If the title of the play now running for a second time at Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre this month prior to its national tour, sounds dull or scholarly, don’t be deterred - because the show is anything but dull. True, it has elements of a tutorial on our cultural heritage but presented in a way that is fresh, entertaining and often downright hilarious. If only history lessons were always this fun.
Three likeable young actors – Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir - take the stage to answer the question “is there such a thing as a gay heritage?” Of course there is, you think, but the history of gay, we soon learn, at least in so far as the concept of gay or homosexuality is concerned, is relatively recent. True, there has been same sex attraction since the dawn of time, but it has not until recently come with an identity – or even a name, yet alone a narrative that extends to the present and beyond..
The trip we are taken on to answer this question comprises dozens of short scenes with each actor taking on multiple parts, often in the course of a single scene, It’s fast and deft and funny. At various times, in a feat you won’t see on many stages, the actors even play each other. It’s one of the supreme joys of this production, in fact, to see the skill and dexterity with which this is handled. Want to see every main character in The Wizard of Oz, including Toto, played by the same person in 90 seconds or less? It’s here. Or how about all the members of a Scottish dance troupe virtually simultaneously. That’s here too. Bottom line is the cast is very, very good indeed. They shine too in the several vocal numbers where they harmonize beautifully.
The trip we are taken on is more often than not apolitical – witness the brilliantly silly collection of gay anthems sung a cappella at the midpoint in the show, or the opening scene featuring a young gay boy imitating skating like his idol, Brian Orser. Or the search for gay anything in the Ukraine. But in the latter stages of the show the mood darkens as we are taken to the Gay Bath Raids in the early 80s in Toronto. Here Dunn grills himself as Toronto Sun bad inkster Peter Worthington, toying with the idea of publishing the names of those arrested. From there it’s on to the activism – and activists – which followed.
And of course we are introduced to HIV.
The actor/creators’ take on the epidemic is an unusual one, innovatively presented, as is much of this history lesson. Mr HIV Virus (a rare lapse in the show’s vocabulary) is before a judge and it’s time for the victims impact statements. We learn that the cast never themselves lost anybody to the disease (the oldest cast member is 33) but instead they mourn the loss of a generation of potential mentors. It’s an overstatement of the facts which ignores a generation of long term survivors, not to mention negative gay men, who survived the dark days. But no matter. It’s done respectfully. I was happy.
Al in all, this is a crackingly good production where a standing ovation was inevitable – for the cast and for the inspiring feel-good depiction of our heritage that they presented. I defy anyone NOT to love this show. Run, don’t walk to see it.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents
The Gay Heritage Project
Created & performed by Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, & Andrew Kushnir. directed by Ashlie Corcoran, set & lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. video design by Cameron Davis. sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne, historical consultant J. Paul Halferty
Runs until January 31. Weds - Sat 8pm, Sat & Sun 2:30pm
Box Office 416 -975=8555 or buddiesinbadtimes.com
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON