GASH! is real-life psychobiddy, a SummerWorks tribute to old melodramas about grotesque women sliding into madness. Clearly a labour of love on the part of writer David Benjamin Tomlinson and director Clinton Walker (with Alfred Hitchcock and Vincent Price looking on!), the result is a crisp, snappy, hilarious play which creeped me right out of my seat.
But I’ve got good news: while GASH! is layered with cinematic treats, even if you know nothing of Baby Jane, Sunset Boulevard, Sister George or Auntie Roo, you’ll find plenty to tickle and terrify you in this marvellous little murderpile.
Two sisters, Joan and Bette, live in an isolated mansion. The fey Bette (Aurora Browne) is child-like and obsessed with a ventriloquist’s dummy, which may contain the spirit of a long-deceased brother; the no-nonsense Joan (Tomlinson) puts up with her sister’s whims and fancies, using a tough-love approach to protect her from the world. Their staff include a Motherish housekeeper (Ryan Kelly) and a hunky, perpetually-shirtless stable lad (Shane MacKinnon). Together they prepare to celebrate a curious anniversary: the night, thirty years earlier, when their mother went insane and slaughtered half the family with an axe.
But when unexpected guests — a predatory lesbian neighbour (Carolyn Taylor) and a gentleman-caller doctor (Tim Post) — drop in for the night, the story begins to twist. And when a very particular patient (Elley-Ray Hennessy) escapes from the Lucifer’s Bluffs Asylum, this nasty party really begins to kick off — one, by one, by one.
The performances in this piece are consistently outstanding: the interplay between sisters Bette and Joan is especially rewarding, but the second-act appearance of Elley-Ray Hennessy (and her eyes, and her teeth), playing her best Norma Desmond, is when things really turn.
What surprised me is how well-paced the affair is, never slowing down or getting choppy, always pushing just a little harder, a little more. By the end, the cast is bubbling and festering right over the top, spilling melodramas in all directions, and it couldn’t have ended any other way.
Campy, queery, tightly-written fun. Take your grandma, take your lover, take your friends — but perhaps leave your mother at home?
GASH! plays the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave., near Queen and Bathurst) through Sunday, August 17th.
Be aware that this production includes stylized depictions of violence, and that strobe lights and gunshots are used throughout the show.
Monday August 11, 9:30pm
Thursday August 14, 4:30pm
Friday August 15, 2:00pm
Saturday August 16, 7:30pm
Sunday August 17, 2:30pm
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Production photograph by David Hawe.