Saskatoon Fringe Festival reviews: Immigrant stories and queer cabaret glories

The StarPhoenix will be reviewing all 14 in-person shows featured at this year’s Saskatoon Fringe Festival, which runs July 29 to August 7.

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The Newcomer

4.5 stars / 5 

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There’s nothing intimate about an airport terminal.

The harsh lighting can be about as soothing as the typical one-man show. It’s a wonder why Saskatoon’s Ay, Caramba Theatre Company makes both feel so human in its play, The Newcomer.

The show’s basics, which are inspired by true events, come easy. Juba (Makhosini Ndlvou) is a young man fleeing civil war in South Sudan who is forced to live in a Ugandan refugee camp, finding escape in his imagination and education as he dreams of a new life.

When he’s 17, the United Nations’ High Commissioners for Refugees selects him to settle in Canada.

The globe-trotting plot is more self-contained than you’d assume. Most of the sets — whether they be refugee camps or airport terminals — are projected on a screen behind Ndlvou, who’s left to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting with limited music and strategic lighting.

Credit goes to director K.P Dennis for giving the role space. Ndlvou’s natural comedic timing and infectious stage presence lets the narrative glide along at a comfortable, conversational pace.

In his hands, Juba is warm and sympathetic, even as he falls into traumatic memories or imaginative flights of fancy.

He does a fine job of communicating the shifting timelines of Yulissa Campos’ script, which finds Juba at varying points as a young boy, struggling student and newcomer to Saskatoon.

That refugees come as full people with physical and emotional carry-ons — memories, hopes, traumas — figures heavily into Campos’ storytelling.

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Tackling that idea finds a ready symbol in Coke bottles that appear periodically in Juba’s life, reminding him of his past and grounding a play that would otherwise get lost chasing big themes of family and dislocation in a limited run time.

It almost makes an airport feel like home.

— Nick Pearce 

The Chroñicles of Cañete is featured at the 2021 Saskatoon Fringe Festival.
The Chroñicles of Cañete is featured at the 2021 Saskatoon Fringe Festival. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Chroñicles of Cañete

3.5 stars / 5 

It was a small crowd for Andy Cañete on Friday night – but the experienced performer held everyone’s attention with a collection of colourful stories from his life.

Cañete’s show is billed as comedy and storytelling, and we get more of the former than the latter.

That’s not to say Cañete’s show is without tall tales — and as he puts it, every story in his show is “Googleable” — but the quick jokes, not the depth of stories, made the performance work.

Cañete’s journey has been an interesting one. Born in Chile, he spent parts of his childhood there and in cities throughout Canada, including Saskatoon.

It’s those cultural crossroads that Cañete leans into early in the show, teasing the differences between hockey rivalries in Canada and soccer riots in South America. And he tells those stories with such an easy charisma, it’s easy to get invested in his eclectic everyman style as he draws you in to each little anecdote.

But the show strayed fully into standup comedy over funny storytelling as the set progressed. Later in the performance, the stories (and therefore the jokes) start taking aim at lower-hanging fruit that felt a little out of place in a modern show, and Cañete has proved in Fringe shows past that he’s a much more talented storyteller than that.

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Cañete’s bright-eyed delivery had everyone smiling along with him, and the energetic comedian livened up even more when he reached out to interact with the audience (the joking police conference bit garnered some of the biggest laughs of the show). Even if the storytelling wasn’t always perfect, the comedy hit home.

The style isn’t for everyone, but it would be shocking if you could walk away from the stage without a grin on your face.

— Matt Olson 

SMUSH: a cabaret is featured at the 2021 Saskatoon Fringe Festival.
SMUSH: a cabaret is featured at the 2021 Saskatoon Fringe Festival. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

SMUSH: a cabaret

3.5 stars / 5 

SMUSH host Holly M. Brinkman prefaced Friday night’s cabaret by cautioning the audience that things were about to get intimate.

That intimacy took many forms throughout Scantily Glad’s queer variety show extravaganza, stripping nearly everything away from an emotional standpoint or a physical one as the seven performers took the stage.

It’s hard to tell a potential audience exactly what to expect from SMUSH. The show has a rotating cast throughout its weeklong run, meaning no two shows will be entirely alike. Friday’s energized audience saw burlesque, drag, poetry, musical performance and a pair of clowns.

While responses to all were generally positive and loud, they varied in tone and quality, and the gaps between them sometimes lasted a beat or two too long.

Scantily Glad opted this year to give a platform to largely up-and-coming queer artists in a cabaret format, instead of the scripted shows of previous years with which the company has had plenty of success.

Friday night’s pieces had their merit, but altogether made for a slapdash show. The only guarantees in this show are that there are no guarantees in terms of what you’ll see, and you’re bound to have plenty of (adult) fun. The mature rating here is a staunch one.

SMUSH cabaret promises to give a stage to plenty of exciting young talent. This is a departure — it’s a good time, but not of the same calibre as their more traditional offerings.

But it’s probably the only place, Fringe or otherwise, you might see sexy Jeff Bezos “cannibalize a package.”

— Amanda Short

The StarPhoenix will be reviewing all 14 in-person shows featured at this year’s Saskatoon Fringe Festival, which runs July 29 to Aug. 7. For more reviews, go to thestarphoenix.com.

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