Gods, Kings, Mothers and Sex in The God That Comes, Playing Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre
Hawksley Workman is a god. And a mother, and a tyrant. He plays all three roles in his new rock opera, The God That Comes, currently on at Tarragon Theatre. In doing so, he proves himself a god of musicianship and showmanship, if not one in the literal, immortal sense.
Created with Christian Barry, The God That Comes tells the fable of a cruel king, the king’s, and Bacchus. The god of sex and wine takes up residence on the mountain above the city where the king rules and welcomes the citizens to worship him in drunken orgies. Dictators are known for being party-poopers, and this king is no exception. He disapproves of the hedonism happening in the hills above him and when he hears his own mother has attended a bacchanal it’s the final straw and he sends his army to capture the deity. What ensues shows us the psychological torment that has turned a little boy into a sadistic, power-hungry monster.
Workman tells us the whole fable in a monologue at the beginning of the show – or, as he protests, “this isn’t the show yet!” The monologue is charming and very useful. Without it, I would have been trying to keep track of the plot, instead of letting myself be taken along with sensation and emotion of the music and the arresting visual images.
The 2b theatre company’s sound and lighting design team have perfectly matched Workman’s style, a modern cabaret glam that is as clever, funny and sexy as it is dark. One of my favourite touches was a neon sign that announces an interrogation scene and then reappears later, slightly altered to reflect the bloodshed currently happening in the story. The sound was incredibly complex: Workman played a myriad of instruments, including his own impressive vocal ability, and these were looped and echoed and altered. There were fearsome crescendos, sonic dialogues, and small noises that crept up like the voice of your conscience in the back of your head.
I liked Workman’s songs before this, but The God That Comes is a better showcase for his talents, in my opinion. His flexible voice and his impressive multi-instrumentalism, his saucy persona that oozes with an undefinably transgressive sexuality, his humour and his confidence, are all put to very good use in addressing this epic story.
There are big issues at play as well. This isn’t just a tale of cheeky god versus petty king. It’s about the taking and giving of power, it’s about toxic masculinity, it’s about the damage done by repressive gender and sexual conformity.
There was one part that my companion and I for the evening both found a bit jarring. At the very end, after a magnificent climax and a touching denouement from the mother character, Workman did this little song that was suddenly not set inside the fable. It does tie in thematically, but it felt like an afterthought. It was as if there was this one little loose end in the moral of the story, so they patched a song on to cover it, even though the song is thoroughly modern while the audience was still living in ancient Greece.
My friend suggested that it could work as a something playing in the background of the credits rolling in a movie treatment, and I could see that. I want to see this get big enough for the film industry to be hungry for it. I want to see this take over Broadway. I want watch it again, in the reserved front section so I can see every move Workman’s fingers make on his many, many instruments. Because Hawksley Workman is a god onstage.
- The God That Comes plays at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgeman Ave, until June 29th
- Shows are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with Sunday matinees on the 15th, 22nd and 29th at 2:30 pm
- Tickets are $48-$53, Seniors $38-$43, Rush $13 and Students/Artists $27
- Purchase tickets at 416.531.1827 or online
Photo by Trudie Lee.