Viva La Global Warming, Viva La Fringe!


Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Part III & envoi

Reviewed by John Herbert Cunningham

Well it’s over for another year. And so is my series of columns dedicated to this year’s fringe. In many ways, this year’s fringe was ultra hot – how else do you describe a humidex reading of 47C? Viva la global warming. Viva la myopic governments along with their stooge scientists. (Why should my editor be the only one entitled to write a rant depriving us lowly columnists of the joy of shoving our second fingers in the air?) Viva la democracy!

Whew, glad I got that out of my system. Anyway, back to business. And what a business! In addition to fulfilling my media role, I was volunteer venue team leader at the Fringe so, in addition to seeing great performances, I also met great people, people dedicated to the success of the Winnipeg Fringe.

Even the heat couldn’t defeat the Fringe, which started out with a bang, had a bit of a whimper when that temperature reached 47C on the humidex, then sprang up again like flowers in spring. Here’s what the Fringe press release had to say:

BIG TOP FRINGE yielded the highest ticket sales in Winnipeg Fringe history and broke attendance records several times, with more than 9,500 indoor tickets sold in a single day for the first time. The 24th annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival featured 1,201 performances in 24 indoor venues, as well as bands, buskers and street performers on the MTS Outdoor Stage and Fringe Fairground on Albert and Arthur streets. Indoor attendance reached 87,845, up 1,128 from last year’s final attendance of 86,717. There were 121 sellouts, and $630,029 in box office revenue was returned to the performers.

This series of columns wouldn’t be complete without a review of some of the great theatrical performances. Yes, beyond the stand-up comedy of Jem Rolls and Rob Gee, beyond the comedy improv of Crumbs, beyond the burlesque of Miss Rosy Bits, there was a dramatic upsurge in drama and comedy at this year’s Fringe.

On the dramatic side was Animelle 1 euro per kilo. Bringing a truly international scope to the Fringe, this Italian group, Compagnia Teatrale Kor, from Milan presented a disturbing portrayal of a pimp, Marco, and his girls, Nicole and Lee. Adding to the disturbing nature of the subject matter, as if the violence and extensive nudity were not enough, is Lillian, a Russian woman with ambitions of being a fashion designer, who receives ‘help’ in getting to New York to realize her ambitions only to discover that she has been sold into sexual slavery. The tearing down of her defences not just by Marco but by one of his girls torments the soul of the audience who watch as her resistance slowly fades. The play takes a jab at the popular culture that helps create this scenario by opening with Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. This performance could have been stronger as the violence of this underworld was suppressed. After all, the continued resistance by Lillian would have resulted in either a severe beating or her body being found in a dumpster, rather than the almost tolerant, patient attitude displayed by Marco.

Doug Wright is an American playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize. Adding to the international dimension of the Fringe was his Wildwood Park. Following in the great tradition of Anton Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, this was a masterpiece of subtext, the language that lies below the words and that makes repartee so piquant. Directed by Vancouverite Michael Fera, this play involved two well-seasoned actors, Jason T. Broadfoot and Maryth Gilroy, who, as their playbill states, “have been writing, directing, performing and touring Fringe Festivals ever since the very first Winnipeg Fringe Festival 24 years ago.” Gilroy plays a real estate salesperson who has been approached by Broadfoot regarding a house that wasn’t even on the market, since it was the scene of a rather grisly murder. Both being excellent actors, they played their roles with a great deal of subtlety as slowly they revealed each to the other the darkness each had within as well as their underlying sexual tension.

Unfortunately, I came down with a bit of heat exhaustion early in the second week forcing me to cancel a couple of plays I’d intended to see— but at least this was better than the heat stroke that inflicted itself on several unfortunate patrons. Fortunately, I was still able to see Shakespeare in the Ruins’ production of their stripped-down Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet on a diet

Romeo and Juliet, to me, was one of the highlights of this year’s Fringe. Imagine taking one of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays and turning it into a tragicomedy with echoes of The Big Bang Theory. Kevin Klassen did triple duty both directing and acting in the play, his acting consisting of portraying two characters – the Prince and Friar John. Ray Strachan deserves especial mention. Not only is he a staff member with the Fringe, he also acted in two plays. In this one, he played both Romeo and Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, and Abram. His drag scene was hilarious. Tom Keenan played a very entrancing Juliet as well as Mercutio. He played Juliet so well that perhaps he should consider taking a trip to Scandinavia. Glen Thompson played all of Benvolio, Capulet and Friar Lawrence. And last but definitely not least was Andrew Cecon who played Tybalt, Juliet’s nurse, an apothecary, and Paris. It was in this latter role that he shone as he performed it in his best impression of The Big Bang Theory’s Howard. You had to be there – and, if you weren’t, shame on you. The opening scene of the play with its slow motion sword fight clued the audience into the fact that this was not going to be your regular Romeo and Juliet performance. It was absolutely amazing what an innovative theatre group could do with two tables and a Bedouin tent.

Well, that’s all folks. The 2011 Winnipeg Fringe Festival has drawn to a close amidst the sound of records breaking. What a party! You’re all invited back next year.

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John Herbert Cunningham

John Cunningham is a Winnipeg writer. His poetry reviews have appeared in Arc, Prairie Fire, and other literary magazines.