Are you old enough to remember ads in the personals, life before online dating? Brian Francis is. In Box 4091, part of SummerWorks, he answers 13 replies to an ad he placed in the London Free Press in 1992 when he was 21. He found the letters recently and reread them. He hadn’t responded to them at the time, for various reasons. To me, it’s amazing that he kept the letters in the first place.
Francis starts with some background about why he placed the ad, about how difficult it was to live in a house with four straight men, that it was hard to meet other men, and that he was only emerging from the closet, not everyone knew he was gay.
Behind him, 13 men enter the stage one at a time from the wings. As they do each one says things like “My parents didn’t know,” “My roommates didn’t know,” “My boss didn’t know,” and so on until they have listed 13 people who didn’t know. It was an impressive entrance for 13 impressive actors: Eric Morin, Keith Cole, Chris Tsujiuchi, Geoffrey Whynot, Hume Baugh, Michael Hughes, Izad Etemadi, Jonathan Tan, Tsholo Khalema, G Kyle Shields, Chy Ryan Spain, Bilal Baig and Daniel Krolik.
Director Rob Kempson found an elegant solution to what could have been a visually boring show; essentially one person reads a letter, and the other person reads an answer, times 13. He had the 13 men get up and move around, change seats, change the direction they were facing, in a way that kept things interesting.
I really liked Brandon Kleiman’s set and costumes. The stage was raised at the back, and that’s where the actors entered and where they went to sit or stand after they read their letter. The front part was in two halves. One half had a lectern where Francis stood, the other, small benches where the actors sat.
The costumes ranged from gender fluid to business casual; anything a queer man might wear. They were delightful.
Cosette Pin’s lighting effectively drew attention to the person reading. I liked the way that half the stage was dark when Francis was reading and the spotlight was on the actor reading the letter.
At the beginning of the show Francis said that he was no actor and that the show would prove it. That may be true, but he’s a terrific writer and storyteller and he reads beautifully – ‘books on tape’ beautifully. (I dated myself with that. Think Audible.)
His replies to the letters contain stories that seem random, although interesting, but that ties back into the original letter and the response.
I loved Box 4901. It’s about beginnings, memory, and who we grow into. It’s smart, a bit poignant, a bit acerbic, and a bit funny. I highly recommend it. It was sold out on Sunday so you might want to get your tickets sooner rather than later.
Tuesday August 14th 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Sunday August 19th 4:45pm – 5:45pm
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12pm-8pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.
Photo provided by the Company