By Samantha Wu
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I was walking into when I decided to see Tightrope. When I read the words “cabaret”, “drag performers” and “song cycle”, I was immediately taken to the lively, brash and in-your-face drag queen shows that would sum up a great Saturday night in the Village. But the subject matter of societal loss and the threat of this loss fading from memory didn’t jive with what I was seeing in my mind.
I was intrigued so I continued on and finally was able to convince my friend Benita to come with me while at the same time, still not quite sure what to tell her about the performance.
The show begins with a monologue about the millions of molecules being inhaled and exhaled by the world’s population and I soon realize that this would be akin to nothing I have seen before. We end up sitting through a funeral, mourning those that have passed before us; namely a generation of gay liberationists lost to the AIDS crisis and whose memories have faded slowly with the onset of time.
Tightrope is unusual, but in a good way I’ve realized. It took me a while even after I finished seeing it to sum up whether I enjoyed the performance. It’s not your standard play or cabaret show, not at all. It’s like seeing a foreign film, though it’s still in English, well most of it.
Tightrope combined monologues, music, sound, and a lot of multimedia. The backdrop is a wall of newspaper clippings snipped from Toronto’s gay community and the musicians are silhouetted against it. They provide the eerie and ethereal Dead Can Dance-like soundtrack for the performance. Toronto based drag performers approach the stage from the audience acting first as mourners for the dearly departed then as their messengers back to us.
Audience members are picked out and asked to deliver a few words read from the script to add to the show. The use of light, sound, spoken word, projected imagery and music, especially the haunting vocals from Montreal performer Alexis O’Hara weave the show into a performance you’re not soon to forget.
Otherworldly is how I would describe this show, often times I felt like I was attending a funeral service in a land far from here and hundreds of years in the past. Overall, the show delivered a surrealistic vibe that stays with you for a while.
You may not understand it immediately but that’s the job of great theatre – it allows you to break it apart and analyze it with friends over coffee. That’s what Benita and I did, she went into this show knowing less than I did about it and came out moved and intrigued.
This production is created to fight the collective amnesia that falls on a society after a number of years. As far as I can say, it has worked as you won’t forget this tribute to the forgotten.
– Tightrope is playing at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander Street) from Friday May 27 to Sunday June 5
– Tuesday – Saturday, 8 pm, Sunday matinee, 2:30 pm
– Tickets are PWYC – $33 (full price list available online)
– Tickets are available online at totix.ca or at the Buddies in Bad Times box office at (416) 975-8555
Photo of Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard, 2boys.tv, by Tanja-Tiziana