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:

 

Marilyn Monroe in the first person: Nonnie Griffin’s remarkable Marilyn – After

Nonnie Griffin as Marilyn - B&W by Yuri Dojc © - 720 x 1024
Nonnie Griffin as Marilyn Monroe – photo by Yuri Dojc

Frank Sinatra music plays over the speakers. A single pale blue velvet upholstered chair sits centre stage, accompanied by a side table with a goblet of water. A man in a suit and bow tie (David Roche, also assistant to the producer) walks to the bottom of the staircase. And then she appears at the top of the stairs – bright, blonde and sparkly, dressed in white and ivory.

What if Marilyn Monroe came back to tell us her story, in her own words?

This is exactly what actor/playwright Nonnie Griffin does in her one-woman show Marilyn – After. Produced by Crazy Folk Productions and Fern Densem, and directed by Peggy Mahon, the show opened to a full house in the Tallulah’s Cabaret space at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre last night.

Monroe, who adored older people and never had a chance to grow old herself, takes the stage as an older version of herself to share stories of her life: her personal history and milestone moments, and her thoughts and emotional responses as the events of her life unfold. From her heart-wrenching childhood of living in aunts’ homes, in an orphanage and various foster homes; to struggling with extreme sexism and sexual harassment to establish a career in Hollywood; to her rocky marriages and relationships with lovers, film successes, and an untimely and suspicious death at 36, Marilyn – After is more than a mere history of an icon.

Channeling Monroe with every gesture, facial expression and intonation, Griffin gives a moving and entertaining performance. A high school drop-out, but a fierce reader, and smarter than she was ever given credit for, Monroe was deeply insecure about her talent – even as she showed great professional chutzpah in the face of industry bastards. As Griffin evokes both the star and the woman, we see a Marilyn who wanted more than a stellar career as an actress – we see a woman who wanted to be loved, respected and find family. No wonder Monroe is such a huge gay icon – and Tallulah’s is the perfect space for this show.

Marilyn – After is a poignant, funny and engaging piece of first-person storytelling, told with truthfulness, respect and love by the remarkable Nonnie Griffin.

Marilyn – After runs Friday, Oct 10 – Sunday, Oct 12 and Thursday, Oct 16 – Sunday, Oct 19 (no shows Mon, Oct 13 – Wed, Oct 15) – weeknights at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. You can purchase advance tickets online at Buddies or by calling 416-975-8555.

Get yourself out to Buddies and see this show – please note the early curtain time for weeknight performances. In the meantime, take a look at the Globe and Mail video piece on the show.