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 stages of grief & struggle for recovery injected with humour in the moving To Jane with Love

to_jane_with_love_web-250x250Promise Productions explores addiction and grief in their production of Deon Denton’s To Jane with Love, directed by Denton and running at the Al Green Theatre during Toronto Fringe. The show will also be featured in the Midtown International Theater Festival in New York later this month.

Scenes of the evolution of Henry (Geoff Mays) and Jane’s (Mish Tam) relationship weave in and out of the aftermath of a life-altering traumatic experience that changes their lives forever. As much as Henry resists help from his psychology-spouting parole officer Jonas (Philip Cairns), it’s his 10-year-old neighbour Sushanna (Aviv Cohen) who appears to be getting through. Running through Henry’s story, we also see the recovery process of two support group members (Fraulein Almariego and Shobba Hatte).

Mays gives a nice, multi-faceted performance as Henry; a sharp cynic with a serious drinking problem, he’s also a romantic at heart with a deep love of words. Tam is adorably bubbly as Jane; a vibrant spirit who loves books, and revels in performing choice quotes and pieces of poetry. Cairns gives a solid, layered performance as Jonas, the wry-witted and wise parole officer who executes his job with a no-nonsense brand of tough love, and struggles with the clients who don’t make it. Cohen is a treat as Sushanna; a wise guy herself, she shares Jane’s love of books and has an insatiable – and sometimes inappropriate – curiosity. And really nice work from Almariego and Hatte as two women in different stages of recovery.

The stages of grief and struggle for recovery injected with humour in the moving To Jane with Love.

To Jane with Love continues at the Al Green Theatre until July 10. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Shimmering trees dancing in Philip Cairns’ Colours of the City exhibit

Colours of the City best poster 2015Was very happy to be able to make it out to the final day of Philip Cairns’ Colours of the City exhibit at Arcadia Gallery on Sunday – and it was a great afternoon of art and chatting with Cairns, surrounded by colour and warmth on a chilly grey day.

An exhibit of mostly paintings (acrylic on paper), with a couple on wood and one colour pencil drawing, Colours of the City is a collection of mainly abstract expressionist works, some intense and using a darker palette, while others are more subtle and understated – all are organic, beautiful, and shimmering with gold and silver highlights.

Colours of the City features a number of renderings of trees which, while it seems an unlikely subject given the exhibit’s title, it reminds the viewer that Toronto is home to a large number and variety of green spaces. The dynamic composition and vibrant brush work bring these trees to life, at times appearing anthropomorphized – and, like the mysterious woman in the purple gown in the pencil drawing, even dancing.

Cairns has also included some lovely land/seascapes, inspired by the works of Rae Johnson. Here are some highlights from the Colours of the City exhibit:

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The show has finished, but you can view his paintings and drawings online via his various website pages. Keep an eye out for Cairns’ work in future exhibitions.

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
Enjoy!

Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir launch @ Q Space – fun, sexy & smart

Writer/poet/horror aficionado/editor Lizzie Violet launched her brand new monthly cabaret – Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir – at Q Space last night. And what a fun, sexy and thought-provoking night it was.

The cabaret premiere included feature performers Mullet the Clown, David Bateman and Kat Leonard, as well as a very talented line-up of open mic folks. Music, comedy, spoken word, poetry, a zombie clown telling stories and performing card tricks – it was a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime, visceral and cerebral, personal and political, as these talented artists took the stage. Q Space is a casual, intimate, welcoming storefront place, with a cool, eclectic and creative group of folks – and it’s the perfect home for the cabaret as friends, fellow artists and neighbourhood peeps gather to support some incredible local talent.

Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir will be a monthly event, the second Sunday of the month, and will feature music, vaudeville, comedy, burlesque, poetry and open mic performances. The next cabaret is set for Sunday, April 14 (7 – 10 p.m) – with feature artists author/poet Brandon Pitts, music by Cry Wolf (Jess McAvoy and Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot), and burlesque performer Bella Fox. Come on by, get yourself a beer or a latte – and enjoy.

Because this is Cabaret Noir, I decided to do this batch of pics in black and white.

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Tash Jolly (aka Super Tash) performs some spoken word
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Duncan Armstrong
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Brenda Clews
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Vanessa McGowan performs “On other Chunks” from her book Divine Cockeyed Genius
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Feature performer Mullet the Clown tells us a story
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Host Lizzie Violet reads “Chlamydia is not a Flower!”
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Feature performer Kat Leonard performed 3 new songs, as well as some Depper Love favourites
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Feature performer David Bateman reads some short creative non-fiction
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Philip Cairns
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Norman Allen
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Brandon Pitts
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Feature performers (left – right) Mullet the Clown, David Bateman, Kat Leonard & host Lizzie Violet

Valentine’s Day goes Femme Fatale @ The Beautiful & the Damned

Passion, poetry, music – and fun, sexy and moving times – at Glad Day Bookshop last night during The Beautiful and The Damned Femme Fatale Valentine’s Day edition, hosted by the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet, who also acted as quiz mistress on this month’s dead celeb Gloria Grahame trivia questions. I had a blast, live tweeting the event, along with pics of all the performers.

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blueVenus: Jessica Stuart (guitar & backup vocals) & Andrea de Boer (lead vocals & violin)
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Philip Cairns
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Lucille Barker
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blueVenus’ Andrea de Boer

Feature performers included Josh Smith, Myna Wallin and blueVenus (Andrea de Boer & Jessica Stuart), and there were several excellent open mic artists as well, including Kat Leonard, who got us up on our feet dancing to the One Billion Rising music video on her iPad. Check out the pics from last night’s festivities.