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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Toronto Fringe: The trajectory of a life & its impact on others in the socially astute, moving Tears of a Bullet

Hobby Horse Theatre Co. explores the right and wrong sides of a social justice argument in its affecting Toronto Fringe production of Josh Downing’s Tears of a Bullet;* directed by Jeff Kennes and running in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace.

Writer Jim Abernathy (Stephen Flett), who lives with mobility issues and recently lost his partner Martin, has been evicted from their apartment because only Martin’s name was on the lease. Tasked with making sure Jim vacates the premises is Danny Davis (Adrian Leckie), the new building superintendent, who lives with his wife Louise (Chantel McDonald). Property management has promised a bonus cheque for getting Jim out; and Danny and Louise could really use that money, as they have their first child on the way. Jim is gay and the Davises are conservative Christians, bumping up the tension in an otherwise tense situation. Louise’s estranged brother Charles is also gay; and she’s come to the city to find him, filled with guilt that she drove him away. The Davises don’t own a computer, so she reaches out to Jim for help in locating her brother.

Loosely based on sci-fi writer Thomas Disch’s last years, the conversations in Tears of a Bullet evolve into debates on social justice as it pertains to the control exerted over women, LGBTQ people and visible minorities by the law, the Bible and corporate policy—the oppressor wielding power to keep the oppressed down.

Lovely, connected work from this three-hander cast in these timely discussions of societal rules and relationships; each navigating his/her character’s grip on a belief system as they try to make sense out of a senseless world. Jim may seem like a cantankerous old man on the surface, but his dry, razor-sharp wit and penchant for pointing out harsh truths masks a deep sorrow over the loss of his partner and the impending loss of his home. And, more importantly, Danny and Louise (who also happen to be Black) find that they do indeed have more in common with Jim than they might think—and come to question whether they’re on the right side of this eviction notice.

Tears of a Bullet* continues in the Tarragon Extraspace until July 14; check the show page for exact dates/times.

*For those following along in your missals (aka the hard copy of the Toronto Fringe Festival program), look for The Elephant Circle on p.66; the accompanying graphic and synopsis on p.66 reflect Tears of a Bullet. Apparently, there was an online registry mix-up with the title of Downing’s Hamilton Fringe show. The show title listing is correct on the Toronto Fringe site.

Wistful, whimsical, dreamy & mind-bending theatre in InspiraTO Festival blueShow line-up

inspiratofestival-1Part two of my InspiraTO Festival opening night double header at Alumnae Theatre on Thursday night. Here’s what went down during the blueShow line-up:

Intersection by Josh Downing, directed by Yehuda Fisher. Why does a heartsick young man want to cross the dangerously busy road? And why is the crossing guard so reluctant to help him? Actors Tom Beattie (the squirrely, despairing Rich) and Christina Song (the wonderfully deadpan and seemingly unflappable crossing guard Cat) have amazing comedic chemistry in this wacky tale of connection and interaction – nicely done!

Of a Feather by Dale Sheldrake, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson. Marjory and Dean have conversation. Bingo is happening soon. A poetic, fantastical exploration of communication, empathy and connection. This piece uses beautiful, lyrical language – evocatively delivered by actors Camille Marshall and Kevin Chew (who also appears in redShow Meeting Mr. Right – and I wouldn’t have known had I not recognized the name).

Poison Control by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, directed by Rebecca Ballarin. An emergency call to a poison control centre is not what you think. The comedic impact of this show owes a lot to the hilariously earnest performances of Madeline Leon and Derek Masterson.

Last Night at the Paradise by Elektra, directed by Annemieke Wade. A disco fantasy/memory as we watch DJ Larry Levan setting up for one last party at Paradise Garage. There’s a lovely, optimistic melancholy in Ryan Singh’s performance as the intensely committed party maestro DJ Larry; and Sheree Spencer is Donna Summers and all that as the stunning and sparkling Disco.

Save the Date by Caity-Shea Violette, directed by Josh Downing. Remarkably poignant with touches of rom-com to ease the ache as two former lovers meet hours before one of them gets married. Did they make a mistake? Lovely, tender and truthful work from actors Amanda Pereira and Marissa Spada.

Brother, Brother by Meghan Greeley, directed by Dale Sheldrake. Two kids meet after school in the schoolyard. Four bucks for four words. A beautifully rendered two-hander as one kid helps a kid with a speech impediment get the words right for a very important event tomorrow. Really nice work from actors Danny Parkes and Madeleine Brown as the two kids, who have very different personalities, but tightly connected in their united goal for their bittersweet project.

Roaming by Phillip Gerson, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson. Set in New York City, three people sit at separate coffee shop tables, each having a conversation on their cell. Perspective is everything when it comes to attitude and point of view. This cast nails the three very different responses to life in NYC: hopeful optimism of a newcomer (Christina Leonard), the jaded irritation of an out of work actor (Marko Djurdjic) and the wistful nostalgia and romance with a city of a life-long resident in transition (Abbas Pajooman).

TEN: A Short History of InspiraTO, written/directed by Dominik Loncar. A bonus show performed only on opening night and again on June 2 at the end of the blueShow program – a brief, fun look at the history of the InspiraTO Festival. Shouts to the cast for taking us on this tense, funny and inspirational journey: Farah Farah, Irene Theocharis, Tom Beattie, Natalie Bazar and Dominik Loncar.

With shouts again to the InspiraTO creative team: Dominik Loncar (AD & producer), Lumir Hladik (Associate AD, set & motion media designer), Paul Hardy (lighting designer), and music mixes by DJ Angus James (redShow) and DJ Parker Nowlan (blueShow).

InspiraTO’s blueShow line-up is a sampling of wistful, whimsical, dreamy and mind-bending theatre. Some like it sublime – do you?

Here’s the full line-up for the 2015 InspiraTO Theatre Festival – check the website for exact dates/times:
redShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
blueShow: Seven 10-minute plays in one show performed on the Mainstage
quickies: Ten stand-alone, 10-minute plays, are performed at the Trinity studio (2nd floor) every half hour
urbanART X: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Victoria Mohr-Blakeney presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
urbanART Y: OCAD University Curatorium – curator Matthew Kyba presents three contemporary artists and their work on stage
theatreSafari: Audiences are led to four off-site-specific shows and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
theatreCarrousel: Audiences attend four site specific “rotating” shows within the Alumnae building and watch a 10-minute play at each venue
readings: A reading of select plays from InspiraTO’s 10-year history (180 10-minute plays produced to date)
talkBacks: Post-performance Q&A session with the Artistic Director, Associate Artistic Director and graduates of Theatre InspiraTO’s Playwriting Academy

The InspiraTO Festival continues all over the Alumnae Theatre space until June 6; you can purchase festival passes and advance tix online here or get them at the door.