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Jane Enkin

Play Reviews: Winnipeg Fringe Festival 2013 July 17-28

by Jane Enkin, July 21, 2013

The Fringe is off to a great start. In addition to ticketed shows, you can enjoy free entertainment, buskers, and an array of crafts, unusual clothing and snacks for sale. Here are reviews of the first shows I saw. For more detailed information about many of these shows, have a look at my preview articles in earlier editions of the Winnipeg Jewish Review.

Is It Wednesday? is a tiny gem of a play. Only 12 minutes long, it features Jane Burpee and Gray Academy teacher Miriam Bronstein as two elderly women who chat at a bus stop. There are only two more days to catch the play, performed outdoors on a bench on Market Ave. outside the Concert Hall. (Admission is “pass the hat”, with a portion of proceeds going to the Alzheimer's society.) Two Ladies, written by Nova Scotia playwright Pam Calabrese MacLean, presents with wit and tenderness the lives of women on the cusp of dementia – they are somewhat muddled, yet aware with sadness of the memories they are losing. Non sequiturs, sharp jokes and sudden flows of memory and storytelling make up this brief delight.

Is It Wednesday? continues Monday July 22 and Tuesday July 23 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 pm on Market Ave.

Aspergers; a Tale of a Social Misfit is a wonderful stand-up comedy show. I don't want to give away Adam Schwartz's best lines, but rest assured, there are zingers throughout. I came home and repeated some of my favourites to my family, and I was a hit! Schwartz is still young and inexperienced, a bit nervous on opening night, and he is “different”, but his disability doesn't hold him back. Schwartz has a dry, deadpan delivery that reminds me of one of my favourite comics from CBC's The Debater's, Jon Steinberg. Well-timed pauses and knowing nods keep you aware that the comedy is carefully crafted: “ I knew if I wanted to meet a girl I had to understand her body language. (pause) So I looked at her body. (pause, to lots of laughter.) My basketball coach said to read body language, look at a player's chest...” Schwartz offers a quick overview of his life story, from awkward kid to awkward young adult. I wondered if there would be a turning point, and it came through comedy. “The comedians came up and talked to me! They liked me! They even let me buy the beer!”

Hamlet as Told on the Streets offers an exhilarating rush! The experience created and directed by Andraea Sartison begins when you go down into “The Vault” and pass the bar, where you can buy Danish beer or an “Ophelia's Bodice Ripper” cocktail. There's graffiti everywhere, a video screen and a big film screen, and a group of young actors in hoodies dancing and chatting. The five actors tackle all the characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet with assurance and skill.

The multimedia approach is terrific, with video by Caroline Wintoniw and music by Peter Reinhardt. Fascinating use is made of looming shadow plays behind the screen and entrances and exits from clear plastic walls. Music and dance are seamlessly integrated, as are hip hop rhymes and Shakespearean “high language.” I dislike Queen Gertrud's wacky gold costume (my review from last year notes that the character was effectively dressed in slinky black in the first production.) The rest of the costuming, which stays with the hip hop theme, works very well, just like the minimalist set and props.

What really makes Hamlet as Told on the Streets work is the clarity of the acting. The words and the sight gags are funny, but the characters are impulsive, passionate, and deadly serious. Their lives are shaped by issues of power, survival and responsibility. Their story matters.

Fine work is done by Gwen Collins as a dark, intense Ophelia, Adam Charbonneau as Polonius,Tanja Woloshen as Gertrude, Nathan Costa as the over the top cocky King Claudius, and Joshua Ranville as Hamlet.

Hamlet as Told on the Streets comes with a warning about violence. I want to add two warnings. First, a serious allergy warning – the terrific performance space is an unfinished basement and I caught a whiff of mould. Second, you're taking a risk if you choose to sit in the front row. The actors come on stage as a gang, and are deliberately “in your face” with the audience. I moved away from front row centre, but I was still drawn into the action -- when King Claudius grabbed at a plastic poison wine cup, it went flying and hit me. The actor was very apologetic, but really, it was no big deal. It made the show even more fun.


Canuck Quixote is an intriguing hybrid, part concert and part lecture. Through the songs of well known Canadian musicians and his original music, the performer suggests that Canadians of European background reimagine Aboriginals and people of African heritage the way Don Quixote reimagined a simple woman as the Lady Dulcinea. Beautiful recorded ambient sounds, like canoe paddling and bird song, and some interesting spoken words on recording enhance the one man show. Colin Godbout is an accomplished guitar player, and the concert aspect of the play is lovely. It's magical to hear him shift musical personalities. I was especially moved by the driving force of his Neil Young number and the delicacy of his Lenny Breau song. ( I was disappointed that Godbout talked about Breau's "girlfriend, an Afro/Indo-Canadian jazz singer", without naming her. For me, this continues the objectification of the "Dulcineas" described in the script .)  Godbout's voice is too soft and gentle for some of his material, but his passion about the lyrics he's singing has impact.

His real passion, however, is reserved for his complex musical analysis of the ways composers use musical triads in connection with ideas and feelings. The overall experience is kind of like meeting a really neat, somewhat obsessed intellectual at a party. Where I might look at the political and social implications of the lyrics of these songs, for Godbout that's just the foundation for his exploration of music theory. I don't think Canadian Quixote has wide general appeal, but if you love Canadian guitar-based folk music, or if you are excited about music theory, I can strongly recommend it.

Unpossible is an enjoyable magic show. I really like the way Travis Bernhardt draws all his laughs from the magic itself and his interaction with the audience. My family says that the show was not as well paced as the one Bernhardt brought to Winnipeg a couple of years ago, but they still had a good time. We all preferred Bernhardt's mystifying, playful physical magic with cards, balls, etc, to his mentalist work, which is elaborate and impressive but somewhat drawn out. Good family fun.

Lorax is a high-energy, high-skilled improv duo, Ben Gorodetsky and Nima Gholamipour. Besides the sheer comedy of their inventions, it's entertaining to watch the ways they communicate with one another to instantly establish new pairs of characters, settings and adventures. Expect high silliness and family-friendly, good-natured stories.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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