Toronto
2 min

Agitprops

Keeping anger fresh

MÉLANGE. Mirha-Soleil Ross's Yapping Out Loud made for an arresting evening. Credit: Xtra files

“I’m sooo liking your hair,” said one beautiful blonde to another in the lobby of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre on opening night. This was the first hint that the audience for Yapping Out Loud was not your typical Toronto theatre crowd.



For once this middle-aged reviewer was not one of the youngest in the audience. Instead of sitting in a theatre surrounded by people absent-mindedly wondering if this would be a good time to activate their RRSP investments, I was happy to be in a definite age minority.



Opening night audiences are notoriously unrepresentative of the total audience that a play eventually attracts over the course of an entire run, but hopefully something about this performance continued to engage this new kind of audience. Performed in Tallulah’s Cabaret, Yapping Out Loud makes for an interesting, often arresting evening.



With a provocative, occasionally inchoate but always powerfully argued thesis to expound, writer-performer Mirha-Soleil Ross takes advantage of a number of devices that theatre artists now use to engage a new audience not interested in the traditional concept of the well-made play. Video screens, sound design, recorded readings of connected texts and live music make this performance look and sound far removed from the single-performer piece of theatrical memory.



Ross mixes biographical material about her own life and career as a transsexual prostitute, some convincingly argued verbal activism and a series of vignettes that target fictional representatives of the forces she feels are ranged against her and her fellow sex workers. This makes for a striking and complex blend of pedagogy and fiction and she, along with director Nicole Stamp, have to be congratulated on their success in bringing it off.



Stamp has obviously worked hard to ensure that a mixture of fast-paced movement and effective costuming keeps the audience fully engaged in this 70-minute piece that veers close to the edge of hectoring without ever actually falling over.



The dramatic heart of the production is Ross’s parody of a boardroom presentation given by a corporate-style, social work feminist. Ross, presumably by sitting through endless meetings with many versions of this eager type, has produced a convincing burlesque which feeds off her anger, while retaining a strong sense of theatrical veracity. Her other personifications do not make the same impression, but are kept short enough to avoid alienating her audience.



Ross is very well served by her collaborators, most visibly by violinist and sound artist Reena Katz. Katz’s playing is perfectly in context. She is a sensitive accompanist to her fellow performer, and even succeeds in a minor dramatic stint playing an impatient community cable producer overseeing a hyper-active cheerleader. Mark Karbusicky’s video work lulls with hypnotic effect, but gives a serious jolt by using disturbing hunting and trapping images to accompany some of Ross’s angriest moments.



* Yapping Out Loud at Tallulah’s Cabaret closed Dec 5.