Toronto
7 min

Feast on a queer buffet

Rhubarb, jocks, turkey, dysfunction & heartbreak

FRANCO BONI. What actors say in crowd scenes. Credit: Jan Becker

Back in 1978, 15 Torontonians were brainstorming in the Metro Reference Library, trying to dream up a meaningful name for a theatre festival that would feature short, original Canadian works. When meaningfulness failed, these brainstormers turned to meaninglessness until the meaningless became meaningful.



After five fruits and vegetables, they came up with Rhubarb.

“It’s a perfect name,” says Franco Boni, festival director of Rhubarb 2000. “To rhubarb is to complain. Rhubarb is what actors say in crowd scenes where everyone is talking simultaneously declaring, ‘Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb! ‘”



Since its inception 22 years ago, Rhubarb has grown to become the largest curated festival produced by a Canadian theatre company. From Wed, Feb 2 to Feb 27, 26 theatre performances by 29 playwrights will bring one of the biggest buffets of theatre to hit this town – with your choice of light and playful or edgy and risky.



Boni believes this festival is all about choice. “If they want to make it a night of tears, there’s some great drama. If they want to make it a night of funny stuff, there’s that as well.”



Rhubarb has never looked so tasty. With such size and selection, choosing the play you want is part of the fun. The Valentine, Sunrise, Crimson and Victoria rooms – each named after a different variety of rhubarb – will host five to eight shows nightly. All plays will be shown at the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre space.



Though there is plenty of tantalizing theatre to offer, here are a few of the queer highlights from the first two weeks of the festival (more to come, next issue). Hope it helps you with your feasting. Remember, most productions are only 30 minutes long and you can move around from one room to the next to optimize your evening meal.



MARGOT AND THE GREAT BIG PLATE



When asked about his favourite athlete, Greg Kearney quickly answers, “Martini” (no last name given). This is the inspiration, where Kearney finds his Muse. “I’m obsessed with women in sports,” says Kearney.



“Sporty women seem like a safe entry point to the world of sports, for me as a gay man. It’s time to pay homage to all the women athletes.”



It’s an unusual mission statement, but Margot And The Great Big Plate is not a typical story line. It explores the desire to become a female athlete from an unlikely candidate. “It’s about a really troubled middle-aged gal who thinks she can blossom into a world class athlete,” says Kearney.



The play is not intended to show us Margot’s rise to fame, but Kearney hopes audiences leave with a better understanding of what it is like not to become an athlete. While writing this script, Kearney has learned a lot about women in sports. “A contemporary athlete today is usually 16 – fearless and no bigger than a B-cup,” he says. This certainly contrasts to what Kearney refers to “the lusty, fulsome dame” who the character of Margot embodies.



Margot represents what happens to a dream deferred. “She is completely marginalized,” says Kearney, “a basement apartment dweller whose childhood, lesbian pal had made it big – living in Aspen with Martina Navratilova.”



Still, Kearney hopes we can admire Margot for having the balls to aim for the impossible.



In addition to his fascination with athletic excellence in women, Kearney also had someone special in mind while writing the script. “I wanted to write something for my friend Caroline Azar, who is really underrated as a comedic talent. I want to show everyone what a gem she really is.” Not only does Azar play Margot, but she is the co-director (along with Kearney).



All in all, the show offers a little drama, a little humour, plus courage and passion -everything you could find in the Olympics and more. Kearney (who may be familiar to you as an Xtra columnist) is a big fan of the play and honestly says, without any sense of irony, “I completely shit my pants when I was writing it – I think it is really fucking hilarious.”



Maybe you will too….



Margot runs at 8pm during week two, Wed, Feb 9 to 13.



THE FREELANCE LOVER



“It’s action, action, action – a whole lot of action.” That’s how Evalyn Parry characterizes The Freelance Lover, a new play about a slutty dyke who knows the joy of non-monogamy and the pitfalls of freelance work. “It’s a musical – it’s pretty goofy, pretty irreverent, pretty jam packed.”



With Ali Eisner on vocals, Scot White at the piano and Parry herself as the narrator, the story unfolds in rhymes. “It’s kind of done in a cabaret style,” says Parry.



Her work reveals the close relationship that exists between the life of the freelance worker and the life of the freelance lover. “If you’re in a couple, it’s like having a steady job,” says Parry, “you have stability but it may not be as interesting as being single and having sex with lots of people.”



The horny hero of Parry’s story begins as a straight university girl who comes to Toronto, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with no job nor friends. “At the start of the play, she really doesn’t know who she is,” Parry says. Of course, this lusty lass makes friends quick at her new job in a coffee shop where she tackles an array of new prospects.



“I’m telling a story about coming out while having fun with different lesbian stereotypes,” says Parry. During her work at the coffee shop, the freelance lover meets the mochacino bombshell with a perfectly placed nose ring, low-fat latte Lucy with her tanned muscles and the Americano babe who can only have soy milk. And we can’t forget the decaf butch who is perfectly dreamy, but just may be a man.



Themes of work and love abound throughout this play, but it is also a satire of people in their 20s who suffer from career instability despite their hard earned education. It is a tale of disclosure. The freelance lover does not only come out to her parents, but tells them about her free love philosophy.



Parry hopes to continue writing about the freelance lifestyle (though she is currently chez girlfriend) with more tales about the just-can’t-get-enough girl. “This is the first episode in what I hope to be an on-going serial. ”

Freelance Lover runs at 8:30pm during week one, Wed, Feb 2 to 7.



TURKEY IN THE WOODS



The seeds to Jan Derbyshire’s play, Turkey In The Woods, began to grow in the warm months of summer when Derbyshire headed out of the city for the often quaint and classical theatre of the Shaw Festival. It was there that she was captivated by the family dramas between men, their relationships with one another and how they operated in a dysfunctional family.



“After I saw All About My Sons this summer, I wanted to write a family drama, but with three women,” says Derbyshire.



Derbyshire was drawn to the intricate roles of the male leads. “As an actor,” she says, “I knew I really would never play one of these male parts that are really quite fabulous – men in the family who hold secrets.”



But that didn’t discourage Derbyshire.



After replacing the men with women in her writing, she added her own brand of creativity. By focusing on the complicated relationships between women of the same family, Derbyshire put together a script strong on character.



The story takes place in Alberta and follows the lives of a mother and two daughters. One daughter is a visual installation artist from Toronto with an openness about her lesbian identity. The younger daughter has stayed in Calgary, suffering from a multitude of curious physical ailments.



Mom sees herself as the rock of the family. “She just wants to have a nice Thanksgiving,” says Derbyshire. “She would prefer not knowing things.”



With this play, Derbyshire hopes to explore the ceremony around holidays and what impact these occasions have on families. ” I want to show what happens to us when we try to take on a ritual that isn’t ours any more.”



She also wishes to play around the secret attics where we store our family histories and insecurities. “There’s all kinds of different dysfunctions in the family – alcoholism, manic depression, all kinds of mental illnesses.”



With such demanding roles required for her play, Derbyshire is thrilled about the cast assembled for the show. “I’m excited to be working with the calibre of actors we have in the play – Sarah Stanley and Anne Hardcastle, plus John Palmer who is a wonderful director.”

Turkey (a one hour show) runs at 10pm during week one.





DEAR JOHN: WHAT’S LEFT AFTER GOODBYE?



Has Gordon MacKeracher been left behind? Not too long ago he performed the one man/ woman show, The Drag Queen That Time Forgot? For Rhubarb, he presents Dear John: What’s Left After Goodbye,” a play starring Ron Kennel and directed by Jordon Merkur.



This time, MacKeracher wants to explore the pitfalls of gay love gone awry and what happens when your loved one gives you the slip.



“It’s kind of like art imitating life,” MacKeracher laments. “I was originally going to write a play based on a series of love letters that I had written to an old boyfriend years ago. As I was starting to write this play, my current boyfriend ditched me – quite dramatically.”



It’s a sad tale indeed, familiar to far too many of us. If, however, you expect some respectable distance between MacKeracher’s heartbreak and his craft, then you would be mistaken. “It’s not theatre, it’s therapy,” he says jokingly.



MacKeracher believes that gay men have a particular relationship with the pain of being dumped. “Gay men are lucky – we can draw from male patterns of behaviour and female patterns of behaviour. We can be a real drama queen and we can be very stoic and clinical.”



Though one may expect this performance to fall neatly into the comedy or drama slot, Dear John falls into both, offering its audience a pleasant anomaly. Though MacKeracher clearly wants to dive into the bluesy depths of being dumped, his play is not without its humorous moments.



MacKeracher has included a few songs for lyrical umph.



They include “Low Light Love,” about looking for romance in bathhouses and back rooms; “Vengeance Is Mine,” about the different ways you can get back at your ex-lover; and “Build A Better Mousetrap,” about learning a lesson from all this dumping and broken heartedness.



If you’re looking for direction for your own wounded heart, it should be known that there is little advice in the play. The only thing MacKeracher can tell you from his experience of losing love is this: “If you’re gonna take a vacation to try to forget your boyfriend, go some place warm.”



Dear John runs at 9pm during week one.



DESERT & CHEESE TRAY



Other intriguing offerings include:

• Conrad Alexandrowicz’s The Erotic Curve Of The Earth, which probes how love and neuroses intersect (at 9pm during week one);

• James Flagal’s Roller City, directed by Patrick Conner, which presents the tale of a 13-year-old boy confronting his first love at a roller disco (9:30pm during week one);

• Ronit Cohen’s lesbian parenting comedy, Seed (9pm during week two);

• Greg MacArthur’s Girls Girls Girlsm, where gymnastic competitors get riled up (10pm during week two);

• the first installment of the pay-what-you-can Guest Speaker Series, featuring Sky Gilbert, Richard Rose, Cynthia Grant, Richard Shoichet and Thom Sokolowski discussing the founding of Toronto’s Theatre Centre in 1979 (at 7pm on Thu, Feb 3);

• and the pay-what-you-can Under 21 Series, with readings by Blair Francy and Tara Michelle Ziniuk (7pm on Thu, Feb 10).



Rhubarb 2000.

$15 per night; $20 per week; $40 festival pass.

Wed, Feb 2-27.

Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

12 Alexander St.

(416) 975-8555.