Review: ‘Swordplay: A Play of Swords’ at Winnipeg Fringe

This is the first and only non-Winnipeg-based theatre company production I attended at this year’s Fringe. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it turned out – I’m just naturally attracted to local talent, I guess. But after I heard a rep from Sex T-Rex promote Swordplay: A Play of Swords at The Cube as “a retelling of The Princess Bride told through an ’80s video game,” I was sold.  The Princess Bride is very near and dear to my heart. I knew I had to make the trek out to the West End Cultural Centre to see this show.

It’s difficult to be consistently funny – either you’re not funny, or the actors get exhausted, or they start to annoy the audience. But Swordplay, thankfully, does none of these things. They are funny throughout the hour-and-change play, taking every opportunity to make a meticulously-crafted joke. Every line has been chosen deliberately to advance the plot or be funny; every line is important.

This show has been performed and workshopped just enough that it’s in its sweet spot: it’s been through other Fringes and will continue on after this one, but Swordplay is seeing its first Winnipeg audience. It’s still fresh and funny and hasn’t been overperformed.

The DnD Improv crowd will enjoy this one – it’s nerdy and has hints of inside jokes while paying homage to video games and poking fun at fantasy clichés. It’s not so niche that others won’t enjoy it. I consider myself a very middle-of-the-road yes-I-like-nerd-things-but-I’m-not-a-dungeon-master-or-anything kind of nerd and I was able to catch every joke. That’s when you know that the comedy is good: it can still be about a particular thing to a particular audience, but it’s still funny to everybody.

Although Swordplay borrows from nerd culture across the map, it’s still a original tale with just the right amount of camp. I didn’t even want to take notes because I didn’t want my eyes to leave the stage and miss anything. Many of (if not all) the Fringe shows I saw this year left me thinking about vast topics on my drive home, but this one wasn’t. This is just a good ol’ no-thinker funny (without being offensive) swashbuckling adventure. And that’s a good thing.

Swordplay: A Play of Swords and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

5/5 stars

Here’s how I’ll be starring all my Fringe reviews:

  • 5 stars = Astounding. I will physically push you in the direction of this show. Must see.
  • 4 stars = Very good! Highly recommended.
  • 3 stars = Well done. People interested in this genre/subject matter will enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.
  • 2 stars = Only people interested in this genre/subject matter will probably enjoy it.
  • 1 star = Not recommended to anyone.
  • 0 stars = Run in the opposite direction.

Read my other Fringe experiences:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
• Review: The Trump Card
• 
Review: Joe Job
• Recap: SLAM!
• Review: Macbeth
• Review: KING

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Review: ‘KING’ at Winnipeg Fringe

Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry VIII, Emperor Nero. ’90s grunge. RENT meets Hamilton. What would happen if the biggest dicks in history were together to measure them?

These are all massive, legendary concepts, but you shouldn’t expect a similarly-styled show. It’s DIY. It’s duct tape and cardboard boxes, pickle tub drum kits and burlap and rope. It’s thrift store clothes and ripped jeans, Chucks and cheap beer. It’s not clean or polished; it has frayed edges and tears. It’s the feeling when you have a lunch of mini donuts – are there healthier options? Sure. But indulge yourself. This one tastes good.

Nominated for the Harry Rintoul Award for Best New Manitoban Play (created by stars Duncan Cox, Tanner Mason and Ben Townsley), this quasi-musical (more of a play with songs if you ask me – not that there’s anything wrong with that) explores the trials of these three kings/emperors/rulers if they had been forced to answer for their tyranny. It’s loud (very loud, actually, for the small space) and occasionally obnoxious, but that’s what these men likely were – loud, obnoxious, childish, and utterly human. We forget these imperfect qualities when they become legends.

Henry VIII as a Mick Jagger-meets-Christian Borle-as-Shakespeare type. Emperor Nero as a flamboyantly gay Kurt Cobain (although I would’ve liked to see him with hints of more of a chainsmoking Donatella Versace). Napoleon as a jean-jacketed womanizing-yet-lovelorn Tom DeLonge of sorts. All of these men are obsessed with their legacy, but what does that mean? Does it mean land? Property? An heir? Love? What’s left when you’ve been dead for hundreds of years? In the end, does it even matter?

KING and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

4/5 stars

Here’s how I’ll be starring all my Fringe reviews:

  • 5 stars = Astounding. I will physically push you in the direction of this show. Must see.
  • 4 stars = Very good! Highly recommended.
  • 3 stars = Well done. People interested in this genre/subject matter will enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.
  • 2 stars = Only people interested in this genre/subject matter will probably enjoy it.
  • 1 star = Not recommended to anyone.
  • 0 stars = Run in the opposite direction.

Read my other Fringe experiences:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
• Review: The Trump Card
• 
Review: Joe Job
• Recap: SLAM!
Review: Macbeth

Review: Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s Another Way Home

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The cast of Another Way Home. Keith Levit/Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.

The Nadelmans, the featured family in Another Way Home, are a pretty typical quartet. They could even be likened to The Simpsons, minus baby – a tall breadwinner father, an overbearing, worrisome mother, a troubled older boy and a genius younger girl. So it would’ve been easy to caricature them. But that’s not at all what playwright Anna Ziegler did.

 

In the Canadian premiere of Another Way Home, Ari Weinberg directs a cast of Winnipeg theatre vets in a heartwarming play about how a family comes to terms with growing up – yes, even the fifty-plus parents come to terms with maturing.

At first, it was difficult for me to slot myself into this play. How do I relate to anyone? I’m not an angsty teenager (anymore) and I’m not a parent (yet), so I didn’t feel immediately connected to any of the characters. But as it went on, I started to empathize with all of them.

Philip and Lillian Nadelman are visiting their son Joey at summer camp, where he’s training to be a counselor. When they show up, Joey has a breakdown because he never asked for them to come or care about him. His father yells at him, and Joey bolts. His family, including his sister Nora back home, and his counselor Mike T. spend the play looking for him.

I was a moody teenager (and a moody eight-year-old). I told my parents I hated them when I of course never did, I thought I could be independent when I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I thought that I had it all figured out – now I know that nobody ever really figures it out. That’s exactly what this play reflected. Philip says that it just hits him that he’s been alive for 54 years and it all seems like it was just yesterday. Does he know how to interact with his moody son so that they don’t constantly quarrel? Of course not. But figuring it out is part of what makes these characters so human.

Cory Wojcik did what he does best – playing an intimidating, howling father. I gotta give it up to the actors that go toe-to-toe with him. If papa bear Wojcik yelled at me like he does some of the characters in this play, I probably would’ve peed myself. He has his tender moments too, which makes the scenes when the claws come out so much more valuable. He just wants what’s best for his family, and he’ll fight for it.

The real standout for me was Darren Martens as Mike T. His collected counselor brings a calming presence to the whole stage, even when he’s not in the scene – a skill usually reserved for actors that are much older. He doesn’t pretend to be wise or have all the answers, but his reserved coolness earns Joey’s respect, the one thing that his parents want the most.

After I left the theatre, I realized that I could see myself in all of the characters. I could see past self in Joey and my future self in Philip. I could see me and my brother in Joey and Nora’s relationship. I could see how no matter what age you are, you never stop growing up and you never stop learning. Audiences of all ages can surely relate to this.

Another Way Home runs until November 6 at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. You can get single tickets, or tickets to this plus a discount on the rest of WJT’s season, here.

4/5 stars

Review: FOX’s Rocky Horror Picture Show

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The cast of FOX’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again. *gasps for air* Image via PopCrush.

Let me begin by saying what I said in my review of FOX’s Grease Live!: I will always support televised theatre. This version of Rocky Horror may have been some kid’s introduction to musicals and maybe they’ll go on to be the next Sondheim. Now let’s get into it.

The first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I was seventeen. I had a friend who was obsessed with Tim Curry and recommended it to me. I knew nothing about it. I honestly thought it was a horror film and I was scared starting to watch it. After it was over, I thought: What the hell did I just see? Then the songs stayed in my head. Then I dressed up as Magenta and went to a live screening.

That’s the success of Rocky Horror in a nutshell. It likely didn’t go well in its initial run because people left the theatre with that “what the hell” feeling, but it became a cult classic because it stuck around in your head. The message of the movie – don’t dream it, be it, and be it as wildly as you can be – is timeless and is still inspiring today.

When FOX announced that they would be reviving Rocky Horror starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, I was thrilled. Having a transgender woman play a character that describes themselves as a “sweet transvestite” is honestly genius, and Cox said that the movie inspired her when she was in college and figuring out who she was. But then I realized that Rocky Horror is also about sexual awakening and this was going to be aired during primetime. I had no idea what was going to happen.

I settled in last night to watch the pre-filmed production (why wasn’t it live? I can’t tell you. Rocky Horror has been performed onstage for years) wondering how it was going to play out. I didn’t mind exchanging the iconic red lips for the usherette singing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” as last year the Wasteland Productions’ version of Rocky Horror I saw had a similar introduction. It set the scene for a grand movie theatre, where the audience is watching Rocky Horror and occasionally the camera pops back in to show audience participation.

But when Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice) arrive at Frank’s castle, it’s the crumbling old movie theatre, which confused me immensely. The people watching Rocky Horror are in the movie theatre, but the movie they’re watching takes place at that movie theatre that is now ruins? It took me out of the experience.

I live for the “Time Warp”/”Sweet Transvestite” suite, and I was a little disappointed with the former. The choreography was changed, which it shouldn’t have, because it’s literally a song instructing you how to do the Time Warp. Christina Milan was an over-the-top, over-acted Magenta. Former Spider-man Reeve Carney probably would’ve played Riff Raff better if he hadn’t pretended that Richard O’Brien’s hand was in his mouth, performing an exact imitation of the original. McCartan’s Brad was too deliberately cheesy, which is the great thing about that character – he’s inherently cheesy, even when you don’t try to make him that way.

Cox is the one that saved this show for me. Her deep voice, passion for the role, and the way her body looked in those William Ivey Long-designed sequined outfits hypnotized me into watching the whole thing. Some on Twitter mocked her for the transatlantic accent she performed, but I honestly believe that accent comes with the role. Tim Curry’s iconic, generation-spanning performance will never be forgotten, so we may as well give him an homage.

Curry, still recovering from a stroke, played a seated Narrator/Criminologist, giving his assistant instructions on how to Time Warp. His presence was almost permission to like this version. Adam Lambert’s Eddie was a highlight, simply because all Eddie does is ride in on his motorcycle and sing a song. Lambert is a rock star and he delivered. Annaleigh Ashford’s Columbia, who I had high hopes for, was forgettable. I literally forgot about it until I almost published this.

Ultimately, after I finished watching this version, I immediately popped in my Rocky Horror movie DVD and watched the original. Without the camp, blood, and sex, Rocky Horror doesn’t have its personality.

2.5/5, watch it for “Sweet Transvestite,” “I’m Going Home,” and William Ivey Long’s brilliant costumes.