I’ve been to my second trio of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival now.
I went to see The Tempest because of personal connections. I got to know my husband while working on a group project about the play in my first year English class at university. I saw the play at London’s Globe Theatre in 2005 and went to Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins production in 2001. I was especially interested in the Fringe Festival show because it was put on by young people. When I taught grade four in Mitchell, Manitoba I staged The Tempest with my students several years in a row using a simplified script I had written. When Bev Ridd, who I work with on a Project Peacemakers committee, sent an e-mail saying her grandsons were playing the roles of Caliban and Prospero in the Fringe production I decided to go. I greatly admired the young actors. They had put so much work into learning their parts and performed with passion. The sets and costumes were great! However I thought the production was far too long, running almost 90 minutes. Especially since it was billed as a play for children it should have been no longer than 45 or 50 minutes. Several young families walked out before the end. The advertising does say babes in arms are welcome, but during the show I attended, a baby started crying and didn’t stop. It took a long time before the parent decided to exit the theatre with their wailing infant and I felt sorry for the young actors who had to soldier on despite the fact the audience was mightily distracted. I thought it was wonderful that the performers had mastered all that Shakespearean language so flawlessly and executed their lines with a dramatic flair that made it evident they knew exactly what they were talking about. However I’m not sure the audience always did. I think some adaptation to a more modern English would have gone a long way to engage the children watching the show. I’d give this production a 2.5 out of 5.
The actors in Teaching Hamlet are professional and with the exception of a unecessarily long and supposedly funny opening scene where Joe, played by Keir Cutler is trying to set up a video camera; the pacing was great and kept the audience’s attention. The title is misleading, because except for quoting Hamlet several times, the play isn’t about Hamlet at all. It is about a lonely man named Joe who heads up a society he and his mother founded, that is trying to promote the idea the Earl of Oxford and not William Shakespeare wrote the bard’s plays. Joe enlists a mercenary actor named Conner Hamilton to help make a video to promote his ideas. The show is really about getting a glimpse into the lives of the two main characters and finding out what kind of people they are. We watch them develop some empathy for one another. Ultimately that is why the show is satisfying because it reminds us how many truly lonely people there are in the world and encourages us to reach out to those around us. It prods us to see beyond people’s outer facade and to realize we may have something in common with men and women who appear very different from us. I’d give this play a 4 out of 5. The fact this show is in the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s comfortable venue adds to the viewer’s enjoyment.
Veryalyn Warkentin’s play Mary and Martha has not received good reviews but I went to see it anyway with my friend Wendy, because I had personal connections with the story. It is about Mennonite young women who came to Winnipeg from rural Manitoba to work as housemaids in the homes of wealthy city folks in order to earn money to pay back their families’ travel debts following their immigration to Canada from Ukraine. This happened all over Canada in the 1930’s and 40’s. My mother-in-law Anne worked for a wealthy family in Leamington, Ontario. The Mennonite Church established homes in several Canadian cities called Maedchenheims (girls homes) as a clearing house and refuge for young Mennonite women working in the city. I once did a feature story on five women who were ‘city girls’ in their youth. This last year I also read Dora Dueck’s book This Hidden Thing which tells the story of one of the Mennonite ‘city girls.’ I enjoyed Mary and Martha because of my personal interest in its story although I thought some of the actors seemed to slip in and out of their accents and they did too much explaining and informing and not enough acting. The lengthy family memory the main character Helen Epp shares at the end of the play had me in tears, because I have heard almost identical stories from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, but audience members without that kind of personal connection probably found it too long and somewhat disconnected from the plot of the play. I’d give Mary and Martha a 3.5 out of 5.
I already have tickets for another trio of plays so look for at least one more blog post about the Fringe Festival.
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