Friday, May 12, 2017

REVIEW: It's All Tru: Sky GIlbert doesn't let facts get in the way of politics

There's much to admire about the prolific and always provocative Sky Gilbert's latest play, IT'S ALL TRU.

It's a sharply observed examination of age, class, sex, and politics among gay white men, centered around a love triangle:  Kurt (a well-cast Tim Post), a buttoned-down, Brooks Brothers professor with a good job, a nice condo and a thing for younger men, his fiance, Travis ( an excellent David Coomber) a young theatre director who's nowhere nearly as dumb as he acts, and Gideon ( a heart-breaking Caleb Olivieri), a trick Travis picks up on some"dating" app one night when Kurt is out of town.

Kurt and Travis are a modern couple:  their relationship is an open one, with parameters and rules governing sex outside the relationship. Gideon and his ilk: hot, under-employed, emotionally confused young gay guys are to be used for sex and discarded like take-out containers.

Gideon however actually likes Travis and felt an emotional as well as a sexual connection during their one night stand. He flat-out pursues Travis with an endearingly awkward ardor and he does manage to gain some ground with the object of his affections.  Gideon is  spottily employed, he's been in trouble with the law, he lives in Hamilton and, well - he has no money.

Travis initially rebuffs Gideon, but as Kurt becomes increasingly controlling and proprietary, Travis has a decision to make.

Oh yeah: Travis and Gideon had unprotected sex (something Travis tells us he and Kurt NEVER do) and Gideon is HIV-positive. Travis is taking "after" pills (he forgot his "before" pills).  No one is going to die from this:  not like 25 years ago.

Consent is an issue:  did the party drugs they both took nullify Travis's consent to bareback?  Kurt says it does. Gideon is sure Travis consented to bare-backing:  in fact, he claims Travis asked for it.  Travis isn't sure-or is he?

This is where things got complicated for me.  Replace HIV with "pregnant" and you've pretty much got a straight couple dealing with the fact that sex without protection sometimes has unexpected and undesirable consequences not easily remedied by a course of antibiotics.  Geez, really, you think?

My sister was the lead defense counsel on R. v. Mabior, the 2012 case that redefined the law around HIV and disclosure.  The rule of law is simple and the decision of the court was unanimous:  you don't have disclose your status if you wear a condom, if you want to bareback (or your partner does) you do.  Mr. Mabior, for the record, was straight. My sister felt the law should be "caveat emptor".  So, apparently does Gilbert. The court did not agree.

By the way, Kurt could not call someone at the private bar (lawyers you hire to defend you) and get Gideon charged with aggravated sexual assault, convicted, and then incarcerated.  Travis would have to have gone to the police and charged Gideon.  The police and the Crown would have to have determined if there was sufficient evidence to lay charges.Travis would have to have testified at a sexual assault trial. Any half-decent defense lawyer would have made mince-meat out of his testimony.  Professor Gilbert really ought to know better.

Gilbert also has Kurt troll Gideon ( he's in a hoodie:  we and he can't see his face) at a urinal in a men's room.  Oh how I wish Gideon had whipped out his camera and photographed the incident.  A far more interesting discussion about sex, power, consent, and the law might have ensued when the photo and the story turned up on Twitter.

Without consent, it's sexual assault.  Why is it so hard to get men - gay or straight - to understand something so bloody simple?
Image result for It's all tru photosThe Cabaret Company and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre present It’s All Tru written and directed by Sky Gilbert, playing until May 14th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 12 Alexander Street. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 416-975-8555, at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre box office, or online here.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

REVIEWS: Madness and Civilization: WhyNot Theatre Delivers a Compelling Prince Hamlet

It's WHYNOT Theatre's 10th anniversary and artistic director Ravi Jain decided to revisit HAMLET, the first show the company ever did.

It's was a wonderful choice. Jain's intellectual rigor, bold choices and risk-taking really shine in this imperfect, but fascinating production.

One of Jain's bold choices is the casting.  Most of the company are female. Jeff Ho takes the role of Ophelia - so we have a straight couple with the gender roles reversed - or do we?  All the women playing men are dressed in haberdashery. The only obviously female character on the stage is Karen Robinson, who plays Gertrude with great warmth and lush sensuality.

Jain's production effectively stands "received practices" on its anachronistic head. Nice going!

HAMLET is a tough play for a modern audience. In Shakespeare's time most spectators would have believed in ghosts,in an after-life,in God, in Hell and Heaven. For a cross-cultural, globe-trotting audience more likely to regard religion from an anthropological perspective, the play can demand a little more suspension of disbelief than it can muster.

Jain and his cast surmount this difficulty with elan.  When Hamlet's father's ghost appears on the ramparts, the scene seems to begin in reality with the guards,then shifts to Hamlet's bed as he tosses and turns alone and asleep. Did Hamlet dream his late father's visitation?  Is the dream prescient -or just a product of his disturbed imagination? Brilliant.

The Danish court, wonderfully designed by Lorenzo Savoini,is a hall of mirrors illuminated by gilt chandeliers suspended above a parquet platform. There's a visual nod to Versailles, but also to self-reflexive modernity, where we all watch ourselves and each other constantly on social media. The mirrors face the audience,implicating the spectators in the spectacle.  Piles of dirt surround the stage and as the characters are subsumed by their weaknesses and mortality; despair (Ophelia),rage (Laertes), carnality (Claudius and Gertrude)they become covered in dirt.

I don't think I've ever seen a better or more convincing Claudius and Gertrude.  In his pale, tight suit, silver hair just slightly too long, Rick Roberts epitomizes a certain kind of aging sleazebag.
I believed he would have killed his own brother in order to sleep with his sister-in-law.

His delivery of the "your father lost a father" speech was perfect: a patina of parental concern and reason coating a core of disgust and annoyance. When he prays, it's to the looking-glass, a moment less with the Almighty and more with the reflection of his own soul: a mirror held up to Nature indeed.

Maria Vancratsis is an outstanding Polonius, deftly drawing a meddlesome,self-important courtier and helicopter parent. The Stratford veteran's delivery was beautiful.

Horatio is played by Dawn Jani Birley. She uses sign language to communicate.  A skilled and compelling performer,the statuesque artist commands the stage.  Her Horatio occupies a parallel place to the audience, also seen but not heard, silent witness to all of the action.

Christine Horne, rail thin, her ghost-like,luminous pallor accentuated by an all-black wardrobe plays Hamlet as depressed, and so grief-stricken by the death of her father as to be teetering on the edge of insanity. Horne looks like she hasn't had a shower in a week.

Her scenes with Horatio and Gertrude are nuanced and credible. Her relationship with Ophelia is also well-drawn. She and Ho make us feel the loss of their love through the intrusions of meddlesome parents. Her relationship with Horatio is a total bro-mance, showcasing her mastery of Hamlet's wit. The scene with Hamlet, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is uproarious.

The night I saw her, Horne seemed less confident with the self-reflective soliloquies. One of the few flaws with the production is the company's uneven ability to deliver the text with clarity and precision.

Jain privileges the emotional underpinnings of the text over its gorgeous language. He has made a lot of cuts, moving things around in a way that enhances the psycho-drama and downplays both the supernatural elements of the play and the physical violence. No swords are ever drawn,though Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah's Laertes evinces a great and chilling moment of physical violence in the scene before the duel.

At the end of the tragedy, when the bodies are piled on the stage, Horatio is left with us, the dead, and the dirt to which we all return. Her grief is palpable. Hamlet's conclusion,like our own is inescapable and final.

Jain and company made all tickets "pay what you can afford" starting at $5.00 so money was no excuse not to see this fine and affecting contemporary production of what is arguably the greatest play in the English language.

I would like to apologize for putting this up so late. This is the second show I've seen and not had an opportunity to write about until after the fact.  The other was the wonderful LITTLE PRETTY and THE EXCEPTIONAL at The Factory Theatre.

I want the artists I've seen, but not covered to know I appreciate you sharing your talent.  The city is a richer, more vibrant place because of you.

WhyNot Theatre in association with Soulpepper present Prince Hamlet ran  until April 29th at The Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre.