Salvatore Antonio’s play S h e e t s explore’s intimacy at Toronto’s Theatre Centre
Despite the buzz about “Naturist Appreciation Night” on Saturday, I saw S h e e t s. with my clothes on, as did the rest of the audience at Theatre Centre. S h e e t s. (yes, that’s the title) is, according to the program, a play about many forms of intimacy in a single hotel room and there was, as advertised, a lot of nakedness and specifically erotic/sexual content.
Of the scenes, most contained at least one completely naked person (in addition to the entirely naked guy who was onstage the entire time; more on him in a moment) which sometimes worked brilliantly. Overall, that roughly summed up my experience of the play – what worked, really worked for me. What didn’t left me shrugging.
Thinking about intimacies in hotel rooms makes a lot of people think about sex, which is reasonable. There are two explicitly sex-themed scenes (or cantos, as playwright and director Salvatore Antonio refers to them) in S h e e t s., and in my opinion they account for much of the really good material.
A boy/boy/girl group of friends on the cusp of their first threesome and a divorcee with a hustler she both wants and doesn’t are the middle section of the play, one right after the other.
The scenes are well-written, full of humor and connection and authenticity – providing lines like the incredibly relatable “I’m terrible at being a beginner” (delivered by excellent Jennifer Wigmore as Sonja). The casts of these scenes run away with them – Danny Ghantous, Dayle McLeod and David Reale in the threeway scene are so charming and frolicsome I wanted to give them all the biggest hugs, and Wigmore teams with Tyler Stentiford in a difficult but connected series of evolving understandings, both showing great nuance.
Taborah Johnson, as Lucia, gave the role of the maid gravitas and interest as an older woman (and the only person we never see so much as the knee or collarbone of), giving punctuation and container to the series of interactions. Her role as written veers uncomfortably close to the trope of the Magical Negro for my taste, but Johnson keeps it in hand nicely.
Prince Amponsah just feels underused as Michael, given a scene where he is forced to call down to the hotel desk and ask for help getting dressed for a funeral (Amponsah has no hands and cannot button). The scene feels perfunctory, and while Johnson (sent to help the hotel guest) does this very tender business as she clips his tags and pins his sleeves back, Amponsah isn’t given much to do but stand there and be ill at ease, which isn’t enough.
This play also features a naked guy, called Ghost in the program, who walks once around the circumference of the stage, and makes it take an hour. I don’t know when I have seen a more physically taxing stage feat, but I salute actor William Ellis for it. At the end he joins Woman (played by Alice Snaden) for another not-about-sex scene that’s…underwhelming. It aims for poetic but feels more disjointed, even though it’s probably the most “dramatic” part of the play in some ways.
I also could not help but note that most of the cast (and all the entirely naked people) were white and slender and probably still under 40 or could easily pass for that. This would have been a nice moment for more body diversity, and we didn’t really get it.
In the end, I found S h e e t s. certainly worth seeing, but I wanted to exhort playwright/director Antonio (whose Truth or Dare I just loved a few years ago at Buddies) to just go ahead and write the sex stuff, the queer stuff, the naked and complex and uncertain-but-game stuff without being afraid of being thought frivolous. Those scenes- and those actors! – were some of the best, sweetest, theatre I’ve seen.
Photo by Dahlia Katz