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.

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Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in playful, disturbing and disorienting Half a League

Banner image for Half a LeagueHalf a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…
– “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of Half a League, by Scott Garland and directed by Alexander Offord, had its gala opening at Fraser Studios last night. And what a trip it was.

There’s an eerie atmosphere when you walk into the theatre. In the midst of the detritus of the junkyard set – featuring three distinct piles of waste and discarded household items – a dirty faded pale yellow stuffed dog dangles limply from a hangman’s noose. Over the speakers, you can hear a tinny, static-filled robotic voice reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” playing on a loop.

When the house lights go down, a figure emerges from the house entrance, shuffling with great effort as he drags a full hockey bag to the stage. Arming himself with an electric bass, he then takes up his place behind the microphone stage right. It is here that we’re able to get a good look at him. In period costume that includes tails, he is in mime-style white face with circular rosy red cheeks. Eventually, we will learn that he is called Sir Rupert (Victor Pokinko).

Then, bam! Three boys emerge from their hiding places among the three piles of junk (their “posts,” as we soon here them described): Peter (Mamito Kukwikila), Jim (Stephanie Carpanini) and Sam (Katie Corbridge, also the producer/public outreach gal for Rarely Pure Theatre). The boys appear to be playing soldiers. The junkyard is their territory and they are maintaining and defending it. There is a lost boys sense about these kids – and even though their roles within the unit are well-defined, there is the sense that they’re not sure who they are. And when a stranger named Billy (Nicholas Porteous) appears unexpectedly in their midst, the “game” changes dramatically. All while Sir Rupert moves throughout the scene, silently witnessing the proceedings. Skulking unseen, but not always in the background, he only opens his mouth when Pete tells the story of meeting him – his words cryptic, delivered with a malevolent tone. And we learn that it is Sir Rupert’s words that have inspired this war game.

Pokinko does a marvelous job as the ever-present Sir Rupert, going from a seemingly doll-like and innocuous observer to stalker/puppet master – like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a death metal sensibility. Kukwikila has a commanding presence as Pete, the brains of the operation – the senior officer and strategist, the builder of the game as he was inspired to do by Sir Rupert’s words, drawn in and mesmerized – and fully committed to creating and maintaining this world. Carpanini’s Jim is the brawn; all ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ – and Pete and Sam are right to keep him away from firearms. Stout-hearted and loyal, Jim doesn’t question why – he just does. And Corbridge’s Sam, the youngest of the group, is the heart and soul; trying to be tough and pull his weight, but struggling with the uncertainty of his youth and more at home with a stuffed animal than a weapon. All three female actors do an outstanding job of capturing boy culture, the unbridled bravado only reined in by the rules and etiquette of the game, layered over that afraid, lost boy quality. And Porteous’s interloper Billy is a strange one, and his arrival is a particular curiosity (and I’m not going to spoil that here); he does an excellent job of switching on to the game, without losing his sense of mystery. Is he just playing along or really into it? Who are these guys?

Along with the question of who these boys are, the play brings up the issues of kids’ exposure to violence – real or imaginary – and how the glorification of war so easily seeps into a child’s consciousness. See what you think. I think that’s about all I’m going to say. You’ll just have to see this for yourselves. Okay, I will say: long after you leave the theatre, the chanting will haunt you: Half a league, half a league, half a league…

With shouts to the design team for their creative work on this strange, troubling world: Jake Merritt (set), Gaby Grice (costume), props (Lauren Dobbie and Margaret Evraire) and Pokinko (music).

Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in the playful, disturbing and disorienting world of Half a League.

Get out to Fraser Studios to see this. In the meantime, get a sneak peek of the show via interviews with playwright Scott Garland, director Alexander Offord and producer/actor Katie Corbridge.

Half a League runs at Fraser Studios until May 31; you can purchase advance tix online here. You can also keep up with Rarely Pure Theatre on Twitter.

Magic, heart, comedy & truth in and out of love (again) in 52 Pick-up remount

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Playing one of the four rotating couples in the production, Ruth Goodwin & Alexander Crowther toss the deck into the air in 52 Pick-up

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.

52 Pick-up continues at Fraser Studios until March 22. Seating is limited, so booking ahead is strongly recommended – you can do so online here (and see the full schedule and what couple is on when).

Cue6 takes us to the edge of funny & disturbing – Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up

kate & samCue6 Theatre Company continues to push the edge of hilarious and disturbing with its current production, the Canadian premiere of Joel Kim Booster’s Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up, directed by Jill Harper and running at Fraser Studios.

The Kate (Karen Knox) and Sam (AJ Vaage) of the title are the teen movie stars of Ghost forest, a fantasy series that finds a young ghost hunter falling in love with his supernatural prey. Their on again/off again off-screen romance has just ended, to much tabloid coverage, and Kate’s life appears to be spinning out of control as she gets her own headlines as Hollywood’s bad girl de jour. Bill (Tim Walker) and Becky (Rebecca Liddiard) are a pair of overzealous fans who decide to execute a bizarre couple’s therapy intervention on the two young celebs – by kidnapping them and holding them hostage in Bill’s apartment. Relationship revelations emerge – and not just for Kate and Sam.

Adeptly shifting between the action in Bill’s living room and scenes from Ghost forest, this dark comedy takes a stab at the cult of celebrity, teen fantasy fiction and fandom – and this cast nails it big time. Knox’s Kate is sharp and edgy, her fuck-you attitude dissolving to show a genuine, savvy and severely confused young woman. Vaage is a sweetie as Sam, a sensitive romantic who’s trying to stay real, and who appears to be more like his film character than Kate. Walker brings a hilariously nerdy sense of hesitation and wonder to 30-something fanboy Bill, a mall cop on disability who lives vicariously through his movie heroes; and Liddiard’s Becky is a big ball of teen fangirl exuberance and quirky, sometimes cruel, edge – extremely passionate about and devoted to her favourite fantasy series and willing to go to great lengths to protect it.

Big shouts to set (Christine Groom) and props design (Jenny So) for the fanboy living room, complete with sci-fi/fantasy figurines – still in their original packaging – mounted on the walls; a rack of weapons on top of the shelf that houses the movie collection; and the signed Ghost forest movie poster, taking pride of place in the centre of it all. I also loved the intermission music – an evocative fantasy movie soundtrack (sound design by Tim Lindsay).
Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up is a darkly funny look at celebrity relationships, fandom and intervention. Running until June 21 at Fraser Studios, I’d suggest booking ahead, as seating is limited. In other words, go see this.