Sharply funny, moving, candid looks at LGBTQ lives in 7th annual Gay Play Day

Gay Play Dayan annual festival of short, new plays written by LGBTQ playwrights and their allies—returns to the Alumnae Theatre Studio for two days only. This is the 7th year of the fest for founding AD Darren Stewart-Jones and the GPD team, which this year includes technical director Johnny Salib and Henry Keeler on front of house. The 2018 edition includes two programs, each featuring four short plays: the Lavender Show and the Pink Show. I caught both at opening night last night; here they are, in order of appearance.

THE PINK SHOW (approx. 75 minutes)

Fade to Black. Written/directed by Darren Stewart-Jones. Old Hollywood meets 21st century fandom when aging former Hollywood icon Bedelia Blake (Nonnie Griffin) finds an unexpected #1 fan when she meets Jamie (Nathaniel Bacon), a young gay man volunteering for Meals on Wheels. Largely secluded from the world for some time, Bedelia finds renewed public interest in her life and career as that first meeting evolves into friendship. Also featuring Philip Cairns as Mr. Johnson. Tender and nostalgic; featuring lovely, layered performances from Griffin and Bacon, as Bedelia and Jamie open up and feel at home enough to be their true selves with each other.

Labels. Written/directed by Erika Reesor. Lesbian couple Danny (Leigh Patterson) and Mia (Emily Schooley) live with Danny’s mom and are preparing for her birthday. Already stressed about the situation, when Mia finds a prescription for testosterone in Danny’s jeans, Danny has some serious explaining to do—sparking a series of confessions and revelations about their relationship and beliefs about gender. A funny, poignant and real two-hander; with grounded, engaging performances.

Diamonds on Plastic. Written/directed by Philip Cairns. Doris (Margaret Lamarre), a straight married spitfire of a southern lady of a certain age confides in us about her love of shopping and all things that sparkle—and goes on to open up about a blossoming affair with a childhood friend, also a straight married woman. Confessions of a shopaholic who adores jewels, shoes and surprisingly more; and a hilarious and entertaining performance from Lamarre, who also gives an LOL turn as Doris’s husband.

Point and Click. Written/directed by Steven Elliott Jackson; stage manager/producer Winston Stilwell. Gossiping away on his cellphone, the arrogant, catty photographer Andre (Adam Bonney) talks trash about friends and colleagues while waiting for a male model to arrive at his studio, virtually ignoring Shannon’s (Jim Armstrong) arrival. A sharply funny look at the perceptions of beauty, with schooling on fat shaming and body image; nicely paired casting, with spot on comic timing from Armstrong.

THE LAVENDER SHOW (approx. 65 minutes)

I’ve Just Seen a Face. Written/directed by Kris Davis. Charlie (Sav Binder) and their friend Mel (Chantel Marostica) attend a queer date/games night, hosted by Sage (Kasden Leo Indigo). While Mel gets to know Sage, Charlie has a near miss with Annie (Rose Tuong), but finds an opportunity for a meet cute at the Knit Café, where Annie works and teaches knitting workshops. Charlie is smitten, but how do they tell Annie that they have facial blindness? A sweet queer rom-com vibe; with hilarious, entertaining performances—particularly Marostica’s cynical, edgy comic Mel, and Binder’s adorkably awkward romantic Charlie.

Missed Connections. Written/performed by Mark Keller; directed by Nick May. Single and alone for the past two years after a break-up, a 30-something gay man surfs the Internet for missed connections, in desperate hopes that someone’s noticed him. Beginning to question his own sanity, he reminisces about his past love as he tries to find the courage to find a new one. Full of LOLs and deeply poignant moments that resonate with any lonely soul who’s had their heart broken.

The End is the Beginning. Written by Tina McCulloch; directed by Josh Downing. The relationship dynamics between Elena (Devon Hubka), Vivian (McCulloch) and LeeAnne (Kelly-Marie Murtha) play out in reverse in this brief, dramatic, time-shifting look at the nature of love and alternatives to traditional monogamy. A candid, deconstructed look at coupling in the face of an ongoing relationship; nicely present, intimate work from the cast.

Coming Clean. Written/performed by Laura Piccinin. Part stand-up, part personal storytelling, Piccinin stands behind a mic and tells us her coming out stories (yes, there’s more than one). Sharply observed, tightly delivered—and finding laughter in the pain—for an entertaining and insightful, out and proud ride.

Missed last night? No worries! Gay Play Day runs for two days, continuing today (Saturday, September 8) up in the Alumnae Theatre Studio: the Lavender Show at 3pm and 7pm; the Pink Show at 5pm and 9pm. Get advance tickets online or at the door (cash only).

And keep up with all things Gay Play Day on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hamilton Fringe preview (ish): Sinners & saints in Sister Annunciata’s Secret

sister a's secretDuring Toronto Fringe this past week, I bumped into Nonnie Griffin at the Tarragon, where I learned that she’s taking her solo show Sister Annunciata’s Secret (which premiered almost six years ago at The Annex Theatre) to Hamilton Fringe for a run at the Staircase Café Theatre Main Space. The Hamilton Fringe show is produced by Baby Gumm Productions and directed by Darren Stewart-Jones.

I attended a performance during Griffin’s Annex Theatre run, and covered the show for Alumnae Theatre’s blog. Griffin gave a compelling and powerful performance, and the show has been tweaked since its original production for running time.

Hamilton Fringe runs July 14-24 and Sister Annunciata’s Secret runs July 15-24 (see the show page for various dates/times). Highly recommended. Check out the trailer:

 

Words of pride, debate, identity & relationships in funny, moving & thoughtful Gay Play Day

GayPlayDay2014logoSpent an enjoyable afternoon at the theatre yesterday, for the fourth annual Gay Play Day, which had moved to a temporary home at Fraser Studios this year, as their original home in the Alumnae Theatre studio was booked up (A.D. Darren Stewart-Jones says they’ll be back at Alumnae next year).

Gay Play Day is an annual festival of short LGBTQ plays, and this year’s program featured eight plays (running 10-15 minutes each), some of which had been previously produced. Here’s what was on the playground for Gay Play Day 2015:

Homosexually Correct (by Mark Keller, directed and performed by Mark Keller and Cody Ray). Out and proud manifesto versus politically correct manual in this hilarious and thought-provoking debate on acceptable words to use when referencing members of the LGBTQ2SA community. Flamboyantly fabulous young actor Cody (Ray) is trying to get through his monologue, a personal shout out to his gay identity. Thing is, the overly proper and fastidious Mr. Roi (Keller) keeps interrupting him, thrusting the correctness manual on him in order to revise his text. Is it okay for a gay man to use the “F word”?

Say the Words (written and performed by Tina McCulloch, directed by PJ Hammond). Saw this lovely, poignant and wistful solo piece when it was first produced at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival in 2013 (directed by Kimberley Radmacher, performed by Alexandra Manea). Reminiscences, remembrances and regrets – nicely performed by the playwright.

Invisible (by Johnny Salib). Friends Abbey (Claudia Carino) and Brett (Salib) go from good-natured to heated debate and back again as they discuss the bisexual experience and the struggle for the “B” in LGBTQ to establish identity in an ‘either or’ social mindset. Full of sharpness, sass and hurt.

The ___ Wedding (written and directed by Josh Downing). Alex’s mom (Sandra Cardinal) won’t attend his wedding, and when he (Daniel Pupella) and fiancé Craig (Adam Malcolm) meet with her to get her to reconsider, Craig is surprised to learn why she won’t come. A funny and interesting discussion on the necessity of a wedding (given its historical origins) ensues. Great, imaginative staging with the two grooms atop a wedding cake at the top and the bottom of the play.

Save the Date (by Caity-Shea Violette, directed by Josh Downing). I saw this – and loved it – when it premiered at the InspiraTO Festival earlier this year, where it won the 2015 People’s Choice Award. A lovely two-hander, where estranged former lovers Emily (Amanda Pereira) and Andrea (Marissa Spada) meet on the morning just hours before Andrea’s wedding to a man.

Stranger Night (written and directed by Philip Cairns). Two strangers Gary (Andy H. Cameron) and Tasha (Carmin McConnell) meet one night in a laundromat and get into a sharply funny and eye-opening discussion on sex work, show business and queer identity. Is it professionally safe for an actor to come out of the closet – especially if he/she identifies as bi?

Homeschool Dropout (written and performed by Adam Bryan). Originally produced in the Gallery Mini-series at the 2015 Hamilton Fringe Festival, this is a quirky, fun solo show about a likeable guy just trying to be himself and find a place to fit in while surviving life’s bullies and haters.

The Book of Daniel (by Lawrence Aronovitch, directed by Bri Waters). Premiered at the 2013 Extremely Short Play Festival at the New Theatre of Ottawa. The Gay Play Day matinée performance was cancelled as one of the actors was unavailable. Audience members were invited to return for the evening performance, which I wasn’t able to attend due to a prior commitment.

However, I received a link to a video of the play from the playwright this morning and was able to watch it tonight. A memory play, a young Jewish man named Daniel (Brandon Szabo) struggles with math class and his widowed mother’s concerns about his social life under the watchful eye of his motherly math teacher Mrs. Cohen (Hilary Wilson). His chats with his father-like mentor Rabbi Stern (Mark Willett) open his mind and his world, and he finds himself looking back at those talks as crucial to his journey to come into himself. A wistful, yet hopeful story, with some nice, honest performances from the cast.

With shouts to technical director PJ Hammond, who kept an eye on things from the booth, and backstage assistant Henry Keeler, who helped with the scene changes.

Words of pride, debate, identity and relationships in funny, moving and thoughtful Gay Play Day 2015.

Gay Play Day closed last night; it has a very short run (3 performances – 2 evening and 1 matinée), so keep an eye out for them at Alumnae Theatre this time next year. Give the festival a follow on Twitter and a like on Facebook.

Drama, debate, deception & delirium in Gay Play Day

GayPlayDay2014logoGay Play Day Artistic Director Darren Stewart-Jones launched the opening of the third annual LGBTQ theatre festival in a packed house in the Alumnae Theatre Studio space last night.

What is Gay Play Day? It’s a festival of short, original LGBTQ-themed plays. Stewart-Jones wanted to create a space for LGBTQ stories and, much like Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival, Gay Play Day gives playwrights a chance to try out new works on stage in front of an audience. And the studio theatre at Alumnae is the perfect place to do that.

This year’s Gay Play Day features five short plays, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes in length, as well as a broad spectrum of the LGBTQ experience:

Wordplay (written and directed by Jess Bryson and Nick May, with assistant director Martin Whelan). Restaurant co-worker BFFs gay guy Nick and straight gal Jess (played by the playwrights) are polishing silverware and dishing on co-workers in the wee hours of their shift when the discussion turns to a debate about identity and oppression. Funny and thought-provoking, with mercurial dialogue and a sharp pop culture sensibility, this play features very strong and engaging performances from Bryson and May.

I’m With AIDS (written and directed by Warren Wagner). A gay man’s (Ryan Anning) account of the events that led to office hate mail and the subsequent decision to leave his job. Anecdotes weave in and out of confessions as deception and secrets are revealed. A lovely, candid and sharply witty performance from Anning, with some pointed social references.

What Ida Said (by David Bateman and Philip Cairns, directed by Durango Miller). Daphne (Cairns) and Frida (Peter Lynch) are getting ready for dinner. As Daphne dresses into a yellow gown, he recounts some disturbing news he received from Aunt Ida, an upsetting revelation about his true relationship to Frida. Cairns does a beautiful transformation in and out of drag; part Blanche Dubois, part Bette Davis – Daphne is a drama queen of the highest order. Lynch’s Frida is wryly funny and exceedingly patient – but not taking any crap from Daphne – as he attempts to bring the voice of reason to the forefront of their conversation. A sweet, absurdly funny and poignant portrait of an aging gay couple.

Euchred (by Megan Hutton, directed by Debbie Deer). A Euchre game between four women sets the scene for an evening of personal history storytelling and strengthened camaraderie as they discuss identity, personal struggles, being of a certain age – and dealing with societal expectations of womanhood and femininity. Some nice work from this ensemble cast: Samantha Lauzon (fierce fashion, brave transgender gal Stephanie), Shannon Maunder (sweet, nurturing immigrant Lena), Jillian Rees-Brown (irreverent, wry-witted butch gal Sophie) and Jorie Morrow (pensive, still writer Pat).

Pees and Qs (written and directed by Josh Downing). The rules of the men’s room intersect with corporate etiquette in this sharp, short comedy of manners and coming out – where the action plays out along a row of urinals. Really nice work by this cast: Ryan Egan as the homophobic boss Hank, Michael Lake as the pee-shy Paul and Joseph Jr. Yeboah as the desperate to pee Steve (who also turns out to be the most well-adjusted of the trio).

So there you have it. Drama, debate, deception and delirium in five touching, funny and thoughtful new LGBTQ-themed plays.

Gay Play Day has two more performances today (Sat, Sept 27) at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. You can get tickets online or at the door.

Department of Corrections: In an earlier version of this post, incorrect character names were ascribed to Jillian Rees-Brown, Shannon Maunder and Jorie Morrow; this error has since been corrected.

Toronto Fringe: A funny, charming ‘what if’ tale of Dorothy & friends in Emerald City – A musical play

emerald_cityEver wonder what happened to Dorothy and the Oz gang after she returned to Kansas? Well, wonder no more. Baby Gumm Productions presents Darren Stewart-Jones’ Emerald City – A musical play (based on the beloved Wizard of Oz characters by L. Frank Baum) at the Tarragon Main Space as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

As our story opens, life is not so much fun for Dorothy (Christie Stewart), Scarecrow (Christopher Vergara), Tin Man (Matthew Fuller) and Lion (Dillan Chiblow), as each struggles with his/her life problems. And Glinda (Rory Bray), once Dot’s BFF, is too busy with her new career as a super model to spend time with her friend. As the show progresses, we follow Dorothy and her trio of intrepid Oz pals through a group therapy session with the invisible Dr. Oz, as – through song and dance – their troubles and secrets are revealed.

This is a lovely cast with an impressive set of pipes. Stewart’s Dorothy is a go-getter, full of gumption and hope, and pondering her situation as a modern-day single gal. Vergara brings a wonderfully endearing presence and physically to Scarecrow; Fuller’s Tin Man is sharply handsome and warmly supportive, struggling with staying real and logical, but finding it difficult to mask a broken heart; and Chiblow is adorably anxious as Lion, sweet and cuddly in a leopard print onesie. And Bray nails material girl Glinda, delivering her vocals with the trademark vibrato.

With shouts to music director Nicole Byblow, choreographer Allison Beula and designer Henry Keeler’s fabulous modern-day costumes.

Emerald City is a funny, charming ‘what if’ tale of Dorothy and her Oz friends.
Running until July 13 at the Tarragon Main Space, you can check for exact dates/times for Emerald City here.

 

Drama, pathos & hilarity – now with more lesbians @ Gay Play Day

Gay Play Day poster 2 2013The second annual Gay Play Day LGBTTQ Theatre Festival of short plays ran Friday through Saturday in the Alumnae Theatre studio space, featuring works with all the drama, pathos and hilarity I remember from its inaugural fest last year. Now with more lesbians.

A.D./playwright/director Darren Stewart-Jones, wearing several other hats as producer, box office/reservations contact and all round bottle washer, assembled two programs for this year’s fest: six short plays, which ran Friday and Saturday night, and four solo shows on the Saturday matinée (the solo shows are new to the fest this year). I had the pleasure of attending the opening on Friday, then the solo shows on Saturday.

The six short plays:

Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors – written and directed by Darren Stewart-Jones, with set and costumes by Henry Keeler. Holmes and Watson shippers will love this touching, tension-filled two-hander, where we get a look at the more vulnerable side of Holmes (Nathaniel Bacon). Watson (Nick May) has just married and arrives to visit Holmes, who’s been holed up in his Baker Street apartment, steeped in cocaine and attractive young men, invited over for “tea parties.” Watson is concerned for Sherlock’s health – and Sherlock wants Watson back. And not just as a work colleague. It’s a complex, cerebral and physical relationship, and both have choices to make. Lovely, truthful performances from Bacon and May.

Let’s Spend Our Lives Together, Maybe by Tina McCulloch and directed by PJ Hammond – is a sequel to McCulloch’s sweet romcom The Object of Her Attraction, which appeared at Gay Play Day last year. We find Laurie (Mary Joseph) and Suzanne (Julie Burris), and their respective subconscious manifestations (Naomi Priddle Hunter and McCulloch), have just moved in together. And they’ve scheduled a house-warming party a week after moving day, which adds to the tension of getting used this next stage of their relationship. Thankfully, their friend Kai (Pona Tran), who we first met as the barista at the coffee shop in the first play, is there to assist – with the party and some sage advice. Really nice to see the original cast assembled again for the evolution of this partnership.

Couples – written/directed by Bruce Harrott – begins with one man tied to a chair and another interrogating him on a recent infidelity. Jon (Jonathan Lourdes) and Mark (Mark Keller) try to work on their relationship issues while struggling as working artists (playwright and actor). By turns touching and funny, it’s a truthful look at the highs and lows of a relationship, a universal theme no matter what the pairing. Lourdes and Keller do a very nice job of balancing the flippant with the poignant.

Men In Kilts – by Niall O’Reilly and directed by Nicholas Banks – is just as fun as the title suggests. Set in the bar during a wedding party, attractive single gal lawyers Cynthia (Chrissy Carr) and Jasmina (Melissa Chetty) wonder about the sexual orientation of two handsome groomsmen Ron (Michael Sutherland) and Steve (Justin Roy), who are both dressed in kilts for the occasion. Of course, the ladies are also curious about what the men are wearing under the kilts. They pair up into couples – and the women soon learn that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, a man by his kilt. Nice work by the entire ensemble – keeping it fun and also real.

Hush – by Megan Hutton and directed by Katie Messina – is a raw family drama. Sophie (Leigh Elliot), a young lesbian, struggles with her mother’s (Katie Messina) religion-driven homophobia, as well as coming out with family secrets and navigating her relationship with her older lover Pat (Jaime Polatynski), and an intervention meeting of sorts with a nun (Franny McCabe-Bennett) at her mother’s church. The mother/daughter dynamic is heartbreaking to behold, and Pat does her best with supporting her partner while grappling with her own feelings and frustration about the situation. Strong work by the cast with some difficult, sensitive topics.

The Rice Queen of Cabbagetown (excerpt) – written by Charles Hayter and directed by Lise Maher – is a clever gay twist on GB Shaw’s Pygmalion, with even more of a twist. Well-respected ESL school director Henry (Peter Nelson) learns from friend and colleague Pearse (Arthur Hamby) that his job is in jeopardy since his workplace nemesis has come up with a language program that gets even faster results than his own. The two men cook up a scheme to use Henry’s recent trick Lee (Ivan Regalado) as a guineapig student – and teach him perfect English even faster. But there may be a few things that Henry doesn’t know about his accomplices. Delightfully bitchy good fun, with a cast that attacks their parts with relish and style. Look forward to seeing where this one goes.

The four solo shows:

Hossam and Joel – written and performed by Lorenzo Pagnotta, and co-directed by Tony Babcock – takes us through the life and loves of an adorably sexy and smart single gay man as he ponders the pros and cons of playing the field vs. serious monogamy. Waking up next to someone you love is lovely, but so is an anonymous encounter at the baths. Which could end up becoming a serious relationship as well. Telling the story with humour, honesty and heart, Pagnotta manages to touch on what most singles feel as they’re out there looking for love and connection. I’d be interested to see this as a larger piece, with a full cast.

Obscuring Jude – by Dorianne Emmerton and performed by Katie Sly – is a sharply drawn, visceral, cerebral, not to mention both funny and disturbing, journey into a troubled young woman’s mind. Jude appears wearing a name tag and addresses us directly, making the audience part of her group therapy session as she unravels her history, her thoughts and meanderings. An emotional, connected and real performance from Sly.

Why I’m Not A Star – written/performed by Philip Cairns, with direction/dramaturgy by Andraya Smith – is a highly entertaining autobiographical piece of storytelling. An engaging and funny raconteur, Cairns takes us on a journey from his brief tween modelling career at the age of 11 to his experiences as a struggling actor over the years – dealing with negative perceptions of a feminine vibe, sleeping with directors – and his reactions to the loss of mentor Jackie Burroughs, and relationships with agents, casting and fellow actors. Really enjoyed seeing the evolution of this piece from an earlier excerpt I heard Cairns read at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir in August.

Faery Tale Confidential – written, directed and performed by Marcy Rogers – is a hilariously funny, socially apt, take on the world of Fae. Rogers plays a faery with attitude, on the run from Queen Mab and dealing with a blackmailing human ex-lover. She is also a faery who was meant to be an elf. As she confesses her transfae feelings, she spills the beans on the Fae world as she formulates a plan of action to resolve her plight. A big fun twist on some favourite mythological and faery tale creatures – told with frankness, adult language and edge. This is another piece I’d seen Rogers perform an earlier incarnation of – at the monthly The Beautiful and the Damned poetry cabaret – great fun to see how it’s come along.

Both the Friday and Saturday night performances sold out this year, and Stewart-Jones plans on continuing the festival next year. As its popularity continues to grow, Gay Play Day has the potential to expand into an even larger multi-day/multi-program run.

More theatre in T.O. – on right now & upcoming

So much out there to see and still no clones on hand to help me make it out to everything. Here are some shows that are continuing and upcoming:

The Village Players’ production of Les Liasons Dangereuses, by Christopher Hampton, directed by Anne Harper – running now until October 5 at the Village Playhouse.

Next To Normal at Lower Ossington Theatre, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt – running now until September 29. Check out In the Green Room’s interview with director Heather Braaten.

The second annual Gay Play Day returns to the Alumnae Theatre studio space for a two-day run September 27 & 28. Here’s the line-up for this year:

September 27 & 28 @ 8 p.m.: Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors by Darren Stewart-Jones; Let’s Spend Our Lives Together, Maybe by Tina McCulloch; Couples by Bruce Harrott; Men In Kilts by Niall O’Reilly; Hush by Megan Hutton; The Rice Queen of Cabbagetown (excerpt) by Charles Hayter

New this year – a series of matinée solo shows on September 28 @ 3 p.m.: Hossam and Joel by Lorenzo Pagnotta; Obscuring Jude by Dorianne Emmerton; Why I’m Not A Star by Philip Cairns; Fairy Tale Confidential by Marcy Rogers
Enjoy!