Tag Archives: morgan grau

Saturday inside the Fringe, and out.

For me, it was the second Saturday of Fringe.  Our show The Big Fat Surprise closed Friday night (with another sold-out house!) so Saturday I was washing show laundry, then celebrating the parking-space win, catching some shows, lending another artist some of my furniture for a prop, eating festival food (still love that Lunchpail grilled cheese with fresh chips and classic vegetable sticks), checking in at the Lost and Found, serving drinks in the North Tent, talking to friends, and going home in the rain.

I immerse myself in Fringe while the festival is on, after being preoccupied with show prep and publicity for weeks ahead of time, so it sometimes astonishes me that other important things are happening this week outside of the Fringe bubble.  New babies were born.  Couples got married.  Birthdays were marked on Facebook and off.  Students prepared for the next grade, the next diploma, the next degree, the next challenge.  A whole Summer Olympic Games happened and I didn’t watch or read any coverage at all or knit anything for the corollary Ravellenics celebration.  The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market shared the crowd and the parking spaces like an ordinary Saturday.  And last night I stepped into the Fringe North Beer Tent wondering about the music I was hearing, and I discovered they were using their new monitors and good speakers to share the CBC feed of the Tragically Hip’s last concert of their last tour, from the Rogers K-Rock Arena in Kingston Ontario.   While the Fringe went on outside, vendors and street performers, artists handbilling their last few shows, the High Level Trolley shuttling to downtown full of people – the tent was full of shared recognition of the Tragically Hip and of their lead singer Gord Downie, whose announcement of terminal cancer prompted the band’s decisions to tour one last summer and then retire.  I lived in Kingston for many years, and I saw the Hip’s first concert in that venue in 2008.  The CBC live feed and the social media streams reminded me how important they were and are to Kingston and to Canada and to music.  Go in peace, Gord Downie.  And Gord Sinclair, Rob Baker, Paul Langlois, and Johnny Fay.


By the second weekend of Fringe, I’ve heard lots of other people’s recommendations of what to see.  And although I try not to think of anything as a must-see, because there would be so many that I’d always feel disappointed, the recommendations helped me choose three good shows yesterday and pick up some more tickets for today.

The Fall of the House of Atreus – A very clever comic take on the ancient Greek tragedies of Euripedes, from Jessy Ardern as playwright and Corben Kushneryk as director and designer, the same team that created last Fringe’s Westbury-stage delight Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests.  Fellow BFA Acting grads Graham Mothersill, Sarah Feutl, and Morgan Grau are the Chorus telling and enacting the connected tragedies of Euripides, with all the vaguely-familiar characters – Pelops, Atreus, Iphigenia, Orestes, Clytemnestra, Helen and Paris, etc.  Simple costume elements and hand gestures helped to keep track of who was who, and found-object puppetry added interest to different ways for characters to be killed.  The energetic performers embraced the material and found humour in the grim tales.  The pace was good and it looked like fun for them as well as for the audience.  It’s now closed.

Little Orange Man – Ingrid Hansen’s charming solo show also presents gruesome stories in a very funny way, in this case through the unique voice of a girl of ten or eleven, recounting her grandfather’s Danish folk tales and recruiting the audience’s help for a dreamscape quest.  It’s held over, so after a last show tonight at 8 pm it should move easily from King Edward Academy to the larger room of the Westbury.

Nighthawk Rules – Collin Doyle’s and James Hamilton’s ten-year-old script was directed by Taylor Chadwick in Theatre Network’s new space Roxy on Gateway (the old C103).  Comfortable wide chairs around a shallow thrust stage make the venue’s legendary summer heat more bearable, as do the cold drinks on sale at the venue.  Chris W Cook (3…2…1, Criminal Genius, Sequence, Bronte Burlesque)  and Christopher Schultz (Wish) play old friends approaching 30 and floundering in their party-bro lives, Schultz’s character trying to live up to his new girlfriend’s expectations about settling down, and Cook’s character trying to hang on to the old camaraderie of drinking games and all-nighters.  I had thought already that Chris Cook was good at bringing a mix of naïveté and good intention to vulgar characters, so he was well cast in the role of Dick, and Schultz’s character Barry seems competent and grown-up only by comparison to his buddy.  I had a great deal of sympathy for the girlfriend (Ellie Heath) until we met her and she talked about her boyfriend completely as a project she had invested time in developing in order to satisfy her perfect-wedding goals, quickly flouncing out again with threats to Barry about cleaning up the apartment and getting rid of the loser friend.   The story was very funny and the resolution of some of the problems delighted me with its unexpectedness and credibility.  Nighthawk Rules has one more performance today at 4:30 pm.

I’ve got a few more drinks to pour, a few more tickets to use, a few more Festival snacks to consume, and then it’s over.  That was then, this is (still) Fringe.

The Rimers of Eldritch – disturbing glimpse of small town life

There is an improvisational-theatre narrative format known as a Spoon River, in which a set of monologues by residents of a small town tell the story of how an event on the town affected each of them.  The improv performers sit or stand facing the audience, and when it’s done well, the story unfolds with an interesting set of characters showing several viewpoints on an important event.

My first impression of The Rimers of Eldritch, the Lanford Wilson play directed by Jan Selman and performed this weekend by the second-year BFA Acting class at University of Alberta, was that the ensemble taking their places on various levels of risers and chairs, facing the audience without much interaction with each other, was about to perform a Spoon River.

I saw immediately that they were going to be speaking about a significant event, because one of the first identifiable characters was a Judge (Morgan Grau) swearing in a witness to a trial (Celeste Tikal as Nelly Windrod, a woman in work trousers contrasting with the other female performers in skirts and dresses).   Throughout the performance we have occasional glimpses of trial scenes, but we gradually piece together the truth of what happened as we see small-group scenes set before, during, and after the climactic night.

The ensemble of 12 plays about 17 characters.  Working out who they are, how they’re connected, and what’s significant in each of their conversations was like the pleasure of reading a murder mystery, the kind where everything mentioned in passing becomes meaningful.  Martha Truit and Wilma Atkins (Carmen Nieuwenhuis and Sarah Feutl) are a pair of older women discussing everyone and everything as they sew and fold linens, with a judgemental limited view.  Corben Kushneryk is Harry Windrod, a frail old man who insists he saw the crime, but I soon decided that he too was an unreliable narrator.  Kushneryk did a great job of conveying his character’s physical and mental frailties without caricaturing.  Kristen Padayas’s character Eva was a young girl with a physical disability, protected by her religious mother Evelyn (Natasha Napoleao), naive, joyful, and isolated.   Her only friend is Robert (Bradley Doré), a slightly older boy dealing with a family tragedy and some identity issues.   Other inhabitants of the failing US midwest town include café owner Cora (Jessy Ardern), Walter (David Feehan) a young man whose presence in the café leads to gossip, and the Johnson family of farmers, parents Peck and Mavis (Jordan Sabo and Jessy Ardern), restless daughter Patsy (Natasha Napoleao), and her casually cruel older brother Josh (Morgan Grau).  Various other townspeople are added by double-casting and simple costume shifts.  Many of the stories are about an unsavory homeless man, Skelly Mannor (Stuart McDougall), who lurks about the stage as about the town, in a hunched-over unnerving way.  McDougall plays the character with a slight Irish-like accent, which puzzled me a bit but added to the impression of him being a misfit in the town.

Near the end of the performance, I formed the theory that maybe the only reliable narrator in the whole performance was Skelly Mannor, whom most of them are ignoring or vilifying.  And that theory seemed to work.  Nobody else in the town really finds out the truth about what happened the night Skelly Mannor was shot, and mostly they don’t seem to want to.  And there aren’t any obvious positive outcomes or character developments from the set of events either.  People’s lives are just going to go on, messy and unhappy, trying to find comfort and cutting out people who don’t fit in.   It was disturbing and real and I liked it.

The multiple casting gave many of the ensemble members the opportunity to create characters of different ages and viewpoints, which was fascinating to watch.  I look forward to seeing what else this ensemble does over the next few years, together at U of A and separately in local productions.

The rest of the Fringe, 2013

The venue lottery for next year’s Edmonton Fringe shows has already been held, with the winners listed here, and other companies are setting up their BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) arrangements before the BYOV entry deadline in February.  Wondering about what shows various companies are putting together for next summer reminded me that I never did finish posting about the shows I saw at Fringe 2013.  I guess I’m still prioritising seeing more theatre over writing up what I’ve seen. But since everything is dark from Christmas to Epiphany (except Cats at Festival Place, and it sold out before I noticed) I have a chance to get caught up.

I wrote about the shows I saw early, the solo shows, long-form improv shows, a day of stories, the one I stage-managed, and the shows exploring themes of death.  That leaves the following.

Poe and Mathews – brilliant creepy character portrayals by Brian Kuwabara and Emily Windler, ridiculous desert-island premise, fun.

Kilt Pins – this was a sweet sad unsurprising story about teenagers at a Catholic school in Ontario, with friendship and sex and family problems.  It was a contemporary setting, so I was a little disappointed to see the more-traditional story trope of “he (Morgan Grau) pushes her to have sex, she (Sarah Culkin) gives in to get affection and regrets it”.

Kayak – I don’t know why I didn’t find this one more compelling, because the concept was interesting – a woman (Christie Mawer) struggles to relate to her grown son (Justin Kautz) and his new partner the eco-activist (Emily McCourt).

Bombitty of Errors – a rap version of Comedy of Errors directed by Dave Horak.  Having read the script and seen a serious production of the play a few weeks earlier in Saskatoon, I was greatly amused to see how closely the four actors in the rap version could stick to the plot details and in some cases the actual Shakespearean lines, and still be coherent, credible, and very funny.  There was also a bit where they did some freestyle / spontaneous rhyming about audience members, which I enjoyed in part because some of it was directed at me.  The four actors were the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, but they also played Adriana, Luciana, and any other characters needed – and it worked.

Hot Thespian Action – This sketch comedy troupe from Winnipeg (Shannon Guile, Jacqueline Loewen, Garth Merkeley, Ryan Miller, Jane Testar) made me really happy.  I can’t put my finger on why I liked their material and attitude so much.  Their timing was good and nothing was dragged out.  Their jokes didn’t feel mean-spirited or excluding, and I would not hesitate to recommend them to my progressive friends.  But that might make them sound boring, and they really weren’t.  Rutherford School isn’t the best venue, with several rows of seats on a flat gym floor making it a bit hard to see from the back especially the title cards that they used to introduce each sketch.

In the holdovers at the Westbury Theatre, I also saw three shows.

Weaksauce – this was a one-person storytelling show by Sam S Mullins about a first job working at a hockey camp, and the ups and downs of a first romance.  It was good but not great.

Jake’s Gift – this one-person show by Julia Mackey was an original fictional story of a Canadian veteran of World War II attending a reunion in Normandy, and meeting an inquisitive little local girl on the beach.  The performer’s body language and voice made charming convincing shifts to portray the little French girl, the old Canadian man, and the girl’s very proper grandmother.  The show was very well received, particularly by audience members with old enough memories to find it evocative.

Port Authority – In this story set in present-day Dublin, each of three characters told a story about a current struggle in his life.  Isaac Andrew was a young man clumsily trying to impress a female flatmate.  Cody Porter was a middle-aged man who took too long to realize that his career ambitions weren’t quite working out.  And Keiran O’Callahan was an older man who gets a mysterious package.  They all flailed unhappily, and I felt for all of them.

So that was it for From Fringe With Love.  Next up, Fringed and Confused.