Review: Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender (Videofag)

The latest show at Videofag in Toronto left our reviewer with more questions than answers

Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender, written by and starring Jesse LaVercombe is playing at Videofag in Toronto, ON. January 5th-12th, 2016Nothing pains me more than seeing a show that I struggle to understand. I felt like I could find the questions in this play but was left without the answers. Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender is a one-man show currently running at Videofag until January 12th and is written and performed by Jesse LaVercombe under the dramaturgy of award winning writer, Guillermo Verdecchia.

LaVercombe is instantly likable the moment he walks onto the stage. He is easy on the eyes and hard to look away from. As the play progresses, it becomes quite clear that he is also a very talented performer. His earnest and easy delivery is refreshing to see. I just wish I understood the piece a little better.

It seemed there were a lot of people around me who were laughing aloud and enjoying themselves thoroughly. It quickly became clear to me that these were friends and colleagues of LaVercombe. My guest said “What am I missing? What do they know that I don’t know?”

I too felt like some things made more sense to some than others. I struggled with the questions of “Why did this piece get written? What is the message?” It was unclear if this was semi-fictionalized and personal to the writer, or if it was just an opportunity to tell a story with some socio-political commentary peppered in. Perhaps if I knew him personally, like it seemed many did, then I too would have the backstory I needed to understand it all.

Setting all that aside, there were a ton of things I did like. The music, by LaVercombe and Adrian Shepherd, that continuously played throughout the piece was a fantastic addition. I loved the way it was used to underscore the story as well as provide moments of comedy. I also really enjoyed the improv elements and the use of audience members. LaVercombe did an excellent job working off of what he was given and in those instances, I was completely entranced.

There were some awesome moments of tension and stillness that were really powerful throughout which I’m sure is in part to Adam Lazarus’ direction. LaVercombe really takes his time in these key moments and fully fleshes them out. It gives us, the audience, a real chance to see what is going on for the character; weighing the levity with the depth nicely. The mask work was also a treat. A simple neutral mask came alive when it was upon his face.

The space at Videofag is quite small and the show this evening was sold out. It’s an interesting experience sitting in a venue that small while watching a performer a few feet away from you all the while sitting arm and arm to the people next to you. Instead of pretending we aren’t there, LaVercombe includes us and though I found that unnerving at times it was also exciting.

Overall I would say I appreciated this show for it’s individual elements more than the sum of it’s parts. See it for the performer, the music and the improv because it has a lot of positives going for it. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up on things I missed. The beauty of live theatre is that no two people have the same experience.

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