Described as “salty as it is sweet,” Tease has a burlesque heart beating under the “traditional theatre” trappings of the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival, and when the show stays true to its internal rhythm, it’s a textured and interestingly nuanced pleasure.
Creator Lindsay Mullan, a Second City alum and seasoned performer in other forms as well, has envisioned a feminist cabaret, one that simultaneously valorizes the women who perform in burlesque while critiquing the cultural forces that offer women to a sexualized (and heterosexist) gaze. That’s a hard balance to strike, and it leaves Mullen (and talented costars Bianca Alongi and Cristina Gonçalves) with a lot of work to do: get an audience of Toronto theatergoers comfortable with a burleque-style level of audience enthusiasm, dance, strip, perform sketches, and introduce and sustain an ongoing feminist commentary along the way (“woke titties!”).
Is she successful? Mostly! That is to say, the overall effect of the show is, I think, roughly as intended. And in the same hand, I might encourage Mullan to consider engaging a director besides herself for this piece to smooth out the rhythm and emotional landscape of the show, especially in the middle where it seemed surprising to me that so many solo burlesque performance numbers were included. They’re all charming and the performances were strong but in the context of the whole show I confess that I felt like it was more sugar and less medicine than I expected or wanted.
Tease contains a number of truly delightful moments, including a solo tap number by Gonçalves that hit a perfect note in critiquing the normalization of rape culture, and truly creepy introduction to a robotic sex doll by Bianca Alongi that made the guy behind me mutter audibly “too far! too far!”. Mullen herself has a critique moment that’s far too perfectly timed to spoil but does its job effectively (though again, I think a external director might be able to help her find clear, strong beats in an important monologue). The short pastiche films in the show, designed by Nigil Vazquez, also really hit the spot.
There was also the delightful addition, after a game to find the “most innocent audience member,” of 83-year-old Milton, a real-estate consultant who was asked – on stage – if he was comfortable with a scantily clad woman dancing on or near him at some point in the show. When he replied “do I have a choice?” the audience coached him from their seats, unprompted and unscripted, that he could indeed say no and that if he wasn’t comfortable with it he should – and he did. Mullen moved on to the second most innocent person in the room. I could write a whole article just about that moment; about the clear and sincere request for consent, framed within a show about feminism, and how the external pressure still caused Milton (a very good sport) to doubt his own agency in the process, but it’s probably beyond the scope of a theatrical review.
Despite what felt to me like a lag in pacing in the middle, Tease hits sweet, salty, spicy, and even the occasional bracingly bitter note without ever feeling sour.
- Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage/Studio/Site-specific shows are $15 and Ante-chamber performances are $12
- Showtimes are available on the Tease listing
Photo of Lindsay Mullan by Tanja-Tiziana