Friday, June 6, 2014

Who's in There?: Queer Bathroom Stories at BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES THEATRE

You are where (and how) you pee.  Or are you?

This week, a commercial independent remount QUEER BATHROOM STORIES, the 2011 Audience-Pick Award winner at the Toronto Fringe opened in Buddies' Mainspace.

The script is an adaptation by sociology professor Shelia Cavanagh of  her book, "Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination."  The book is based on over 100 interviews with LGBTQ and Two-Spirited people about their experiences in public washrooms. This is Cavanagh's  first stab at writing a play.

It's one thing to concoct a sociology thesis from 100 disparate tales, but quite another to make a play out of them. There is plenty of dramatic material here. The stories selected are by turns, disturbing, funny, sexy, terrifying and achingly sad.

The terrific cast of Tyson James, Chy Ryan Spain and Haille Burt are a great boon to the production, shifting effortlessly though the dozens of people they play through the evening. A few of those characters, especially the kids, stayed with me long after I left the theatre.

The show features a set by Cory Sincennes that is a marvel of simplicity and sophistication, consisting of a series of panels with demarcated "tile"  that can be made transparent or largely opaque with a shift of lighting.   Sincennes created  a  men's and women's space on opposite sides with a liminal space in between that the characters occupy and drift through as they are forced to or refuse to choose  the "side" society forced them into. The toilets positioned on either side of the stage and covered with mounds of tp are there simply to define parameters.

Coupled with Megan Watson's intelligent and clear direction, the storytelling is well-supported and enhanced by the visual elements.

However, there is no story arc that a play requires. The design and direction give the show a good form and the performers make the material compelling. This is a set of stories constructed to support a thesis that the writer hammers unsubtly home at the end.

The bench mark for transforming this kind of found narrative from a wide range of sources into coherent drama probably remains George Luscombe's adaptation ( with Cedric Smith and others) of Barry Broadfoot's  non-fiction book, 10 LOST YEARS. As we sat in Luscombe's former theatre, I wondered what dramaturgical notes he would have given Ms. Cavanagh on transforming an academic book into a night of theatre.

This is a wonderful evening of storytelling, well shaped and well-performed. It's a topic well-worth discussing as a community as we head towards World Pride here in Toronto. Certainly Cavanagh and her talented crew furnish the audience with plenty to discuss after the show.  If you take QUEER BATHROOM STORIES on its own merits, it is well worth a look.

It runs until June 15th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

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