Toronto Fringe: Ruminations on love, beauty and aging in the nostalgic, intimate, haunting Cheri

cheri-on-the-run-productions invites us to sit down with a former courtesan as she ruminates on love, beauty and aging in the intimate, haunting Cheri. Inspired by the novels of Colette, and written and directed by Sky Gilbert, with music composed by Dustin Peters, Cheri is currently running in the Al Green Theatre for Toronto Fringe.

A music theatre piece within a theatre piece, Cheri weaves storytelling by way of personal anecdotes and reminiscences, and songs—all presented by our hostess Lea (Theresa Tova), a retired courtesan accompanied by the beautiful pianist/singer we only come to know as Cheri (Dustin Peters). And the farther she wanders down the road of memory and loves past, the more she sees in her accompanist the face of lost love—her Cheri.

Tova gives a powerhouse performance as Lea; her elegance, moxie and nostalgic melancholy hearkens back to the golden age of vaudeville and cabaret. Passionate, playful, petulant, and filled with a lust for life and all that is elegant and lovely, Lea is a hopeless romantic with a penchant for harsh honesty. And her heartbreaking torch songs are delivered with vulnerable candor and rich, resonant vocals. As Cheri, Peters is the perfect foil; fastidious, aloof and having none of Lea’s shenanigans and flirtations, Cheri (we never do learn his real name) bears himself with directness and professionalism. Cheri’s desire for privacy and boundaries could be construed as secretive and stand-offish, but one gets the impression that it’s the armour that protects his soul against the barrage of attention his beauty garners.

The march of Time is inevitable and aging is a natural part of life. We can choose to accept ourselves at each stage of our lives and continue moving forward as we cherish our memories of younger days—or risk getting lost in the past.

Cheri continues in the Al Green Theatre until July 15; check the show page for exact times and dates.

A sexy, funny & poignant look at a gay fanboy’s dream come true – My Dinner with Casey Donovan

Seanna Kennedy Photography Dinner With Casey Donovan Production Shots (20)
Michael De Rose & Nathaniel Bacon in My Dinner with Casey Donovan – photo by Seanna Kennedy Photography

In this world there are only two tragedies; one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it. – Oscar Wilde

Calvin Limehouse is about to live a gay fanboy’s dream come true: gay porn star/model Casey Donovan is coming to his house for dinner. Thing is, he lives with his parents, who don’t know he’s gay.

Set in the 1970s in a suburban home in Connecticut, The Cabaret Company’s production of Sky Gilbert’s My Dinner with Casey Donovan – directed by Gilbert and running now at the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace – could easily be called The Education of Calvin Limehouse.

The play opens with a clip from a Casey Donovan movie, projected on the back wall of the playing space and featuring Donovan emerging naked from the water like a god to join the naked man sunning himself on the beach. Calvin (Michael De Rose) then sets up the story for us as he nervously paces in front of a pair of phallus-like shrubs, which are sculpted like twin penises sheathed in condoms, the receptacles poking up nipple-like from the tips. When Casey Donovan (Nathaniel Bacon) arrives, Calvin can barely contain himself. And they are blocks away from his home and early for dinner, so they have ample time to get better acquainted as they stroll around the block. Twice. Once they arrive at Calvin’s house, the shrubbery is parted to reveal the family dining table, set for dinner (with shouts to Sheree Tams for the set and costume design).

Of course, hilarity and drama ensue over – and after – dinner. But you’re going to have to go and see that for yourself.

I can tell you that Gilbert has selected an outstanding cast to tell this story. De Rose is adorkable as the neurotic, sexually repressed fanboy; the boldness that Calvin exhibits in extending the invitation to his idol is tinged with a deep-seated insecurity and lack of maturity. Conversely, Bacon’s stunningly handsome Casey is easy-going, calm and confident, both sexuality and otherwise – but even he has his Achilles heel. Elley-Ray is a treat as Calvin’s mom Rita, a congenial and well-meaning but overprotective mother (today, she’d be referred to as a helicopter mom), her heartache and concern revealed when she shares a lovely, intimate and moving scene with Casey. Ralph Small, as Calvin’s dad Charles, gives us a hard-headed, uptight conservative patriarch who is not immune to the charms of their dinner guest, as he and Casey bond over the selection in his wine cellar.

Yep, that Casey Donovan charms the pants off the entire family. But I will say no more. Go see this play.

My Dinner with Casey Donovan is a sexy, funny and poignant look at a gay fanboy’s dream come true. But, as the saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

My Dinner with Casey Donovan runs at the TPM backspace until March 22. Seating is limited – and last night’s opening was sold out – so advance booking is strongly recommended.

Seanna Kennedy Photography Dinner With Casey Donovan Production Shots (148)
Ralph Small, Nathaniel Bacon, Elley-Ray & Michael De Rose in My Dinner with Casey Donovan – photo by Seanna Kennedy Photography


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:

Between the Sheets, February & Gay Play Days – plus Nuit Blanche!

The good times just keep on rollin’, my friends. Here are just a few fabulous arts and culture events happening right now or coming up soon:

Nightwood Theatre’s production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets at Tarragon Theatre (extra space) – started its run last night and runs until Sun, Oct 7. Directed by Kelly Thornton, and featuring actors Susan Coyne and Christine Horne. Get the 411 on this production at Nightwood’s site:

The world premiere of Lisa Moore’s play February at Alumnae Theatre (main stage) – Fri, Sept 21 – Sat, Oct 6 with a Q&A talkback with Moore, director Michelle Alexander, and the cast and creative team after the Sun, Sept 23 matinee. For details and reservations, visit the Alumnae website:

Gay Play Days, a festival of LGBT theatre, at Alumnae Theatre (studio) – Fri, Sept 28 and Sat, Sept 29 at 8 p.m. Featuring short plays: Intervention by Bruce Harrott, The Object of Her Attraction by Tina McCulloch, Stupid Bitch by Durango Miller and Ramblings of a Middle-aged Drag Queen by Darren Stewart-Jones (starring Philip Cairns), as well as a staged reading of Sky Gilbert’s Hamilton Bus Stop, starring Ellen-Ray Hennessy. For the scoop, visit their Facebook page:

Nuit Blanche 2012 (Toronto) lands a bit early this year – starting Sat, Sept 29 at 7 :03 p.m. and running till sunrise on Sun, Sept 30. I’ll be heading out to see Dr. Draw ( at the Rivoli at 8 p.m. and Lizzie Violet reading horror poetry in Small Audiences at the Theatre Local space at Artscape Wychwood Barns  at 3:30 a.m., among other artists. Check out the program/locations here: