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The Body Politic – a rich slice of Toronto’s queer history now on stage

Saturday, 28 May 2016 Written by // Bob Leahy - Editor Categories // Activism, Arts and Entertainment, Gay Men, Performances, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific , Bob Leahy

Bob Leahy reviews The Body Politic at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a play about the newspaper - and the collective -that was so central to the birth of LGBT rights in the 70s and 80s

The Body Politic – a rich slice of Toronto’s queer history now on stage

Aldrin Bundoc & Geordie Johnson (photo by Jeremy Mimnagh)

“Gay Liberation.” How quaint that term sounds today. But it was certainly uppermost in the hearts and minds of the handful of people, some still living, who founded Canada’s first gay liberation newspaper in October 1971. Called The Body Politic, its turbulent life span ran out after 135 issues in 1987. Overtaken by Xtra, also from Pink Triangle Press,  which took a more populist approach to LGBT news and views, The Body Politic is now the subject of  a new play by Nick Green. 

I know those times well; it was good that many at the opening night performance last Thursday did not, as they were too young, but they have been served well by this “historical re-imagining” of this pivotal time in our collective history. I remember, for example, the hoopla created by the newspaper publishing Gerald Hannon’s “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” in 1977 and the horrified charges that it promoted pedophilia. I remember the 12 year-old Emanuel Jaques murder which preceded it and made the story on intergenerational sex such a hot potato back then. I remember the Toronto bath raids in 1981 and how enraged we all were. In fact I was on the streets when a massive protest occurred at Yonge and Wellesley which arguably led to the mobilization of a community which went on to organize to fight AIDS which was emerging at almost that exact same time. 

A friend - I remember how mortified he was for, like many then, he was a private man - was among the almost 300 men arrested. It all felt horribly violating. 

In any event, these events, as well as the tempestuous relationships within the collective, are part of the fabric of The Body Politic that has now been brought to life on stage. 

But how to tell these expansive stories? Nick Green has chosen to frame them in the context of a present day one-night  stand between a collective member and survivor of those days and a young man, a cute barista half his age, who we learn after they sleep together, is HIV-positive. This narrative allows for a series of flashbacks and imaginings where the young man is sometimes involved, sometimes not but where characters come out of the past to enact the collective’s history. This structure also allows for extended present day conversations about sexual politics and intergenerational attraction, for example. So it’s a “talky” production, but not without dramatic tension as we delve into past events. 

The production’s strength is a talented and committed cast of six – one senses they have lived and breathed the history they portray in preparing for their parts. Notable are the highly gifted Geordie Jonson as the survivor/narrator/keeper of the memories and young Aldrin Bundoc who is close to perfection as his young trick whose mix of curiosity and tenacity propels the ensuing drama. Production values are all first class, something we have come to expect from Buddies. 

One leaves the theatre feeling grateful that we have a production which itself now becomes part of our historical record of how we as gays and lesbians (literally) grew up. I must confess the non-linear telling of the story – “flashbacks” would be too simple a term to describe it – seemed not entirely successful and by half time I was yearning for a simpler structure. But others will like its grace and generous room for sidetracks into present day conversations like HIV, hookups and lesbian involvement in gay men’s issues. In short, there is a lot going on here.  Too much?  I don’t know. 

Certainly the opening night audience, a friendly crowd which included real life Body Politic protagonists like Ken Popert and Ed Jackson, gave it generous applause. 

 Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and lemonTree creations present 

Body Politic by Nick Green directed by Alisa Palmer starring Geordie Johnson, Diane Flacks, Jonathan Seinen, Aldrin Bundoc, Craig Pike and Cole Avis 

Runs May 26 to June 12 

Box Office 416-975-8555 or 

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON