It’s My Penis and I’ll Cry If I Want To, written and produced by Jamie Black and playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, isn’t particularly bawdy, as the title might suggest. Instead, it’s a sweet, earnest show about gender roles, far more Lesley Gore than Lady Gaga in tone (though the latter is what’s on the soundtrack). It’s charming and heartfelt, but feels oddly unfinished, a bit like the conversation about gender itself.
Black, opening by taking the stage in an undershirt and briefs, tells the audience he has spent time both as a woman and as a man, so more than most he knows how truly convoluted and screwed up gender relations have been and continue to be. Via this presentation-style confession, I was initially convinced that this show was going to be purely autobiographical. Instead, it’s largely character-based, which means it may take a while to pick up the narrative thread, such as it is.
To present a variety of views, Black uses a series of vignettes. To show off the broadest stereotypes, he first makes an amusing comparison between an aggressively male boot camp and a submissively female…beaut camp? Thankfully, it gets more nuanced from there. He then showcases three sets of characters, the pairs seemingly disconnected from each other. These heterosexual couples, who are at different stages in both their lives and their desires to gender-bend, show the male vs. the female perspectives on various gender-based issues, including who seduces whom, who provides for whom, and who supports whom.
There’s the nervous male virgin who worries about his overweight conquest, and the woman herself who turns out to be the real conquistador; there’s the man who wants to embrace a more sensitive side and the woman who won’t let him, wishing instead that he’d focus on his provider role. Finally, there are the characters who are open and true to themselves, despite the bravery that might require.
Black does a fine job of portraying both male and female characters. His particular strength is his embodiment of both Henry and Bea, an elderly couple who, unlike the rest of the cast of characters, have learned to be completely honest with each other. It’s here where the acting really shines and I felt myself slipping into the characters’ lives, less aware of the well-meant lecture lurking beneath. I actually would have loved to see more of them, perhaps in a fuller show.
Black’s is a good voice to hear, with a strong message to listen to, despite the woes of a truly anarchic sound board (handled with grace and aplomb by all involved). The limited focus was also fairly narrow on the type of relationships being explored, but that’s probably smart; there is a ton to unpack about gender and sexuality, and no show can say it all. However, though everything was clearly on the same theme, I wish there had been more connective tissue between the sections, and perhaps something to wrap everything up at the end; it didn’t quite feel cohesive. This meant that both the experience and the message were less satisfying than they could have been. Running a little under 45 minutes, the show, like our perceptions of gender essentialism, still has plenty of room to play and grow.
- It’s My Penis And I’ll Cry If I Want To plays at the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room. (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. Check in at the venue box office at least 15 minutes before showtime, and a staff member will escort you to the venue. Accessible seating is in the front row.
- Friday July 7th, 04:45 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 06:45 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 01:00 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 06:45pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 10:00 pm
- Friday July 14th, 03:30pm
- Sunday July 16th, 05:45 pm
Photo of Jamie Black by Shepsu Aakhu