X (Sunny Drake) 2013 SummerWorks Review

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Sunny Drake, currently starring in X (at the Scotiabank Studio), is a force of nature. A real-life cartoon. He bounds, jumps, fizzes and cranks his way across the stage, full of pluck and charisma–and we can’t look away. Drake’s considerable talent as a performer also extends to staging: his cheap-but-brilliant lighting tricks are a highlight of the performance. This is someone who knows how to play to his strengths, who knows what his audience is here to see, and has no shame or guilt in throwing it at them.

So here’s the thing: I just didn’t get it.

I liked this show. I liked its component parts. I especially liked the man behind the curtain. But it just wasn’t meant to be.

The lead characters, two young queer Australians, clearly exist as distinct visions within Drake’s mind, but weren’t conveyed with enough clarity early enough in the show for me to latch onto them and develop any particular feelings about them. They grow into bigger, better-defined parts later on, but by that point you’re playing catch-up, and this show is so dense that the exercise is simply exhausting. So much subtext, so much supertext, so much cultural knowledge, so many shibboleths… and a few lines of dialogue which I can only describe as genuine clangers.

This is especially disappointing, because in general the writing is snappy and clever. Drake demonstrates a clear capacity for writing compelling, witty and deeply moving stuff–one scene in particular where a character engages in dialogue with a deceased relative is downright chilling, in the best way possible–but there are some serious speed bumps, like the scene set in a church confessional which I’ll summarize as “Carry On Archbishop“.

You’re good, Sunny; really, really good. A singular talent. Charismatic, compelling, very much aware of your own strengths, and capable of great things. But so much of what went on just seemed so inexplicable, so unrelated to the rest of the show, so experimental, that even the solid foundation of the production began to come unhinged.

So many why-questions emerged in my own mind. Why animations? Why puppets? Why oysters? Why a darkroom? Why a non-profit?

Which of these components are meant to be taken literally? Which are meant to be subtext? Which are just throwaway one-off gags? Which represent Sunny pushing himself as an artist and experimenting with new stuff, just to see whether it works out? What sounded like a good idea at the time, but should have been cut ages ago?

Answering these questions is a fun game, for a while. But over the course of an hour-long performance, I was left feeling like a nine-year-old who ate all her halloween candy and then climbed on a tilt-a-whirl. I was so distracted by this guessing game that I was missing plot points–and the further and further behind I got, the less enthusiastic I was about catching up.

And, in short? I just didn’t get it. I wanted to like it; I wanted to understand. Believe me, Sunny, I did. You’re an amazing performer, and you’re capable of great things–but there, in the fourth row, I was completely out to sea.

Details

  • X plays through August 17th, 2013 at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble St)
  • All tickets $15. Money-saving passes are available. For more information, and to order online, see website.
  • Remaining performances: Sunday August 11, 7:00 pm; Monday August 12, 2:00 pm; Tuesday August 13, 9:30 pm; Thursday August 15, 4:30 pm; Saturday August 17, 7:00 pm.

Photograph of Sunny Drake (performing as “Fancy”) by Leesa Connelly.