SummerWorks: Memory, nostalgia & queer men longing to connect in the quirky, charming, poignant Box 4901

Thirteen letters responding to a 1992 gay personals ad sit in a box unanswered. What does the recipient say to these men 26 years later? Memory, nostalgia, connection and hindsight figure prominently in timeshare productions’ SummerWorks presentation of novelist Brian Francis’ autobiographical Box 4901; directed by Rob Kempson and running on the Theatre Centre’s Incubator stage.

Long before the age of smartphones and Grindr, a 21-year-old Francis—then a student at the University of Western Ontario—posted a personals ad in The London Free Press looking for a connection in the small LGBTQ world of conservative London, Ontario. Of the approximately two dozen letters he received, 13 went unanswered and were discovered years later. Francis narrates and responds as 13 queer actors perform each letter.

Featuring actors Bilal Baig, Hume Baugh, Keith Cole, Izad Etemadi, Daniel Krolik, Michael Hughes, Tsholo Khalema, Eric Morin, G Kyle Shields, Chy Ryan Spain, Jonathan Tan, Chris Tsujiuchi and Geoffrey Whynot, the responses to the ad range from the bashful to the pornographic. Coming from a variety of men—ranging in age from high school senior to father figure—from various walks of life (“regular guy,” teacher, farmer, jock, “straight-acting,” leather community), the letters are sassy, charming, eloquent and humourous. The replies are frank, witty, sharply observational; and tempered with kindness, and the hindsight of age and wisdom.

There are some missed chances and missed bullets. All of these men share the same desire to reach out; longing for connection and a cure for aloneness, there’s a vulnerable authenticity in even the cockiest of responses. And the fear of being outed to family or housemates is as palpable and strong as the excitement and anticipation of a new connection.

Box 4901 has one more SummerWorks performance at the Theatre Centre on Aug 19 at 4:45 p.m.; it’s already sold out, but you can try your luck by arriving early to see if there are any no-shows.


Creatures of myth & memory in the playful, pointed, evocative Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory

Cover art from Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory by Dee Sparling     

dee original smallDee Sparling is a local Toronto poet/spoken word artist and singer. We’ve been friends for about 16 years, and folks who frequented Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir, either at Q Space or The Central, will recognize Sparling, who performed poetry and a cappella songs during the open mic spots. She’s previously self-published two poetry collections, Sol Believers: Prose-Poetry from the Orion Spur and Freedom Codes: Prose-Poetry from Empires Within, and has recently published Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory.

In the Author’s Note, Sparling describes Cryptids as playing “upon the concept of nostalgia and the role it takes in shaping personal and societal narratives,” as well as featuring “various types of mythical beasts and conjurings.” Cryptids as pieces of memory, and also as mythical creatures and monsters.

Cryptids is a magical, evocative collection of 16 poems, woven with rich, textured language that includes ancient biblical (“Ecce Venus” and “Gethsemane”) and mythological (the nod to the Kraken in “Fimbulwinter”), as well as political and natural, references. Reading these poems, one gets the feeling of being gathered around a campfire, hearing tales both fictional and non-fictional—especially “Credit Valley Cryptids (A Final Goodbye),” which conjures up reminiscences of a different time and place with its compass-eye view of ghosts, shades of history and natural landmarks.

Some of the pieces are playful in their observations, taking the point of view of the creatures themselves (“The Underground” and “Memory and the Moray Eel”) or ponder the situation of a creature (“Sparrow without a Care”). And “Painted Desert” portrays the otherworldly, deadly beauty of a landscape with a cheeky, Wild West flavour—the High Noon of the cacti—while drawing a metaphor for the will to thrive and live, coupled with warnings of more parched earth on the horizon.

The cautionary tone continues into space with “Centaurus Loves Cassiopeia,” highlighting humanity’s sense of entitlement with the line “Earth, thy vanity begins… with the licking of your lips;” into the digital realm in “Troll Bytes” and the perception of power in a world of ongoing obsolescence.

Creatures of politics aren’t spared in the pointed and sharply funny “A Day in the Counter-Revolution,” a satirical evolution of man as political animal. Or was it all a dream? And ruminations on the younger generation and nature take on an introspective, speculative tone in “Millennial Breeze” and “Nature Remembers You.”

Words that paint pictures, reminding us of how tricky memory and perception can be—and how these combine to create our own mythology.

Creatures of myth and memory in the playful, pointed, evocative Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory.

Keep an eye out for Dee Sparling at Toronto poetry/spoken word events.

Identity, community & calling shenanigans on BS in the raw, real, nostalgic Situational Anarchy

 Graham Isador in Situational Anarchy


Pressgang Theatre joins forces with Pandemic Theatre to present Graham Isador’s one-man work of creative non-fiction Situational Anarchy, direction/dramaturgy by Tom Arthur Davis and Jivesh Parasram, and opening last night at Stop Drop N Roll.

Autobiographical, with an altered timeline and an amalgamation of several bands that were seminal in Isador’s life, Situational Anarchy is part self-discovery, part confession, and part ‘fuck you’ to betrayal and bullshit.

From the thoughtful, curious 11-year-old whose mind is blown when his mum gets real about his grade 6 music performance, to the awkward, large and bullied kid stumbling onto puberty, Graham is searching for meaning and desperate to belong. Try as he may, he can’t seem to find his place and almost checks out—then he discovers the punk band Against Me and its lead singer Laura Jane Grace, who later transitioned from male to female. Beyond the music, the social activism and humanity of this world resonate strongly.

His joy at discovering the music and the message increases when he finds community in the band’s online chatroom—and the cool, fun, smart Mouse, who lives in LA and steals his heart. Things fall apart when he gets caught up in Mouse’s unhealthy body image lifestyle and Against Me signs with Warner Music—which he views as a sell-out, as Warner also owns CNN—and he loses that online community and Mouse. Things come to a violent head when he drops by a local punk bar. It’s definitely not the community he knows and loves. Drafting a letter to Laura Jane Grace throughout, his correspondence serves as a framework for his story. And he’s calling bullshit on her. Years later, he takes a job interviewing her. So much to say.

Staged with multiple microphones, Situational Anarchy is a punk rock solo theatre piece. Isador’s performance is genuine, raw and personal, revealing a dark, edgy sense of humour and a profound longing to connect and belong. Weaving stories of coming of age, body image, homophobia, music and activism, he opens and closes his heart and mind to us in a funny and heart-breaking, at times violent, misfit’s journey of storytelling—reminding us of the power of music and message to inspire and unite.

With shouts to the design/running team: Ron Kelly (sound), Laura Warren (lighting/projection) and Heather Bellingham (stage manager).

Identity, community and calling shenanigans on bullshit in the raw, real, nostalgic Situational Anarchy.

Situational Anarchy continues at Stop Drop N Roll (300 College St., Toronto—above Rancho Relaxo) until June 3. Tickets at the door are Pay What You Want; advance tickets available online for $15. Heads-up: Seating very limited; only 25 seats per night.

All proceeds from the show (after expenses) will be donated to Trans Lifeline [US: (877) 565-8860 Canada: (877) 330-6366] and Gender is Over.

The closing performance will be followed by a set from Stuck Out Here.

Preview: Ode to an absent friend in poignant, funny & nostalgic Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

Scooter ThomasBlack Rabbit Theatre and The Box Toronto have joined forces to remount Black Rabbit’s production of Peter Parnell’s Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World, directed by Rachael Moase, assisted by Mélissa Ringuette, and opening at The Box Toronto (89 Niagara Street) on September 24. I stopped by The Box last night for a preview.

When Dennis (James King) receives a call from his mother that his boyhood friend Scooter (Dan Curtis Thompson) has died, he responds with grief and a trip into memory. As the play unfolds, he and Scooter play out vignettes from their friendship that span from childhood to young adulthood, with King playing all the other assorted people from their lives. Best friends, but polar opposites, Dennis is a sweet guy who likes to play it safe and colour within the lines, while Scooter is a big charming bundle of irrepressible energy and fun, who doesn’t always stay on the right side of the law. As they grow up, we see that Dennis falls easily in step with the traditional life journey of education, career and getting his own place, while Scooter struggles with college, eventually dropping out to work at the post office while living with his parents, where his biggest goal is getting his own place. And even though Dennis and Scooter drift apart during their college years, it’s obvious that Dennis is concerned about the path his friend is taking – or not, in this case – and wants to be there for him. It is here where their personality differences come to conflict.

Outstanding performances from King and Thompson throughout this high-energy, well-paced 70-minute play. As Dennis, James brings a nice combination of buddy and protector to the friendship dynamic, excited to share every detail of life’s experiences, and hurt and angry when he learns that Scooter’s been holding out no him – and even more so when he becomes suspicious about the circumstances of Scooter’s death. James also adeptly shifts into playing other characters from their shared history: Scooter’s strict, unforgiving dad; Scooter’s older brother; and friends and teachers. Each characterization is nuanced, with a distinct energy, physicality and vocal quality – and in some cases, the shifts are very quick. Thompson’s Scooter is full of curiosity, adventure and mischief – Puckish as opposed to juvenile delinquent. Not cut out for academics or the corporate world, he has a lost boy quality about him as he struggles to find his way after high school, trying to come to grips with fading hopes and dreams. Youthful expectations and reality – and the road not taken – figure prominently in Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

The awesome pre-show soundtrack of 60s and 70s pop favourites, including songs by Fleetwood Mac (“Landslide” works particularly well for this show), The Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel – coupled with the 70s (Scooter) and 80s (Dennis) costuming – make this memory play a trip down cultural memory lane as well. Dennis and Scooter (had he lived) would be in their 50s now.

Ode to an absent friend in poignant, funny and nostalgic two-hander Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World runs at The Box Toronto from Sept 24 – Oct 4; advance tix available online – it’s an intimate space, so booking ahead is strongly recommended.

In the meantime, give Black Rabbit Theatre, The Box Toronto and the show a Like on Facebook. And check out the Scooter Thomas trailer, which features interview clips with Moase, Thompson and King: