Review: It’s All Tru (The Cabaret Company)

Photo of David Coomber and Tim PostThe Cabaret Company presents Sky Gilbert’s newest play It’s All Tru in Toronto

I don’t envy Sky Gilbert’s attempt at creating an honest and open-ended discussion of the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure in Canada. The Cabaret Company’s It’s All Tru playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre lays important creative groundwork in discussing poorly defined laws around unprotected sex and HIV, systemic limitations on enforcing these laws, and the consequences of such enforcement.

While there’s clearly a purpose to the play—to challenge our perspective on these laws, It’s All Tru suffers from unbalanced characters whose behaviour undermines Gilbert’s point of view.

Kurt (Tim Post) and Travis (David Coomber) are a happy couple about to get married. As Kurt prepares to leave for a conference, Travis confesses to a one-night stand with a man Gideon (Caleb Olivieri) who removed his condom during sex without telling Travis. When Gideon returns, much to Kurt’s dismay, he reveals that he is HIV positive. The question for all three men quickly becomes what to do about the place they now find themselves in?

There is a lot brought up in this play and in order to really understand why I don’t think it works, I want to point out all the information we’re given. We know that Travis and Kurt have a large age difference between them (almost 30 years), they have agreed to have sex with other people as long as they are both taking PrEP—something Travis doesn’t take seriously, initially. We know Travis is sure he requested protection during sex, and we know that he did not bring Gideon home.

This is all the initial set-up in the show that breaks down over the course of eighty minutes. Coomber and Post have great chemistry together. Their opening dance and dinner revealed a couple that genuinely care for each other and seem to know the other incredibly well. So I was surprised when barely two scenes later, I felt very differently about their relationship.

Coomber’s Travis seems initially naive, maybe a bit immature as he whines about his mother or feels uncomfortable about how his peers see him. A few scenes later, I felt like infantile was a better descriptor as he revealed his adoration for Cinderella or begged his partner to adopt a child. I suspect it was supposed to be part of the moral problem at the heart of the play: is the fact of his HIV positive status ultimately the only reason behind Gideon’s persecution?

Suddenly the moral centre of the play shifted for me. I really credit Olivieri’s acting for making Gideon remotely likeable because, otherwise, he’s vaguely threatening. Gideon tracks down Travis’ apartment, insists on being let in, insists on leaving him gifts, insists that Travis asked for the condom to be removed…I could go on.

The behaviours presented cross an important moral line in my opinion. If he read as less of a stalker, there would be so much more room for the nuance It’s All Tru is aiming for. I could see the point of Gideon as a figure who defies the socially acceptable and therefore is more likely to be punished when he reveals his diagnosis. But it really didn’t work for me because I felt like his actions were already too extreme.

Arguably Post’s Kurt is the most successful break-down of the criminalization of HIV positive people. At first, Kurt is charming; a relatable, understandable man who is frustrated by the situation. Of course he is, you think. He’s worried for his partner. Post delivers a performance that is only borderline arrogant and condescending—a genuine flaw. It’s not until the reveal in the final push of the play about Kurt’s hobbies that he becomes a sinister figure.

The double standard Kurt embodies is a stroke of genius and I wish Gilbert had managed to find that balance with his other characters. If I just looked at this without the context, I’d say it’s a solid piece of work—not perfect, but good.

But I think the intention behind the play makes me set much higher standards. I almost think there needs to be some revision, either through direction or dialogue, to create a little more balance that lets the focus stay on the topic: the problem of criminalizing non-disclosure of an HIV status.

Details

Photo of David Coomber (Travis) and Tim Post (Kurt) by Seanna Kennedy