SummerWorks: Memory, nostalgia & queer men longing to connect in the quirky, charming, poignant Box 4901

Thirteen letters responding to a 1992 gay personals ad sit in a box unanswered. What does the recipient say to these men 26 years later? Memory, nostalgia, connection and hindsight figure prominently in timeshare productions’ SummerWorks presentation of novelist Brian Francis’ autobiographical Box 4901; directed by Rob Kempson and running on the Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage.

Long before the age of smartphones and Grindr, a 21-year-old Francis—then a student at the University of Western Ontario—posted a personals ad in The London Free Press looking for a connection in the small LGBTQ world of conservative London, Ontario. Of the approximately two dozen letters he received, 13 went unanswered and were discovered years later. Francis narrates and responds as 13 queer actors perform each letter.

Featuring actors Bilal Baig, Hume Baugh, Keith Cole, Izad Etemadi, Daniel Krolik, Michael Hughes, Tsholo Khalema, Eric Morin, G Kyle Shields, Chy Ryan Spain, Jonathan Tan, Chris Tsujiuchi and Geoffrey Whynot, the responses to the ad range from the bashful to the pornographic. Coming from a variety of men—ranging in age from high school senior to father figure—from various walks of life (“regular guy,” teacher, farmer, jock, “straight-acting,” leather community), the letters are sassy, charming, eloquent and humourous. The replies are frank, witty, sharply observational; and tempered with kindness, and the hindsight of age and wisdom.

There are some missed chances and missed bullets. All of these men share the same desire to reach out; longing for connection and a cure for aloneness, there’s a vulnerable authenticity in even the cockiest of responses. And the fear of being outed to family or housemates is as palpable and strong as the excitement and anticipation of a new connection.

Box 4901 has one more SummerWorks performance at the Theatre Centre on Aug 19 at 4:45 p.m.; it’s already sold out, but you can try your luck by arriving early to see if there are any no-shows.

Toronto Fringe: Complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, art & success in Pool (No Water)

pool_no_water_-web-250x250Cue 6 Productions has been getting some well-deserved buzz for its Toronto Fringe production of Mark Ravenhill’s Pool (No Water), directed by Jill Harper – running at the Tarragon Theatre mainspace.

A group of young bohemian artists is torn apart by illness and distance – physical and emotional – and previously unspoken, private feelings of envy, rage and betrayal come to the forefront in the words and actions of the group. Sarah has made it big on the west coast and reconnects with the group for the funeral of one of their fallen comrades. She offers an invitation to fly out for a visit and to lounge around her pool, which the gang accepts. A freak accident during their visit sets off a chain of events that challenges their concept of art and morality – with life-changing consequences for all.

An excellent ensemble in this intense and darkly funny tale of art, friendship and success. Each cast member adds a specific flavour to this group of artist friends: Chy Ryan Spain is splash and energy, with claws; Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman is cerebral, dark and sardonic; Daniel Roberts is an anxious and uncertain, but gleeful participant; and Allison Price (also featured in People Suck) brings edgy comedy and comic rage. And the fifth unseen character Sarah, who we only really know through second-hand accounts from the group, is entitled, successful and selectively generous. The group vacillates between love and hate for her – a hive mind thinking and acting as one, so much so that each can’t tell who was the instigator.

Featuring some beautiful, emotive and ethereal group movement choreography by Patricia Allison.

It’s a complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, and art and success in Cue 6 Productions’ remarkable Pool (No Water).

Pool (No Water) continues at the Tarragon mainspace until July 11; you have a few more chances to catch it – see the full schedule here. Book ahead for this one or take your chances on a sold out house.