Review: PIG (Buddies In Bad Times)

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Toronto’s leading queer theatre space Buddies in Bad Times presents PIG, a complex multi-layered story about perversion, love and making art

Even considering the current fashion for representations of BDSM in the arts, Tim Luscombe’s new play PIG is… a lot. At the same time, the great pleasure of having a world-class queer theatre in Toronto is that we get to make our own choices about whether we prefer to see it, rather than having it erased from our theatrical landscapes by prudish directors afraid to upset their patrons. Brendan Healy, artistic director of Buddies In Bad Times and director of this world premiere play is quite clearly not afraid to be upsetting.

PIG is a complex, multi-layered story about respectability, desire, love, perversion and making art. The official synopsis says that it’s about bug chasing and civil partnerships, but it reminded me of nothing so much as the centagenarian quoted in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray Love, who says “There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. ‘How much do you love me?’ And, ‘who’s in charge?'” More than any other play I’ve ever seen, these questions beat out of the text and staging, imposing themselves none-too-gently on the audience. And even still, I left feeling like Luscombe had tied the play up in knots of cleverness, trying to prove that it really was art and not (merely) perversion.

To be sure, this staging does the play every possible favor. Healy at the helm (and well known not to be squeamish) gives plenty of room for every emotion, no matter how odious, and manages the timing and movement beautifully, almost cheorographically. Actors Paul Dunn and Blair Williams (as the boy and his lover/owner/tormentor, respectively) turn in excellent performances, full of physical and emotional confidence, drawing together and pushing apart in the most satisfying and shifting polarizations. Neither holds anything back from the work, and their chemistry together crackles.

Bruce Dow, playing several roles ranging in pitch from angel to devil, is a marvel. I have seen him be very good before, but in PIG he’s transcendent, bafflingly good, moving without a stutter between the brutish and brutal Larry and the delicate, lovelorn Harry. If there’s any justice in the world, laurels will be heaped upon his head and awards laid at his feet for this performance – for his posture and accents and affect, for his range, for his supernatural willingness to inhabit all of these characters in all of their complexity or simplicity. Someone should cast a bronze of his (frequently displayed) nuts for this performance and present it as an annual award to the Toronto actor who takes the biggest risk and nails it.

The set fetishizes the bare space to great effect, exposing every pipe and brick and using deft lighting to help us understand where we are. But the problem of “where we are” continues. In creating three interlocking but sometimes contradictory narratives that move irregularly through time, Luscombe has added an additional difficulty to digesting his play. This wasn’t my favorite choice. I found myself distracted sometimes from what was happening by my mental accounting of who and where the characters were now, since Dunn and Williams play (essentially) four versions of the same characters, in the same clothes.

PIG examines fascinating questions about desire and what desires are acceptable to us, respectability and what it gives or takes away, and the things we do to bind ourselves to our loves ones. Whether you find BDSM sexy or distressing, whether you’re a hopeless romantic or the Scrooge of Valentine’s Day, PIG will shake you up, soothe you a little, and then shake you even harder.

Details

– PIG plays until October 6th at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street

– Performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2:30

– Tickets range from $20 to $37, with Sundays Pay What You Can at the door

– Tickets are available in person at the Buddies box office, online, or by phone at 416.975.8555

 

photo Jeremy Mimnaugh