I wonder if a queer right of passage is sneaking into your first gay bar underage. Mine was in first-year university, a little hole in the wall somewhere on Church Street. My friends and I were beckoned in by the door person, we danced together for a little bit — I think we might have even been given free drinks — and then departed, feeling dangerous as we took the long trek back to York University. The next time I had the chance to visit the Village the place had disappeared.
Concrete Kid, a play about queer, urban youth, captures that electric feeling. The show follows Jamie (Annelise Hawrylak), a barely post-high-school teenager, adopted and raised by a misguided but caring suburban-Toronto Christian family. The play explores Jamie’s story as she attempts to escape the endless, unfulfilling cycle of her life, at least for one night, before being shipped off to a rural Ontario town for the summer. With the help of a sympathetic cousin, she secures a fake ID and heads to her first gay bar.
Penned by emerging playwright Ray Jarvis Ruby, Concrete Kid tackles the turbulent life of a teenager’s frustrated tinder-box sexuality mostly through sections of exquisite spoken word. These are the moments when the production really comes into its own. Ruby’s writing is poetic, superbly crafted and a joy to listen to with Hawrylak’s solid performance. This culminates in an especially chilling monologue delivered by the four-person cast in chorus.
Compared to the spoken-word sections, the scenes in between can feel a little thin, the narrative satisfying but relatively straightforward, though it has some nice moments. The set consists of four chairs, several coat racks, and a few other props, and the Spartan set serves the production well. As the audience enters, Hawrylak is onstage, in character, in her own little world. At the top of the show, the other three cast members enter in their underwear and proceed to dress, and the small ritualistic moment is strangely satisfying. Also, while it’s the story of a young queer woman, Concrete Kid is not yet another coming-out story. Jamie knows who she is, though her coming out has not led to eternal rainbows and sunshine, so we find out what’s next for her.
Concrete Kid really shines in its more atypical moments: the spoken word, the dressing. It loses that edge when it falls back into more tried or traditional tropes and scenes. Blue Dagger Theatre, led by Ruby, promises itself as an emerging company dedicated to original works of queer theatre for artists of all genders and orientations. My hope is that the company, as it establishes itself and produces more work, will continue to capture those electric moments it’s capable of while casting out the old and traditional.