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Fringe Reviews: GOD: A Comedy In One Act by Woody Allen and Red Hot Mama: A Sophie Tucker Cabaret

by Jane Enkin, July 20, 2014

 

GOD: A Comedy In One Act by Woody Allen

 

 

As you might expect, GOD has a terrific, witty script. Set in ancient Greece on the eve of a theatre festival, it features, along with the great gags, enough deep questions to fill a semester in Philosophy 101. This production, skillfully directed by Natalie Dacquisto and Emma Dacquisto, is enhanced by good character work, a brilliantly stony-faced chorus and hilarious physical shtick.

 

All the performances from the large cast are good. Here are a few that stand out:

Tim Gray as a smugly smiling author, Lorenzo Miller, who made me squirm and smile in equal measure

Jessina Ceffins as the hot, eye-catching Blanche

Ava Darrach-Gagnon as the hot and cold, ditsy, deliciously dead-pan Debbie Smith

and Andrew Lizotte as the writer of the Greek play within the play, with curls, big black glasses, and enough of the nerd about him to be a strong Woody Allen alter ego.

 

Is freedom chaos? Good question.

 

 

Red Hot Mama: A Sophie Tucker Cabaret

 

Melanie Gall is an engaging cabaret performer, who loves to play with an audience and dig deep into a great song. In this show, she and writer and director Erik De Waal mine the repertoire of the great comedienne and singer Sophie Tucker.

 

The play follows a steady pattern: a show-stopping song, a racy joke, and then a tidbit of first-person narrative from Sophie Tucker's life story. This is a very Jewish story -- Tucker was born in Russia, raised in her family's kosher restaurant in the US, and famously sang about her “Yiddishe Momme.”

 

The storytelling is not well integrated into the imagined Sophie Tucker concert, and is less gripping than the songs. Tucker, as portrayed through the songs and jokes, had a definite persona that she presented to an audience, and Gall jarringly sets up a different one for the narrative excerpts. It's always risky to comment on someone's Yiddish accent, since dialects vary so widely, but I wasn't crazy about the way Gall presented Tucker's hunched over, down-trodden mother.

 

De Waal and Gall choose to avoid analysis of some fascinating aspects of Tucker's experience, including her years as a black-face performer, and her concerns about being a Jewish performer singing about her Jewish mother in 1930's America and Europe. I was left wondering, as well, whether Tucker's onstage effect as a Red Hot Mama, with her suggestive songs and steamy jokes, was exclusively tongue in cheek or not. In this show, Tucker repeats often that her goals included money and fame, and making people laugh, but she never explains how she came up with her sexy content, or how her adoring fans responded to this aspect of her shows.

 

Well-explored are Tucker's life as a self-made woman in a man's world, and the loneliness she faced as a result. “The only orchids and diamonds I got are the ones I bought myself.” While most of the songs are full of gags, Gall makes something wonderful of the yearning in Gershwin's The Man I Love and My Yiddishe Momme. In this aspect of the show, the songs and the story contribute well to one another.

 

Gall does not imitate Sophie Tucker's singing style or Tucker's deliciously dignified delivery. She interprets the material with her full range of skills, from a rough belt, to her sparkling opera-powered high notes, to sweet cooing and crooning.

 

By the way, Milliner Wendy Gall gets the credit for Sophie Tucker's fabulous hat.

 

 

A Few More Fringe Notes:

 

Improv is a huge component of the Fringe. Outside Chance features several of Winnipeg's best young actors, improvising a musical on their feet. There are other musical improv groups plus solo artists and groups with many themes. Improvised Dungeons and Dragons plays to sold out houses.

 

Folk Lordz!' promotional material suggests that it offers a theme of improvised folklore and folk tales. In each show, the duo offers three narratives. The night I went, only one was in folktale style, and it was beautifully acted and told – a faux “Cree origin myth” in honour of actor Todd Houseman's heritage. There were jokes, of course, but well integrated into the story. Vivid images were conjured up of animals who searched for food in the dark and cold, a terrifying windigo, and a brilliant reawakening of light and growth. Ben Gorodetsky's Russian heritage brings the actors to their nightly Chekhov parody. After my Chekhov immersion experience in this year's master playwright festival, I can say this improvised play was accurately depressed, pointless and passionate, and therefore very funny. In response to Gorodetsky's manic character, Houseman's dignified gravitas impressed me – I hope I get to see him in a scripted play some day. For me, their third story, a buddy cop movie, was a write-off. Two out of three ain't bad.

 

The Fringe offers many opportunies to see local teens, well-trained and full of energy, explore all aspects of production. Writing, directing, acting, and technical work are all carried out by teens in shows including Runaway, In Wonderland, Taxidermy 2 and Much Ado About Nothing – I've heard lots of enthusiastic response to that one.

 

It's great to budget time for Market Square as well. Performers bounce up to you to entice you to their shows; play-goers compare notes with people they've never met before. The outdoor stage is busy all day. I heard the star of Play Piano Play (not highly recommended – flashy piano stylings are accompanied by deliberately corny jokes: “I just got back from an engagement in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, she changed her mind.”) I caught a little of an intriguing spoken word performance. The food is fun, with unabashed junk food side by side with healthy food truck fare. There are craft stalls and varied activities for kids.

 

And everywhere you go at the Fringe, there are masses of hard-working, happy volunteers. Many thanks to them all!

 

Jane Enkin Music and Story at www.janeenkinmusic.com

 
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