Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Fruit of the Fringe

From equal opportunity offensiveness to frothy teen fun

A good gavelling is in the cards when The Prosecutor (David C Jones), right, and his boyfriend (Wolfgang Schmidt) square off in Romance. Credit: Randall Cosco

Each year hundreds of productions vie for spots at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, chosen by chance via a non-juried lottery, literally picked from a hat. This year, Vancouver’s queer community hit the jackpot with 14 shows.

For Fringe executive director David Jordan, the unusually large number of queer shows doesn’t come as a huge surprise. “The Fringe has a strong theme of giving voice to the outsider, which lines up a lot with queer theatre,” he says.

“Being the outsider politically, socially and sexually is reflected in much of the content at the Fringe,” he continues. “Theatre is intimate but is also communal and is a perfect vehicle for telling those queer stories that are not normally told.” Here are Xtra’s queer picks for the 2012 Fringe Festival.

For full festival listings, go to vancouverfringe.com.

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ROMANCE

Playwright David Mamet is an equal opportunity offender in his enigmatically titled Romance, presented by Vancouver’s Queer Arts Society. Breaking every taboo he can fit inside this one-act courtroom comedy, Mamet makes no excuses as he annihilates everyone and everything in his path, from homosexuals to Middle East peace.

“No question, Mamet goes for the jugular,” says the show’s director, Adam Henderson. “Romance is the opposite of political correctness, all done with great humour.”

Henderson was looking for something other than sketch comedy, which he says is in no short supply at any Fringe, and knew he had a winner in Romance.

“I realized that no one else was going to give me the opportunity to do a show like this, and it is a perfect fit for something like the Fringe,” says Henderson, who originally received the controversial script as a Christmas present from his “super cool” parents.

Romance takes place in a courtroom, but the audience is never given an explanation as to what the case is about. Instead, Mamet uses the courtroom as a simple backdrop for racist and expletive-driven antics that include a judge whose allergy medications wreak havoc, a gay prosecutor with relationship problems and an Episcopalian attorney who trades racial slurs with his Jewish client: “God forgive me, what have I done? I hired a goy lawyer! It’s the same as going to a straight hairdresser . . . You fucking asshole. You brain dead, white socks, country club, plaid pants, Campbell’s fucking sheigetz goy.”

Despite pushing the limits at every page turn of his script, Henderson sees the power Mamet’s inappropriate humour can have on an audience.

“The world is increasingly full of prejudice,” he explains. “As we lose one [prejudice], others arise, and it is important that we recognize that, by refusing to say the words, we haven’t changed the attitudes.”

“Humour is an amazing tool to help break down prejudice,” says Queer Arts Society producer David C Jones, who plays The Prosecutor. “But Mamet is much cleverer than just a bunch of racist words.”

To illustrate, Jones points to the gay love story that plays out among the bedlam. “At the centre of all the crazy chaos, there is this volatile inter-generational gay love story which asks the question: How can we find world peace if we can’t find it at home?”

Romance

Fri, Sept 7–Sat, Sept 15
CBC Studio, 700 Hamilton St

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BI, HUNG, FIT … & MARRIED

Having already penned a book about his experience, author and now playwright/actor Mark Cohen moves from paper to stage to tell his coming-out story, as a bisexual man, to his wife of 15 years.

As Cohen recounts in his monologue, it wasn’t the fact that he was attracted to men that upset his wife; the fact that he had been having sex behind her back became the biggest obstacle to their remaining together.

“She wasn’t upset by my experimentation but that I had lied about it,” he says. “That was the wound that cut the deepest.”

Rather than simply tossing away the life they had built together, he and his wife began to delve deeper into their relationship and discovered that the thing that had drawn them together in the first place would help them get through Cohen’s revelation.

“We were always adventurous,” Cohen explains. “Throughout our relationship we had continued to explore and have adventures together, and she decided that this latest revelation was just another extension of that. At that point we began to explore our sexuality and open up our relationship.”

Going public with his story has been somewhat of a cathartic experience for Cohen, but more importantly, he says, it has led to a stronger, more intimate relationship with his wife.

“Intimacy is created when you open doors to yourself that you don’t open to others,” he says. “Even though she was angry at me, we were pulled closer together, and when we started to embark on this new adventure we were like two teenagers doing exciting, bad things together. It was fun, it was titillating.”

With his own relationship now stronger, Cohen believes there is someone out there willing to meet each of us on our own terms.

Bi, Hung, Fit . . . and Married
Fri, Sept 7–Sun, Sept 16
Studio 16, 1555 W 7th Ave

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ZANNA, DON’T!

Following the success of its teen musical 13 a couple of years ago, Awkward Stage Productions brings the zany teen musical Zanna, Don’t! to this year’s Fringe Festival.

Billed as a “queer romance to set you straight,” Zanna, Don’t! is a classic love story with a twist, as it plays out in a world where homosexuality is the norm.

Acting on their teenaged impulses, quarterback Steve and over-achiever Kate find themselves attracted to each other in a society where heterosexuality is taboo. As the two fall in love during the production of a controversial show called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, about straight people in the military, the magical, musical fairy Zanna makes an appearance to ensure they all live happily ever after.

With a cast and crew that range in age from 14 to 21 years old, musical director Andy Toth says he is inspired that a group of young people came together so easily to perform in a show he and the team at Awkward Stage thought might be difficult to cast.

Stage director and high school teacher Cara Tench initially shared the same concern but quickly discovered it was unfounded. “We thought there might be a little reluctance, as there are a number of same-sex kisses, but we were overwhelmed by the response,” she says.

Zanna, Don’t!
Thurs, Sept 6–Sun, Sept 16
CBC Studio, 700 Hamilton St

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QUICK PICKS

Sylvie La Riviere takes her lesbian romantic comedy Love You Until outside as part of the Fringe’s Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) series. A different ending on alternate nights sets out to prove that not all relationships are perfect, but they can beautiful no matter what happens.

Vancouver has been a breeding ground for new original musicals lately and Riverview High joins these growing ranks with this high school love story. An obvious wink to the cartoon kids at that other River-named school, trouble brews when Alex discovers his girl-hating, hot-dog-loving best friend has a crush on him.

Rob Salerno trades politics for the more serious in his latest monologue, First Day Back as friends, family, teachers, and tormenters gather to figure out who’s responsible for 14-year-old Jeremy committing suicide after months of bullying.