It’s hard to say whether more heat is generated by the 25-person-max audience crammed into the tiny Videofag storefront in the middle of July (alongside a surprisingly large cast baking under the stage lights like chickens in a really weird rotisserie) or by the inventively staged, disarmingly realistic gay sex scenes that pepper the plot. Either way, Feint of Heart is a sweaty night. It’s also probably not like anything you’ve seen before.
Back in 2010, indie rocker Henri Fabergé was given a residency at the University of Toronto's Hart House that evolved into a six-part serialized monthly drama combining Fabergé’s music, Juliann Wilding’s beautiful and whimsically DIY design elements, and a fantastic roster of Toronto sketch-comedy artists. Now, it returns in a condensed two-part version that you can watch over two evenings or in one marathon session. Complete with three intermissions, and clocking in at over three hours, the marathon edition is certainly long, but it’s also an electric night of inspiring weirdness.
The story finds Henri Fabergé, a charismatic young aristocrat, enrolling as a cadet at Boyce Naval Academy, where he is considered a prize recruit by the eccentric General Lorette, though his drinking and debauchery cause him to clash with strait-laced head boy Tindal. Meanwhile, at the neighbouring Hart College, an avant-garde art school, Tindal secretly performs as his drag alter ego: Queer E-Lezzie-Bitch the Fist. But that’s only a small sampling of the outrageous characters and bizarre plot that Jim Henson and Gilbert & Sullivan might have cooked up together after a long night of drinking and weird sex.
It’s apparent upon entering Videofag that Feint of Heart is the most ambitious theatrical production to be mounted in the venue yet. The walls and ceilings have been painted blue, which, combined with video projections and the leaves and tree branches interspersed throughout, utterly transform the space. The design sets a high bar for the show, which the performers happily meet and even exceed. Each commit so fully to the strange world they’ve created together that virtually any combination of characters is a delight to watch, although Kayla Lorette’s portrayal of middle-aged General Lorette is a comedic performance so nuanced and stunningly well-realized it alone is easily worth the price of admission. But the show’s smouldering heart is the anguished love story between Fabergé and Tindal, whose emotions and genuine erotic tension often boil over into musical numbers: for Fabergé, his own music; for Tindal (as Queer E-Lezzie-Bitch the Fist), 1980s new-wave pop songs, which is appropriate given the show’s Adam Ant-ish, new romantic aesthetic.
Seeing a show like this takes a big commitment from an audience member, whether you’re returning multiple nights or seeing the whole thing at once, but if you’re game, there’s a richly rewarding world of eyeball dresses, kissing cadets, frontal nudity (both real and riotously artificial) waiting for you in this joyful celebration of art and performance.