and nothing at all…

Local writer/director Colton Tanner's Pinter-esque two-hander demonstrates a great ear for dialogue — he very convincingly employs British mannerisms and lingo. It's also directed with a flair for timing (the subtle jokes work), performed well and ends on a great punchline that at once provides the point and reveals the utter pointlessness of it all.

There's lots to like here for fans of mildly sinister absurdist theatre. When you can hear it. The problem is, I missed what I suspect were significant chunks of the dialogue because, despite being in the third row and no more than 12 feet from the actors, I often had trouble hearing them.

That's a significant issue when your entire play consists of two people sitting at a table talking.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

Trendsettlers: Episode IV runs July 18 to 27 at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Callie Lugosi/Trans-cendent Theatre Co.)

Trendsettlers: Episode IV

★★★ STARS

The Trendsettlers program tells us this half-hour play is the fourth of a six part series. The others are yet to come — a Star Wars joke, and one of a number of decent gags on display.

Creator/performer Frances Koncan has her gifts, especially for quick change mashups, absurdist jokes and turning tropes on their head to examine their colonial underbelly.

Another aspect of her work is aching vulnerability, which she and fellow actor Maegan Yallowega expose us to with such intensity that it's almost hard to bear.

There is also youthful vigor and extremities prompting both surprise and eye-roll. It's messy, and that's not all bad, but some of the show is underdeveloped and some stated intentions go unfulfilled.

Not entirely sure what the show was about, although it did deal with the Oregon Trail as a metaphor for — again, not quite sure.

I think a strong series could come out of this embryonic idea, and I hope Koncan's stated departure from playwriting is not permanent. I think when fully committed, she has much to give as an original writer. 

— Reviewed by Lara Rae

Yeats's Ghosts runs July 17 to 28 in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. (Leif Norman/Protagonista Theatre Co.)

Yeats's Ghost

★★★ STARS

An interest in W. B. Yeats isn't necessary to appreciate this fascinating story of how his wife George's automatic writing habit led to some of the Irish poet's most famous work.

There's much beyond the man to be fascinated with in Neil McArthur's new play. It's rife with insights to early-20th century gender politics, publishing and the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, as well as Yeats's interest in supernaturalism and his kooky writing (he came to believe he and George's son would usher in the apocalypse — fortunately, they only ever had one daughter).

Less fascinating are an extended dance sequence that starts the show, which is beautiful but adds nothing in the way of meaning, and the uneven performances of the five-person cast. Darren Felbel and Claire Thomas stand out as Yeats biographer Richard Ellmann and George, respectively, but McArthur's turn as Yeats is as stiff as a piece of pedantic poetry.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

Here Together

 STAR

Have you ever been seated, alone, with a table of strangers at a wedding?

Now, imagine those strangers are a quartet of teenagers who can't keep track of who is mad at who and why. Oh, and have I mentioned you're stuck in a mysterious time loop and doomed to relive their adolescent drama indefinitely? 

That about sums up Here Together, a new play — and a surprising misfire — from Winnipeg's Autonomous Productions.

There's a reason that art detailing the teenage  experience is so popular. Drama and hormones mix to make every new experience, every friendship, every glance and first kiss feel like the most important thing that's ever happened. It's a time in life that lends itself to dramatization, because it's already so… dramatic.

But dramatic Here Together is not. Instead, it's a confusing jumble of contemporary dance, pseudo-scientific ponderings, and characters repeatedly asking: "Are you mad at me?"

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

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

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