Gay Play Day showcased thought-provoking and inspiring theatre by local LGBTTQ playwrights at Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre
Having grown up with supportive family, friends and peers, my coming-out process was an enviably easy process. I have been—and do appreciate this—quite fortunate in that I have not had to dwell on my sexual orientation. It has never been an obstacle for me, nor even particularly interesting subject matter, and so I rarely seek out specifically gay content. I arrived at the Alumnae Theatre Studio Space to see the second annual Gay Play Day feeling dubious, yet intrigued.
The festival features plays by local LGBTTQ playwrights. (For those who are not familiar with what all of those letters signify, here is a breakdown: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit and Queer.) Six short plays ran for two evening performances on the Friday and Saturday, with an additional matinee on Saturday that featured four solo shows. There was considerable talent showcased this year.
The evening began with an introduction by Artistic Director Darren Stewart-Jones. I was reminded of how fortunate I am to be living here in Canada when he reflected upon the fact that there are places in the world where any of us could be thrown in jail just for attending such a performance. I rarely find my sexual orientation worthy of discussion, but I am also aware that such a mentality is a luxury many cannot afford.
First up, was Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors, written and directed with careful attention to period detail by Darren Steward-Jones. Following his recent marriage, Dr. Watson pays a visit to his friend Sherlock Holmes, who has become depressed and hidden himself away from world. We learn that he and Watson had once been quite intimately involved. The dialogue seems to leap straight from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—yes, the atmosphere was that authentic—and is rich with restrained emotion. Nathaniel Bacon was sexy, witty and endearing as Holmes, pining for the affections of Nick May’s Watson—a man too timid and oppressed by cultural pressures to give those affections freely. By far, this was my favourite piece of the evening.
Next, was Let’s Spend Our Lives Together, Maybe, written by Tina McCulloch and directed by PJ Hammond. Suzanne and Laurie have just moved in together and are trying to create some sense of order out of the chaos of boxes and mixed feelings. Each is allowing their worries about the relationship cloud their enjoyment of each other. With the help of a wise friend, Kai, they are able to work through their fears and finally enjoy the adventure of living together. There are two additional characters present and they represent the subconscious thoughts of both Laurie and Suzanne. Fluid and sincere performances by the whole cast—Mary Joseph, Naomi Priddle Hunter, Julie Burris, Tina McCulloch and Pona Tran—made this a very sweet production.
Couples, written and directed by Bruce Harrot, was a perfect change of pace. The play opens on Jonathan Lourdes and Mark Keller in what seems to be a hostage situation. The scene then reveals itself to be a form of couple’s therapy role-play. Finally, the scene unmasks itself fully and we discover it to be a rehearsal for a play—the very play we’re watching. The idea is that Jonathan has written this play to showcase the talents of his actor boyfriend, Mark. Their chemistry is charming, with Jonathan playing the straight man to Mark’s scenery-chewing, hilarious outbursts. This self-aware piece was goofy, disarming and unexpectedly poignant.
Men In Kilts was written by Niall O’Reilly and directed by Nicholas Banks. This four-hander follows two bridesmaids (Chrissy Carr as Cynthia and Melissa Melissa Chetty as Jasmina) as they chat up two groomsmen in kilts (Michael Sutherland as Ron and Justin Roy as Steve) during a Scottish wedding reception. The play deals with the concept of gaydar and the stereotyping of men based on ideas of masculinity. In this play, we discover that the more overtly masculine of the two men turns out to be the gay one. While this piece did not resonate with me as much as the others, a clever script and easy performances made it well-paced and suitably entertaining.
Hush, written by Megan Hutton and directed by Katie Messina, was a harsh family drama that explores the impact of religious homophobia on a young woman’s coming-out process and how it tears her family apart. Staged very simply, with difficult conversations in cramped domestic spaces, this is very much a kitchen-sink drama. The material is well-trodden, but the cast (Leigh Elliot, Katie Messina, Jaime Polatynski, and Franny McCabe-Bennett) is uniformly excellent and that makes all the difference. Most of the action is tense as mother and daughter circle each other hurtfully. There is, however, a very amusing scene involving an awkward encounter with a nun who is trying to be a unifying force for the broken family.
The Rice Queen of Cabbagetown, written by Charles Hayter and directed by Lise Maher, is a re-telling of Pygmalian with a gay twist. Henry is the principal of an ESL school who has a penchant for young asian men. Upon discovering that there is a colleague who wants to steal his job by introducing a faster ESL program, he decides to use a young Chinese immigrant, Lee, with whom he has just had a one-night stand, as a pawn in his plans to prove his ESL program is the most efficient. However, the deceptive Lee has plans of his own hidden up his sleeve… and the plot thickens. I was intrigued by the way the story taps into the racism that often exists in the fetishizing of ethnicity. A witty script and wonderful performances by Ivan Regalado, Peter Nelson and Arthur Hamby made this except from a work-in-progress a clever and campy finale to the evening.
This was an enjoyable evening out at the theatre with the perfect blend of thought-provoking drama and frivolity. If you missed your chance to see this year’s Gay Play Day, mark your calendars for next year!