The Body Politic looks further into Toronto’s queer history on stage at Buddies in Bad Times
One might worry, if one were less nerdy than I am, that two gay historical productions in a single season could be considered an excess of history all together at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. But for those of us who relish the stories of what happened before we arrived and our connection to the people who helped create the current political moment (for good or ill), The Body Politic satisfies a particular kind of itch.
The Body Politic, in case it’s been a minute since you saw a copy or heard about it, was the antecedent of Xtra and , for a decade-and-a-half, the premiere newspaper of homophiles (eventually homosexuals, then gays, and just at the point that it folded very occasionally queers). The paper was founded in part out of the Glad Day Bookshop and in turn the paper’s collective founded the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Archive, making the group surrounding it a nexus of developments in Canadian gay and lesbian rights. Playwright Nick Green might reasonably have been nervous at the prospect of taking such a large piece of Toronto’s, and indeed, Canada’s, history in hand and making art out of it, but if he was it doesn’t show. Body Politic is by turns funny, enlightening, heartbreaking and occasionally, for seasoning, bewildering.
There’s a lot of interplay between the living and the dead in the production, the veil and who moves through or sees through it represented with scrims and shadow onstage as the performance asks questions: What does it mean to remember? What does it mean to re-live? What happens to the history of a community when those who created it and lived it die? Does the history get inherited by others? If it’s bequeathed, how and when must they claim their legacy?
Many of these questions get answered, or at least attempted, by the talented ensemble cast. It’s a pleasure to see such Toronto theatre powerhouses coalesce around a single production, from the combined decades and deep experience of Geordie Johnson and the always-spectacular Diane Flacks to the energy and verve of (relative) newcomers Aldrin Bundoc and Craig Pike (while also remembering to forgive Jonathan Seinen and Cole Alvis for being ridiculously accomplished for their respective ages). The cast finds a satisfying groove, crackling at each other in the way of long familiarity. Director Alisa Palmer helps the cast balance beautifully, keeping storylines and personalities in check as the emotions of the piece spin out of control and are re-harnessed back to reality over and over again. It’s a marvelous feat.
There are a few places where I started to worry that the play was going to veer into the land of wordy and didactic exposition, that swamp from which so few audiences ever return, but this was always avoided, if narrowly, by a joke or a kiss or a new and cute outfit. The overall effect, of telling the story of the story rather than trying to march in perfect step with the facts, works well as a combined effort by cast and crew. Politics, history, amusing facial hair and occasional nudity — what could be bad? Nothing. In fact, so much about Body Politic is very excellent indeed.
- Body Politic plays at Buddies In Bad Times, 12 Alexander Street, until June 12, 2016.
- Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Visit the website for accessible performances with audio description and ASL.
- Ticket prices range from $20 to $37, Sunday matinees are Pay What You Can.
- Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, online, or by calling 416.975.8555
Photo of the company by Jeremy Mimnaugh