Whatever the lousy weather may have done to inhibit would-be Fringers from monopolising Old Market Square patios earlier in the week, it lost the last bit of its power Wednesday night. Even with the wisp of a funnel cloud and a tornado watch still in the air, the heart of Fringe was beating fast, urging theatre goers to watch, drink, eat, and breathe it all in before the final curtains start dropping.
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One actor shows, as a staple of Fringe Fests, are exactly the sort of things to watch, drink, eat, and breathe in before it all ends. Two in particular tell especially intriguing tales this year, but while both are close to magic, neither can quite get all their charms to work. If only they found each other; Yarn and Self-Destructivism are like the yin and yang of this year’s Fringe, and have the potential to balance each other out. I see suggest seeing both within 48 hours of each other (they only go up about a block apart). Blend their tones, flavours, colours and sounds into one, and you’ll have the ultimate show.
Yarn, by Alex Eddington, is about 177 days on an isolated Scottish island. A young man does what all Millennials do: he leaves what has always been home to ‘find himself’ overseas. This finding of himself is necessarily tied into making sense of the world’s many apparent contradictions. His journey will be worth it once the tension between one’s good fortune and one’s bad fortune has an explanation, an explanation that will no doubt, between rolling hills, foggy shores, and elderly unlicensed massage therapists, come to him if only the voice inside his head could shut up. But the voice — here wonderfully represented by hand puppet lamb with a pseudo-Gaelic accent — never stops. It’s always interrupting, interpreting, and dissecting our hero’s story.
Stories. A good yarn. No objective, rational pinning down of why good and bad things continually fight each other out, but rather the narrative that unfolds as they do so. Is that the answer to it all? You find out — kind of — at the end. And the road to the end is — mostly — worth it.
Yarn’s one man show fills up the space like it’s a ten man show. It employs acoustic instruments, brass instruments, an array of self-guided lights, and yes, yarn, to represent both physical and metaphysical travelings. As the play concludes you are left satisfied, but with the feeling that somehow you could’ve been more satisfied. Why? Ah, here’s the supreme irony: because personal journeys are personal journeys exactly because the self moves from X to Y— there is a change. And while our character comes to some potentially new realisations, our actor, the teller of personal journeys, doesn’t show us the transformation process.
Make no mistake— he’s quite good, with a comfortable stage presence and uncanny comedic timing, but his mellow tone….remains….the same….throughout. Perhaps it is an explicitly chosen technique that is meant to tell the story retrospectively, where the story teller no longer displays the severe ups and downs that our hero was obviously experiencing. But the artistic choice isn’t clear. We don’t know if the storyteller is supposed to be so stable despite the roller coaster ride of his in-the-moment self, or if our hero is, in actual fact, not experiencing a roller coaster at all, and that his journey is going nowhere at all. But that’s no personal journey at all, is it? What this performance of Yarn needs is a good dose of…
…Self-Destructivism! This firecracker of a show by J.D. Renaud starts with a bang and gets louder until its explosive end. Mystical Scotland is replaced by a grubby, grimy Winnipeg. Acoustic strumming becomes a grunge-like harmonica, aggressively played whenever a cathartic moment is needed. But much is the same: this hero is also trying to make sense of his personal journey, and spins a few fantastic yarns as well (the sidekick lamb is replaced by a sidekick overhead projector, one that spews whatever is needed onto the set’s backdrop).
The search for a new and better way to cope with mental distress, bouts of nervous breakdown, direct storytelling to the audience, and hopeful endings tie these plays further together. And while Yarn could benefit from some of Self-Destructivism’s high octane, wild eyed, genuinely scared and confused moments, so can Self-Destructivism benefit from Yarn’s moments of stillness, of stopping to feel the lowest of low times. They are perfect foils, and could, as plays and as productions, be improved by adding a pinch of the other. The nice thing about a Fringe Fest is that you can do it for them, by watching both within a short period of time.
There much else afoot above and beyond Fringe Fest Foils. The square has become consistently packed, with street performers taking terms to juggle batons on fire, spin hoola hoops from every appendage, or shoot the breeze about what to watch when. Such shooting the breeze is timely, as the Fringe, apart from a few especially popular/enthusiastic shows that will keep the party going, stops fringe-ing this Sunday.
Check out www.winnipegfringe.com for show times, tickets, and more.
Johanu Botha is a student of public policy and political philosophy. His hobbies include the mandolin and intermittent bouts of existential angst. You can reach him at email@example.com