Halifax’s small Bus Stop Theatre was the scene of riotous laughter on Aug 31 as Gay White Trash had a triumphant opening night at the Atlantic Fringe Festival.
The play, which premiered to sold-out audiences in 2005, won fringe fest awards for Outstanding New Play (playwright and actor, Michael Best) and Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role (Kevin Curran). The show looks poised to repeat that success judging from the enthusiastic response of the first night audience at the theatre in Halifax’s unofficial gay village.
Gay White Trash tells the story of two boyfriends, Gary (Best) and Terry (Curran), who have left their small rural hometown for the more exciting gay-friendly city of Halifax. The 30-something couple are determined to live up to the archetype of gay life presented in magazines and on television. Gary seeks a life of sophistication, culture and wealth, while Terry is more comfortable in a bingo hall than a gay bar. Tara Doyle plays Joyce, the hard-drinking foul-mouthed neighbour who begins to drive a wedge between the two men. Martin Burt, who also directs the play, is Kendall, a sleazy, promiscuous older gay man who offers to “mentor” Gary in his new gay life. The result is Gay White Trash, the hilarious account of the confrontation between naive ignorance and the hard reality of city life.
While much of the humour of the play arises from the gay pair’s stumbling attempts at queer savoir faire, Best has also written a brilliant satire of contemporary gay culture. Gary and Terry are exaggerated versions of all of us, with our carefully concealed insecurity about being witty or cultured enough, whether we are wearing the right clothes, have the right physical shape or follow the most popular diet.
While often clumsy and laughable, Gary and Terry also maintain a certain dignity, an opinion with which Best enthusiastically agreed when he spoke with Xtra.ca after the performance.
The idea for the play, he explained, originally came from a sketch he had written for the comedy troupe Birdy Num Num, of which he is co-founder. The response was so favourable, says Best, that he began to turn the idea into a play.
“Most of the laughter is because people recognize themselves,” says Best. When asked about possible touring, he noted that funding is always a difficulty in theatre but agreed that the play’s universal themes would appeal to Canadians outside of Halifax. “Maybe Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto would like to put it on,” he suggests with a laugh.
The Atlantic Fringe Festival began in 1991 and has grown in size and popularity ever since. An extra performance of Gay White Trash has now been added to the schedule with the final showing Sep 7.