Manitoba·REVIEWS

True stories: 5 biographical Winnipeg Fringe shows based on personal experience

Truth is stranger than fiction. Read our reviews of 5 autobiographical shows from the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre festival.

For inspiration, these 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Festival shows look inward

In Old Dyke Tales, Zoë Wessler tells the true story of her grandmother Maeve - a feminist and lesbian ahead of her time. (Zoë Wessler)

The people on this list didn't have to go far for inspiration — their shows are based on the personal experience of the performers and the people around them. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. 

The CBC Manitoba Review Crew saw some of the many biographical shows the 2018 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival has to offer. Here are their thoughts. 

Cock Tales: Shame on Me!

★★★ STARS

You know from the spelling that we aren't talking about drinks here. Nope, this is a comprehensive history of writer-performer Debra Ehrhardt's experiences around "the snake with one eye," as she calls it (perhaps due to her strict upbringing in Jamaica and a religious faith so strong it actually verbally shames her during sexual experiences).

But Ehrhardt's story isn't about "snakes" as much as guilt. She develops a fair amount of shame being raised in an environment of patriarchal religious zealotry. And she's lived through equal doses of you-better-not sermonizing and #MeToo moments. Listening to her talk about learning to let it go is a painful, then joyful experience.

Some of her stories are too repetitive, and some of her jokes too obvious, but Ehrhardt's enthusiasm and appetite are infectious — the audience on Thursday adored her — and her tale should be heard precisely because it isn't really about what the title says it's about.

— Reviewed by Kelly Stifora

Few performers can match the raw enthusiasm and charisma of Fringe regular Martin Dockery. (Submitted by Martin Dockery)

Martin Dockery: Wide-Eyed

★★★ STARS

Few performers can match the raw enthusiasm and charisma of Fringe regular Martin Dockery. Watching him, you're all but guaranteed to get swept up and feel like you're experiencing moments big and small right alongside him.

Charismatic as Dockery is, though, Wide-Eyed finds him playing it safe. Structured around a visit to Beijing's Forbidden City, it's chock full of well-observed jokes.

But behind the laugh lines about tourist traps and international travel, I was left with the sense that there's not much else there. Things take a promising turn at the end of the show, as Dockery delves into more personal territory, but one wishes there was more heft throughout.

Dockery is a force of nature. He'll carry you along, even on this, one of his lighter offerings.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

The Most Unlikely Comedian

★★★ STARS

In Adam Schwartz's latest Fringe stand-up show, he asks the audience what the most important quality is for a comedian. "If it was about being charismatic," he admits, "I'd be out of luck."

Fortunately, in the world of stand-up, it doesn't hurt to be deadpan, and Schwartz has that quality down pat. In The Most Unlikely Comedian, he recounts his life as a person on the autism spectrum. He gives advice (like what to do if you accidentally ask a woman if she's pregnant) and clears up misconceptions (by answering questions the general public has asked him, like "Do people grow out of being autistic?").

Schwartz is totally self-aware about being awkward. "I wouldn't want to spend 15 minutes alone in a car with me, either," he jokes. But as a captive member of his audience for 50 minutes, I can say I genuinely enjoyed Schwartz's company. He's an insightful and consistently funny storyteller.

— Reviewed by Kaj Hasselriis

Our reviewer said Bill Pats' latest is 'A great, terrible show that left a hollow feeling in my belly.' (Bill Pats / Facebook)

A Nightmare on East Hastings

★★★★ STARS

The third installment in Bill Pats' autobiographical Fringe shows, Nightmare is a series of vignettes describing interactions with his most troublesome tenants, in one of the most challenging neighbourhoods in Canada.

A spellbinding storyteller, there is a strong evangelical pull to Pats' performance as he confesses his own bad behaviours and critiques our staggering indifference to the homeless crisis in Canada.

I am deeply ambivalent about this show — I found the quality to be excellent but it raises some serious moral and ethical questions. Pats rails against our apathy to the homeless while profiting from the same population. As a property manager he actively withheld affordable housing from the most vulnerable in his community, and when his conscience could no longer allow him to continue, he took their troubled stories and turned them into a Fringe show from which he continues to profit.

A great, terrible show that left a hollow feeling in my belly.

— Reviewed by Michelle Palansky

Maeve, right, is the brave matriarch at the heart of Old Dyke Tales. (Zoë Wessler)

Old Dyke Tales

★★★★ STARS

Old Dyke Tales is quite likely the best queer show you'll see at Fringe this year. Put on your best denim jacket, lace up your "lesbian boots" and enjoy a frank, funny, intimate look at the way identity can reverberate throughout a family.

In the show, Zoë Wessler pays tribute to her grandmother and muse, Maeve. A brassy and brave matriarch, Maeve came out as a lesbian later in life — flouting the conventions of her suburban neighbourhood and Catholic upbringing.

There were a few technical hiccups on opening night, and a couple of moments where it was difficult to determine which family member was being embodied when.   

But the love that Wessler has for her Nana is evident in every moment of this one-woman show. Spanning years and generations, it's ultimately a reflection on the compromises that society forces queer women to make and the empowerment that comes from self-realization.

— Reviewed by Andrew Friesen

With files from Kelly Stifora, Andrew Friesen, Michelle Palansky and Kaj Hasselriis

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