Review: Queer Bathroom Stories (Libido Productions)

In time for World Pride in Toronto Queer Bathroom Stories is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

I squinted at the program when we arrived at Buddies, saying “Queer Bathroom Stories?” I thought this was called “Queer Bathroom Monologues.” Whipping out my phone, I was able to confirm that the name had changed since I saw it at the Toronto Fringe Festival three years ago, and I was anxious to see what else might have changed in this singular production about the experiences of LGBTQ people in public washrooms, based on extensive interviews. Answer: quite a bit, and much for the better.

This version, playing at Buddies In Bad Times during the run-up to Pride, feels more professional and, in some ways, more stylish than the Fringe version, with great choreography and very interesting movement pieces dotting it’s landscape. I really appreciated the moments of harmonized voices and bodies within the translucent screens arranged to look like bathroom cubicles and corridors. In the very minimalist set their bodies, dressed in matching white tunics and white jeans, were sometimes appropriately ghostly as they were both present and not present in scenes.

Actors Tyson James, Chy Ryan Spain, and Hallie Burt take of all the characters themselves, and this mostly works very well. James demonstrates considerable talent with accents in the movement between genders, and Spain’s physical renderings of a tremendous selection of characters is a marvel of Anna Deveare Smith proportions. I found Burt quite good and grounded in her work, but her range of available genders simply wasn’t as wide as that of James or, especially, Spain (who outdoes himself shapeshifting here). Director Megan Watson makes good use of everyone, though.

In the material, I liked…many of writer Sheila Cavanaugh’s choices. I appreciated her decision to share both positive and negative stories, to show some inclusive or celebratory stories as well as alienating ones. My primary wish was for some of them to be longer. With each story a scenario told in the first person, I kept thinking any minute we’d hear, perhaps, the same story from multiple angles or a single story told jointly (we did get a brief one of those, toward the end) or even a story that was more detailed. It’s not that any of them were bad – in fact, many were quite good – but around the half-hour mark I wanted to go deeper, and I was disappointed that it didn’t. I enjoyed the wide variation that the short pieces provided, but I would cheerfully have sat ten more minutes – this isn’t the Fringe anymore – to watch some of the characters tangle more with their identities and conflicts. Particularly, the image of Tyson James as a reclining Southern Belle invoking Jim Crow-era washrooms and bringing the story forward to a modern bathroom tussle, I could have listened to that story for twice as long, easily.

I’m glad Queer Bathroom Stories exists and I’m grateful it’s up. I sincerely hope that people who need to see it – especially straight people – will get themselves down to Buddies and marvel at the wonders this cast has to show them.

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