Review: The Love Crimes of Frances Lark + Wand Portal (Buddies in Bad Times, presented by Heartache Theatre)

Frances Lark

Double-bill of queer comedies takes to the stage at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Buddies kicks off it’s Pride programming with a double bill, The Love Crimes of Frances Lark + Wand Portal, the former being a queer noir from playwright Hope Thompson and the latter being Dawn Whitwell and Carolyn Taylor’s improvisational docu-comedy.

Double bills can sometimes vary in quality, and I found these two pieces to be vastly different: Love Crimes was an unsatisfying piece of fluff, while Wand Portal was an insightfully searing piece of comedy.

The Love Crimes of Frances Lark posited itself as a queer take on 1950’s radio drama. A radio introduced the action and played a significant role throughout, while the situation was classic: vacationers in a remote cabin terrorized by a murderer who might be one of their own.

The acting was overdone, which fits the genre, but without any punchlines, overacting quickly loses its comedic appeal. It was mildly entertaining to see Ava (Andrya Duff) throw herself against the wall with a high whine of unreasonable fear the first time, but as it went on I became annoyed at the lack of payoff. There were maybe two or three laugh lines in the whole show, and they were pretty cheap.

Jack (Brandon James Sim) was well-cast as the straight man who simmered danger, broadcasting that violence would inevitably erupt. Molly (Johnny Walker) was the most interesting character on stage, and when her origins were revealed I had momentary hope that things might get very dark, which can be its own sort of payoff, but that’s not where the script went.

I understand why a queer show needs to represent the straight man as the only villain. But it was so predictable and one-note that I wasn’t satisfied at all, and the only real joke — a character named Richard, known as Dick, so you can see how that played out — was exactly that: played out.

But then Wand Portal came on to redeem the evening. Their set-up was simple: they interviewed a “Celebrity Guest” and then did improv based on the guest’s answers. The improv team itself was stellar, and included Gavin Crawford, who I already love.

The guest for the evening was Maija Martin, a criminal defense lawyer, and while the improv made the show funny, it was Martin who made it relevant. In the very first interview, Martin talked about how the system she works in was meant to provide justice, but instead is a bastion of racism: for example, carding.

I was wary to see what the lily-white roster of improvers would do with that, but they did well. None of them tried to “play black.” Instead, we met a by-the-actual-law cop who barked orders at partiers, including “show me your ID, you don’t have to and you can walk away any time, but show it to me now.” It was hilarious, sad, and refreshing to see this satirical representation of a horrendous practice.

The Wand Portal show made many relevant points, some of which was useful news to the audience, such as the exact illegality of smoking vs. possessing marijuana. Throughout it all, they kept the audience in gales of laughter. I would see them again any time, and in my mind they were well worth sitting through Frances Lark and the admission cost of 15 bucks.


Photo courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times.