3 min

Courage vs violence

Come face to face with your own demons

MEAT PACKING. Weldon Rising, a black comedy set in New York City's meat packing district stars Mehron Paul and Scott McCord and is directed by Jordan Merkur. Credit: David Leyes

“I think you’re gonna see something on stage that you just don’t normally see – I know, that you don’t normally see,” declares Jordan Merkur, the director of Weldon Rising by lesbian playwright Phyllis Nagy.

Not only does the play add lesbians, gay men and a transgendered character to the mix, but also violence and comedy. “It’s a surreal black comedy,” says Merkur. “It has all the elements I look for in a play – and it’s hysterically funny.”

Weldon Rising certainly has plenty of momentum behind it. Originally performed in England to sold out shows and rave reviews, success led to performances throughout the US and its upcoming Canadian premiere in Toronto on Fri, Mar 3.

The play features a remarkable cast including Hume Baugh, Torri Higginson, Melee Hutton, Scott McCord, Brendan Wall and Mehron Paul. The creative team includes Richard Feren who is “one of the best composers for theatre in Canada,” according to Merkur.

Weldon Rising is set in New York’s meat packing district among gay and straight strip clubs, artists’ residences and the down-and-out. On a particularly hot summer evening a gay man is brutally stabbed. His lover, a lesbian couple and a transvestite prostitute witness his death, but fail to act. The play maps out the nature of courage and how four individuals react to violence.

Nagy, who was born in the United States, began her writing career in New York City’s West Village. Though the lesbian playwright tried gallantly to get her plays produced, she was unable to generate enough interest. During a two-week trip to London, she submitted a script to the Royal Court and they went crazy for it. Now, nine plays later, she’s one of the most important contemporary playwrights in England.

“I’d consider her the female version of Brad Fraser,” Merkur says.

Merkur first heard of Weldon Rising from his friend, Melee Hutton, who had acted in several plays in England. When he asked her what her favourite play was, she didn’t even pause to think. Weldon Rising.

Eclectic Theatre, Merkur’s theatre company, is dedicated to providing socially relevant and provocative work. Founded in 1985, the company has a history of providing queer theatre, including hits like Bent and Walking The Dead. “I am careful to pick gay and lesbian productions that can resonate in a new and different way,” says Merkur.

It is the controversial presentation of queers that drew Merkur to Weldon Rising. “It’s a critical look at gay and lesbian communities,” he says. “Each of the characters is transformed by the violence. But they are filled with apathy and disdain and they don’t want to get involved. And that’s fairly realistic.”

As a marginalized community, we are expected to support each other, but Merkur believes that this does not always happen. He asks: ” What stops people from taking action and what makes them not act in the face of adversity?”

According to Merkur, these characters want to live outside the gay and lesbian cliché. Again, he senses that many real-life queers feel the same way. “Most people don’t want to take on labels; they don’t want to be defined by their sexuality.”

The play also addresses one’s ability to assert heroism. It asks the question: Can heroism be learned? “If there’s a threat, can you take action and defend someone? Or is there something inside you that prevents that?” Merkur believes some of us are hardwired with heroic circuits but that most of us must learn heroism.

Ultimately Weldon Rising addresses our relationship with violence as it exists in the media and in real life. “We live in fairly violent times,” says Merkur. For him, most of us have become numb to representations of violence to the point where it seems commonplace and ordinary. This play tries to run counter to that line of thinking.

“Only by coming to the rescue of one another can we find strength.”

It’s hard to believe that such a potent message can come out of a play labelled as a comedy. The play’s ability to express the undercurrents of queer life is central, but its ability to thrill seems even more tantalizing.

“It’s hard to shock an audience, but [Nagy] does it.” And if that doesn’t entice you enough, Merkur promises, “the last five minutes are spellbinding.”

Weldon Rising.


8pm; 3pm Sun. Fri, Mar 3-19.

Alumnae Theatre Mainstage.

70 Berkeley St.

(416) 366-7723.