When I discovered that The Seat Next to the King playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival won the Best New Play, I was duly impressed. Upon watching it, I realized the win was for good reason. I was both literally and figuratively on the edge of my seat for the whole show.
The show is about two gay men who meet in a public bathroom in 1964 Washington and follows them back to a motel room and beyond. What ensues is a fascinating commentary on race, sexuality, duty, masculinity and how far we’re willing to go to pursue our true selves.
The two actors, Conor Ling and Kwaku Okyere, were just outstanding and both brought an incredible urgency to each scene. They worked very hard to progressively raise the stakes throughout the show to build into a phenomenal climax.
Ling portrayed Walter with such necessary intensity that I knew it was just a matter of time before this time bomb in a business suit exploded. He did exceptionally well communicating Walter’s inner struggle with his sexuality versus his duty to his country and family.
Okyere simply glowed in his role as Bayard, it was such a joy to watch him onstage. From his relaxed mannerisms to his gentle tone when speaking to Walter to his visible growth as a character, it was obvious that Okyere had put a great deal of work into developing Bayard into a well-rounded character. I can’t wait to see what he does next as an actor.
I also found Tanisha Taitt’s direction to be very effective. She explored the balance that needed to be struck between her two polar opposite characters through finely tuned blocking. In the moments where Bayard and Walter were at odds, they kept to opposing sides of the stage and worked the diagonals. When the two would come together, they would almost always meet in the middle of the stage. It was obvious she recognized the importance of her characters’ need to give and take in a scene, so the conflict in the show never felt unbearable.
While this show dealt with quite a few heavy themes, it also had some much needed moments of release. Playwright Steven Elliott Jackson managed to weave a story that simultaneously made you shudder at the thought of what those deemed ‘the other’ in society have had to go through while still allowing for laughter.
I think its always important to think about a show within the context of the world it’s being presented in, and thus Jackson’s play is just what Toronto needs right now. The show holds a mirror up to the western world and makes us realize that while we’ve come far with regards to issues of race and sexuality, we’ve still got so far to go. The Seat Next to the King reminds us that history is looking to us to make amends so that the horrors of the past don’t continue to repeat themselves.
- The Seat Next To The King plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson 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 Warnings: Sexual Content, Nudity, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the very front row.
- Thursday July 6th, 06:30 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 11:30 pm
- Monday July 10th, 07:15 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 12:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 08:45 pm
- Friday July 14th, 01:45 pm
- Sunday July 16th, 01:00 pm
Photo by Steven Jackson of Kwaku Okyere and Conor Ling