A coming out origin story, based largely on Campbell’s own experience as a teen in Montreal, we follow 17-year-old Glen as he embarks on his journey of self-discovery with friends Dmitri and Marco. Protesting Anita Bryant, seeing The Boys in the Band for the first time and dancing at their favourite gay club, Glen explores his sexuality, his dance moves and learns what it is to be queer in the late 70s. All the while, he’s closeted to his parents, who suspect something’s up, and his mother’s pleas to “tone it down” so as to not upset his father, who turns to the bottle in times of trouble and takes it out on her. And then, the penultimate coming out experience when Glen and his friends sign up for their gay youth group’s road trip to NYC Gay Pride Day, and Glen’s decision to come out to his folks.
Campbell is a charming and engaging storyteller, weaving cultural milestones with Glen’s personal anecdotes. And while this tale is full of sex, fun and music, he doesn’t shy away from the challenges Glen faces with his family, particularly his father. He gives Glen a lovely sense of wonder and exploration; a sensitive and curious young man, he fearlessly dives into new experiences and men despite the heartbreak and homophobia.
The magic of the movies. The power of disco. The wisdom of The Village People. Coming out in 1977 in the funny, touching Out.
Tell me a story. Real or made-up? Both. Happy or sad? Both.
These are the opening lines of TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi’s 52 Pick-up – produced by the Howland Company, and directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia – setting the stage for a random, non-linear piece of two-handed storytelling about the beginning, middle and ending of a relationship. After delighting sold-out houses at last year’s Toronto Fringe, then going on to The Best of Fringe, the production is getting a remount at Fraser Studios.
52 Pick-up has a performance rotation of four couples: two guy/girl, one girl/girl and one guy/guy. I’d previously seen both guy/girl couples: real-life couple Hallie Seline/Cameron Laurie and Ruth Goodwin/Alexander Crowther. The remount features two new actors, replacing co-directors Ch’ng Lancaster and Santalucia, who both acted in the Fringe production: Llyandra Jones and Alexander Plouffe, who stepped in to play half of the same-sex couples (with Kristen Zaza and James Graham, respectively). I saw the girl/girl couple (Zaza and Jones) yesterday afternoon.
For those who haven’t seen 52 Pick-up, it goes something like this. At the top of the show, the relationship has already ended and the couple decide, together, to tell us their story. The order in which the story is told is dictated by the random selection from a deck of cards, tossed into the air, each card containing a word or phrase that defines the scene they’re about to play out for us.
So, between the four rotating couples and the random running order, you’ll never see the same story the same way twice – even with the same couple. The outcome can also result in some happy coincidences, like yesterday when the “Psychic” scene came right after a scene in which psychics were discussed. Each couple makes it clear that they’re telling us a story, winding in and out of scenes and returning to us, the cards on the floor and the box into which the discards go. Speaking directly to us – and like the “How do you know her?” scene – sometimes gently interacting with someone in the audience, the actors charm, engage and move us. It’s like hearing two friends talk about how they met, courted and gradually grew apart before breaking up – and even though the story is told out of order, your mind wants to put it together, like a puzzle, in linear format. And, like most break-ups, there isn’t necessarily a readily definable ‘why’ – and, in many cases, it’s about two people coming to realize that they just don’t fit together.
For those who have seen one of the guy/girl pairings, Zaza takes on the “girl” role and Jones the “guy.” In many respects, it would be more helpful to describe the couple as Person A and Person B. This is not about imposing heteronormative dynamics on the same-sex couples, it’s about showing two personality types come together, and the way the two succeed – or fail – to connect. Seeing a same-sex couple in this show, especially for those unfamiliar with such a relationship, highlights how romantic relationships aren’t so dependent on sex and gender as they are on personal character dynamics, lifestyle issues and wanting the same things from life.
Zaza and Jones have great chemistry, telling us the story of this couple with a playful sense of awkwardness, passion and romantic friction – with great comic timing and emotional connection. This couple is adorably awkward, earnest and committed, from the brief meet cute over the bladder health benefits of cranberry juice to the sniping over how to chop carrots – funny, moving and above all truthful. Jones brings a lovely bashful, soft butch quality to her laid back, home body character, while Zaza is the bubbly, assertive and outgoing femme – and we’re sad to see these two characters part.
52 Pick-up has all the magic, heart, comedy and truth of falling in and out of love. Now, if I can only work out my scheduling to see the guy/guy couple. Go see this – or go see this again. And again.
Using The Wheel of Misfortune, the monologues are chosen at random and Phillips gives the audience an hour-long peek into the job. Some of the stories are hilariously gross; some highlight the profound stupidity human beings are capable of, while others are of a more dire nature. We learned that “Code 5” means that the situation is pretty much hopeless – the patient is totally dead (as opposed to partially dead) and there’s nothing you can do for them. In the middle of the show, he takes a music break, picking up an acoustic guitar and serenading us with an original medical issue-related song.
During yesterday’s performance, we got two poo-related stories, an emergency birth (which also included a miraculous conversation with the patient in French, as it was the only language they had in common – and a bonus birthing story), a check-in on an elderly lady feared dead, a drunken balcony leap and a comedy of errors with an incoherent, whispering man. The music break featured “Every Bone in My Body,” about an overly optimistic daredevil, his sin visited on his son.
Phillips is an excellent storyteller – engaging, funny and frank – down to earth and circumspect about what he does as a paramedic. On the back of the program are 11 rules for paramedics, the first two being:
You can’t always change rule #1.
Other job-related wisdom includes rule #11: In an apartment building, the patient is always in the last door at the end of the hallway, usually on the left.
Kinda makes you want to reconsider your living arrangements if you’re thusly situated.
A remarkable piece of randomly selected stories about life as a downtown Toronto paramedic, The Emergency Monologues is not for the squeamish.
Can I tell you how much I love Polly Polly? Of course, you can’t love the play without also adoring its creator/actor Jessica Moss – and I do. I came late to this party, not getting to the box office line fast enough during its Toronto Fringe run, but catching last night’s closing performance on the closing night of The Best of Toronto Fringe. Better late than never.
Written and performed by Moss, and directed by Naomi Skwarna, Polly Polly takes us on an epic, fast-paced one-woman journey of self-discovery. Polly Eschfield’s blissful daydream of a life, one in which she’s the star of her own movie, is thrown into chaos when a narrator’s voice enters her life. Narrating her life! Then, while at her horrible office job, the plot thickens during a phone conversation with mysterious stranger who knows an awful lot about her. Because the stranger is her!
Moss’s script and performance is a quicksilver marvel – but loses none of the thought, expression and emotion along the way. The opening monologue of famous movie lines alone reveals a range of expression and emotion that carries throughout the show, even as Moss plays multiple characters, including Polly’s narrator and the mystery woman. Extremely witty and poignant, Polly Polly is a vulnerable, gutsy and heart-felt turn of soul-searching. Polly feels like she’s going crazy as she deals with that voice and struggles to find herself. And while she may be unhinged, she’s never undone. Polly is an inspiration everywhere for those who daydream of love and a better life, for whom beloved music becomes a personal soundtrack, and for all who love escaping into the world of the movies.
A one-woman powerhouse in Polly Polly, as well as her earlier one-woman show Modern Love, Jessica Moss is definitely a performer/playwright to watch.
What did you see at The Best of Toronto Fringe this year?
Very happy to say that I’m managing to get out to see some shows at The Best of Toronto Fringe up at the Toronto Centre for the Arts this year, including two last night:
Not Bad Abe Productions’ Tales of Whoa!,written by the company and directed by Ken Hall, was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys as the audience went on a big, wacky, sketch comedy adventure into the titular board game.
Ensemble cast Leigh Cameron, Lara Johnson, Kyle Scott and Stuart Vaughan served up some side-splitting good times as a couple of pals get sucked into the game, encountering two crazy characters, then becoming part of the game/various characters themselves in the process. Think Jumanji meets Titanic meets sketch comedy meets gaming.
Personal highlights: a young man on a hot date has to divulge an unusual condition to his prospective partner; the shaky old lady on the subway who refuses a seat and creates havoc among fellow passengers; and an argument between drug store co-workers turns ugly and hilarity ensues when an aisle-clearing brawl breaks out, with interesting weaponry (especially loved the use of the Star Trek fight soundtrack in this scene).
Big laughs delivered with big heart. Tales of Whoa! finished its run at The Best of Toronto Fringe last night, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for these guys.
I also saw Gun Shy Theatre’s production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, for a second time, last night – and I enjoyed it just as much. A very strong, moving, sweet (and funny) production of a great play. Been bugging Alumnae Theatre peeps to take a look at doing this one. If you missed my earlier bloggage on Stop Kiss, you can check it out here. With thanks to MC Thompson for inviting me along on her comps for these two amazing shows!
Will be back out tonight to see the closing night of Jessica Moss’s Polly Polly, which was so popular during its Toronto Fringe run, that I wasn’t able to get in to see it. Back soon with thoughts on this one-woman hit show.
With limited time on my hands and five vouchers left of my 10-play pass, I needed to hop to it and see shows during the closing weekend of Toronto Fringe. Here are the last five shows I saw, in order of attendance:
Sour Grapes: I’d seen playwright/actor Allan Turner perform as Mullet the Clown before, but never as another character. Playing the trickster Coyote with a decidedly cranky, nihilist edge, Turner took us on a funny, cerebral and philosophical journey as Coyote experiences an existential crisis of sorts. Awesome work from the entire cast, which also included Chloe Payne (Clown), Darryl Pring (Doctor) and Dave McKay (Spider) – directed by Bruce Hunter.
Stealing Sam: Playwright/actor Steven Gallagher’s sharply funny and deeply moving one-man show about a man’s tribute to a dead ex-lover who died of AIDS. Directed by Darcy Evans, Gallagher had the audience laughing one moment and reaching for Kleenex the next as we followed him through the life and times of a gay man of a certain age, dealing with loss and modern-day dating. If you missed this show during its Fringe run, you can still catch Stealing Sam at The Best of Toronto Fringe.
This Play Is Like _____: Written and directed by Glenys Robinson, the company (Tiny House Productions) is made up entirely of members under 20 years old. Using shadow puppets to play out a legend and a live action present day story, the audience goes along on two young female hero’s journeys. Lovely work from the cast: Arden Dunlop, Kya Mosey, Ben Tersigni and Forest Van Winkle, and puppeteers Ana Ghookassian, Haruka Kanai, Patrick Kinhan and Yasaman Nouri, with vocals by Sarah Carmosino. Keep your eyes peeled for these talented, promising young talents. I’d fill in the blank with “Life.”
Fracture: Edmonton company the Good Women Dance Collective performed two pieces for this show: “Pod” (choreographed by Alida Nyquist-Schultz, and performed by Nyquist-Shultz and Ainsley Hillyard, with music by Piotr Grella-Mozejko) and “Shatterstate” (choreographed by Alison Kause, and performed by Kause, Kate Stashko and Alida Nyquist-Shultz, with music by Caleb Nelson). “Pod” was a sensual, otherworldly journey through creation and growth, with the two dancers responding very differently to the transition – creating both tension, intimacy and drama. “Shatterstate” explores perception and déjà vu – the dancers’, the audience’s – and how perspectives can diverge and intersect. Beautiful, cerebral, moving and sexy – Fracture moves on to the Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe festivals. Definitely a company to watch out for.
Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare BASH’d unleashed the Bard upstairs at the Victory Café again this year, this time with the quip-exchanging, clueless wannabe lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Always a popular company, their shows consistently sell out – and I managed to squeeze in on the waiting list for their closing performance. Directed by Eric Double, and time-shifted nicely to post-WWII, this production boasts an amazing cast: Andrew Anthony, Andrew Gaboury, Ellen Hurley, Jamie Johnson, Elisabeth Lagerlöf, Milan Malisic, Brenhan McKibben, Jesse Nerenberg, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Kyle Purcell, David Ross, Amelia Sargisson and James Wallis. Miss them at Fringe? No worries, you can catch their fall production of Romeo and Juliet November 19-23 in the Junction at 3030 Dundas West (Toronto).
I wasn’t able to get in to see Jessica Moss’s one-woman show Polly Polly, but had great fun in the ticket line when Moss paid us a visit – with Timbits for us. Thanks, Jessica! Will do my best to catch Polly Polly at the Best of the Toronto Fringe.
Speaking of, you still have a chance to sample some of this year’s Toronto Fringe programming and perhaps see something you missed during the festival run – check out The Best of the Toronto Fringe, running July 17-31 at Toronto Centre for the Arts.