Gay Play Day is Toronto’s festival of theatre featuring work by LGBTQ playwrights
Gay Play Day, hosted by Alumnae Theatre and now in its seventh year, is a play festival focused on premiering work by LGBTQ playwrights and on LGBTQ themes. There are two programs, presented at different times, which seem to be structured to appeal to different audiences.
Pink, comprised of Fade to Black, Labels, Diamonds on Plastic, and Point and Click skews toward an older, more conventional audience with more traditionally structured work; one play nostalgically venerates Old Hollywood, and in another, a shopaholic, drunken Southern belle monologist (Margaret Lamarre, tearing up Philip Cairns’ Diamonds on Plastic) is right out of a slightly crasser Tennessee Williams play. Lavender, made up of I’ve Just Seen a Face, Missed Connections, The End is the Beginning and Coming Clean, feels a lot younger and a little more chaotic and fun, much of it an evolution of standup or sketch comedy.
Fade to Black, by festival Artistic Director Darren Stewart-Jones, is the longest piece by far of the eight, clocking in at more than half of Pink’s runtime. It’s blessed by the presence of Nonnie Griffin as octogenarian Bedelia Blake, a fictionalized America’s Sweetheart of the Classic Hollywood era now living forgotten in a Bronx rattrap -until her community service-appointed Meals on Wheels deliveryman (Nathaniel Bacon) turns out to be a huge fan.
Griffin, who starts the show sleeping under an Uta Hagen acting book, is sharp, cynical, and fiery yet frail, appropriately outmatching everyone else on stage. The play’s premise is charming, skewing a bit heavily toward wish fulfilment by the end. It’s a strong concept that still needs some extra room to develop and breathe, despite already being the longest work. I could see this turning into a more full-length one act.
One play from each collection is centred on a didactic idea or concept about identity. Labels, by Erika Reesor, focuses on the shifting nature of a lesbian relationship when one partner decides to begin pursuing HRT as a trans man, and The End is the Beginning, by Tina McCulloch, takes a look at “ethical nonmonogamy,” asking if it can be ethical when one partner wants both to remain monogamous. The latter is helped by an unusual non-chronological structure and strong performances, particularly writer McCulloch as the monogamous Vivian.
Labels, which ends with a very strong line, has a bit less going for it in the writing and acting departments, both a little stiff (the cast is different for the September 8th performances). In particular, when one character starts to wax poetically about the other’s name, it’s so tonally and linguistically different from the rest of the argument that it’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to be comedic or not.
Each program has some high comedic points. Steven Elliot Jackson, the writer behind Fringe Festival hit The Seat Next to the King, ends the Pink show with Point and Click. It’s about a vain and venal studio photographer (Adam Bonney) and his comeuppance, delivered by a studio visitor who doesn’t fit his desired “look” (Jim Armstrong). The cathartic ending verges on after school special, but it’s so satisfying to watch a man who viciously describes pregnant women as “lumpy” get taken down a peg that it doesn’t really matter, particularly when it’s delivered with panache.
I’ve Just Seen a Face, kicking off Lavender, might be the funniest of all the plays. Force of nature Mel (Chantel Marostica) tries to hook up their friend Charlie (Sav Binder), who has severe prosopagnosia, or facial blindness, with knitter Annie (Rose Tuong), while nursing a crush on Sage (Kasden Leo Indigo). Written by Kris Davis, the show is a little disorganized and sometimes seems like an excuse for Mel to make quip after quip, but what quips they are: it’s a chocolate quip cookie with a sweet romantic centre, and who can resist that?
Coming Clean, by Laura Piccinin, is a droll standup routine about the various times she has come out to all sorts of people, including having to come out more than once when her sexual identity label shifted. It has a particularly great bit about the unclear rules of going to the same bathroom when out on a lesbian date: “Are we still on the date? Or are we in time out?”
My favourite piece of the evening was probably Lavender’s “Missed Connections,” written and performed by Mark Keller. Keller’s performance as the jilted, depressed half of a broken long-term relationship, who spends his time desperately searching Craigslist to see if anyone’s described a potential connection that might match his description, is funny, manic, vulnerable, and sad. It’s the kind of rare monologue that is actually the right length for its goal. It also manages to make jokes about depression that are both light and punch-you-in-the gut relatable.
Whatever your identity or orientation, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to relate to and enjoy at Gay Play Day.
- Gay Play Day runs until September 8th at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.)
- Lavender shows are at 3:00PM and 7:00PM, and Pink shows are at 5:00PM and 9:00PM
- Shows run approximated 75 minutes without intermission.
- Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online (with a small service fee) or in person at the door (cash only)
Promo image provided by the company