Kenneth Collins’ play You Are Not Alone at the Toronto Fringe Festival is a sometimes-poignant, often goofy story about teenagers finding love and acceptance among their peers at a Catholic boarding school. Although I found it a little after school special-y at parts, I would describe it as kind of like the really great episodes of Glee or Degrassi that kept me watching those shows season after season.
The play opens with Virgil (Jack Nerona) walking in on his best friend Tom (Kenneth Collins) jacking-off to gay porn. When Virgil opens Tom’s laptop and sees Tom’s jerk-off material he teasingly asks Tom if he’s gay. Tom gives him a quick “Yes” and Virgil continues to playfully make fun of him for getting caught touching himself. This refreshingly light-hearted take on the coming out scene sets the tone for a show that felt like an authentically 21st century gay-themed dramedy to me.
The conflict in the play comes out of a B-plot that I felt was a little more contrived. Virgil’s conservative ex-girlfriend Val (Haley Paitz) gets Tom expelled from their school to get revenge on Virgil and April (Madison Phyper) who is Tom and Virgil’s mutual friend. Even if it feels like an underdeveloped high school drama plot to me, it opens up the space for some of the play’s strongest material.
When Val tries to apologize to Tom, we get the standout speech of the play. Tom tells Val that he won’t accept her apology because then her pain will be over, but he will have to live with the consequences of her decision for the rest of his life. From my perspective, it’s a really strong act of queer defiance that we don’t often see on stage. If the play hadn’t shown any sympathy to Val it would have been the kind of radical act that I feel could make this play an important queer text.
The heart of the show, though, is in the reaching out to gay teens in Tom’s situation that is suggested by the title. Virgil tells Tom repeatedly through the last half of the play, “You are not alone.” and the play does its best to dramatize that. It’s impossible not to believe that Tom, Virgil, and April are friends who really care about each other after spending 45 minutes with them because the chemistry between Collins, Nerona, and Phypher is abundantly apparent .
You Are Not Alone is not a perfect play by any means, but I found it to be a really interesting first attempt for a gay play that speaks to the queer kids that grew up as a part of generation Z. If you’re interested in seeing a rough sketch of what a future of queer stories might look like, I’d suggest taking a trip down to Theatre Passe Muraille before July 12.
- You Are Not Alone is playing until July 12 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Avenue)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- Content warning for some sexual content and some strong language.
July 04 at 12:30 PM
July 05 at 08:45 PM
July 06 at 01:15 PM
July 08 at 09:30 PM
July 10 at 05:45 PM
July 12 at 02:45 PM