Two minutes into our parley, one of the staff at Melriches asks David Blue to please take his hat off the art. Blue turns red. “I thought it was a coat rack!” he blusters, waving away another staffer who’s trying to put a candle down. “No candles,” he tells her. I don’t ask.
Last we checked, David Blue did camp. David Blue did musical theatre. David Blue did super-gay, cover-it-in-sparkles-and-FedEx-it-to-fagtown smorgasbords.
The man’s been a ballet dancer and a hairdresser (“florist next,” he chimes). Media have noted he’s “gay as a goose,” “a big fag,” “very gay,” and “the Most Happy Fag in the World.” That last tag is cribbed from Blue’s 2004 musical by the same name.
Most Happy Fag received lukewarm reviews-the Georgia Straight grudgingly called it “almost swell”-but its catchy tunes and unabashedly gay content got people talking. And Blue’s fledgling company, Raving Theatre, has since grown into one of the more promising efforts on Vancouver’s queer scene.
There’s nothing more promising than the promise of full frontal nudity. Happy Birthday, with a poster so racy that Waterfront Theatre refused to display it, features the birthday suit of Wayne (Jamie Foster) at the onset of act two.
We spot the burning ember of his cigarette and-cue the soft lights-Wayne is revealed to be not enjoying a post-coital fag but scrounging the last of a pack he found on a nipple-raising night, on a balcony in the West End.
Today is Wayne’s 35th birthday and he’s been locked on the 26th storey balcony after the unfortunate return of his trick’s boyfriend. We don’t see the French farce, though; we don’t see the fluttering bed sheets and screeching explanations. What we see is the lonely time between scenes, when there’s just Wayne and his conscience. “I’m waiting for my escape,” he tells the audience.
Happy Birthday is a more somber piece than its predecessor, Most Happy Fag. There’s no song and dance, for starters. Six thematically connected scenes dissect the critical moments of six birthdays. These are reckonings.
And two of these scenes-a pair of paranoid monologues-come off extremely well.
Jeff Flieler gives what is unarguably the top performance of the evening as the drunk and pill-popping Albert. At home, alone, on his 39th birthday, Albert issues a litany of disasters that have occurred on past birthdays. “The curse” has led to his locking himself in a secured cabin, attempting to avoid his birthday altogether.
The fates cannot so easily be thwarted however, and Albert discovers his first white pubic hair that morning, whereupon he elects to kill himself with an overdose of Flintstone vitamins.
The play’s final scene, and its other great performance, showcases Steven Bidwell as the 19-year-old Troy.
Troy is faaaaabulous. So gay is Troy, in fact, that the fluorescent mohair pillows on his leopard print bedspread look tasteful and reserved by comparison.
Troy has chosen his 19th birthday to come out to his family which, having achieved consciousness, is not surprised. This complacence traumatizes the boy, who collapses in a torrent of tears, deserts the party, and calls Gay Help Line to talk out his “feelings.”
Bidwell manages to maintain a manic energy through a devastatingly high-energy monologue wherein his character’s exuberance gradually reveals the pimply, fucked-up teenager within.
That anxious edge, that eau de Woody Allen, is distilled and made weaker in the remaining scenes, where a combination of ineffective writing and doused physical chemistry hampers each relationship.
Conceived two years ago, on a trip to Toronto, Happy Birthday is largely based on “my own experiences,” says Blue. But he edges away from the autobiography fallacy, noting “people seem to have rituals about their birthdays.” It’s a time, he says, when a life must be accounted for.
Blue wants to account for queer lives, especially. “There’s not enough of it,” he says over thick, writerly glasses. “And it pisses me off.”
So, what to do once a second production hits closing night? If you’re a workaholic with a penchant for pink, you create the Gay and Lesbian Arts Centre. Blue hopes to build a rehearsal space, a theatre and an office where Vancouver’s queer talent can thrive. “I’ll be the one napping in the back,” he nods.
Not enough? How about a Queer Writer’s Festival, to boot? With half a dozen others, Blue plans to kick off Vancouver’s first installment this fall.
But wait! There’s more! Raving Theatre also recently took time to spearhead plans for a Vancouver Musical Theatre Festival. Hardly surprising, since Blue has fostered Vancouver’s musical theatre since founding the Rainy City Gay Men’s Chorus in 1996. He stepped down as the chorus’ artistic director last fall, and Alex Gowans took up the reigns. Something had to give.