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.

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, 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

Inaugural Gay Play Day – charming, witty & touching LGBT works

Gay Play Day – a festival of LGBT theatre, envisioned and produced by actor/playwright Darren Stewart-Jones (Baby Gumm Productions), launched its first ever run in the Alumnae Theatre Studio last night, featuring four short plays in the first half, followed by a staged reading of Sky Gilbert’s Hamilton Bus Stop in the second half.

Intervention, written and directed by Bruce Harrott, is a charming, witty and insightful look at gay male relationships. Justin (Ryan Anning) is an extremely well put together and handsome, if not somewhat uptight, young man with some serious commitment issues. Enter a roguishly handsome stranger (Eric Regimbald), who offers some wise and timely advice. Very funny, with some lovely, touching moments, and strong work by Anning and Regimbald – with a dash of It’s A Wonderful Life magic realism thrown in.

In Ramblings of a Middle-aged Drag Queen, written and directed by Darren Stewart-Jones, journalism student Ryan’s (B.J. Jeroy)  backstage interview with drag performer Miss Ogyny (Philip Cairns) takes an interesting turn as Miss O talks about growing up in a small Ontario town. Cairns is spot-on as the middle-aged, somewhat rundown drag queen – and that red and silver sequined gown is fabulous – and Jeroy is adorable as the smart, inquisitive college kid.

The Object of Her Attraction, written by Tina McCulloch and directed by PJ Hammond, is a sweet mini-rom com with a fun psychological twist. Laurie (Mary Joseph) and Suzanne (Julie Burris) meet by chance at a coffee shop, each accompanied by the embodiment of her own subconscious (Laurie’s – Naomi Priddle Hunter and Suzanne’s – Tina McCulloch). While Laurie and Suzanne fumble with their emotions, deciding whether to act on the attraction, their psychological doppelgängers provide real-timegut-level responses and advice about the situation – with hilarious results. Really nice work by the cast, also including Pona Tran as the bored and somewhat surly barista, with walk-ons by Hammond and B.J. Jeroy as customers.

In Stupid Bitch, written and directed by Durango Miller, handsome young actor/waiter Matt (Gregory Ragle) is tired and frustrated at continually having to repel the advances of long-time would-be gentleman caller Professor Rachlin (David Bateman) – with some surprising results when Rachlin begins chatting with the restaurant cook Jimmy (Andrew T. Gaunce). Some seriously funny work by this ensemble cast, with some fun melodrama thrown in – especially Rory Moy as restaurant owner/manager Terry. Be careful what you wish for.

Hamilton Bus Stop by Sky Gilbert, starring Nick Green and Ellen-Ray Hennessey, is a raw, funny and real two-hander. Two strangers, a young gay man from Toronto and a middle-aged woman from Ancaster, wait for the bus – both dealing with their own inner turmoil, the stress erupting to the surface during their occasional, often edgy interaction. Two solitudes longing for someone to talk to, struggling to connect in the moment with the person in front of them, but addressing their fears and pain to the audience instead. Intensely funny and poignant, as well as socially astute – with outstanding work by Green and Hennessey – neither character is what they appear. Green’s Retro is all cool, foul-mouthed and dark, masking the devastated, lost boy inside – and Hennessey’s Cookie is all happy-go-lucky and loud, in a leopard-print ensemble that looks like it was designed by the House of Prickley, yet so crushed, confused and worried about her daughter. Looking forward to seeing what happens next with this play.

If you missed Gay Play Day last night, you have one more chance to catch this mini-fest of LGBT works tonight: Saturday, September 29 at 8 p.m. up in the Studio at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St., Toronto – at Berkeley/Adelaide St. E.). For more info, visit Gay Play Day’s Blogspot site here:

Perhaps make it part of your Nuit Blanche outing this evening.

Speaking of Nuit Blanche, I’ll be meeting some pals to see Dr. Draw ( perform at the Rivoli at 8 p.m., then we plan on making our way north to see Lizzie Violet’s horror poetry reading in Small Audiences at the Theatre Local space at Artscape Wychwood Barns at 3:30 a.m. Check out the program/locations here: