It’s about that time again – gay playwright Bryden MacDonald is due back in Ottawa to show off another masterpiece.
The Cape Breton-born talent has touted his talent in this city regularly since his Québec debut in 1998. He’s expected to hit the stage twice this season with When All the Slaves Are Free and his current show, Whale Riding Weather at the Great Canadian Theatre Company.
“It’s really a love story that centres around an older man and his young companion lover,” explains MacDonald of Whale Riding Weather. “Their relationship is over but they’re sort of still together.”
The plot thickens between lovers Lyle and Otto when Jude, a young “studlet,” struts onto the scene and grabs Otto’s attention.
“It’s an exploration of commitment,” adds MacDonald. “I keep having to go back to the term co-dependence. They really can’t survive without each other, but at the same time they’re destroying each other.”
Though he says Whale Riding Weather is not an outright comedy, MacDonald can be known for his dark humour, which he credits to his East Coast roots.
“I am a pretty verbose writer,” he admits. “Being from the east coast, we’re a land of storytellers. Everyone I knew and grew up with was a loudmouth, including myself at times,” he laughs.
MacDonald hints that he finds his play funny, but says his sense of humour has been questioned in the past.
“Lyle can be quite a cantankerous old bitch,” explains MacDonald of the play’s wit. “And his partner, Otto, has learned to fire back at him just to survive. It can be quite bitchy at times.”
The play sets the stage for Lyle, an older artist/painter who is trapped in his own environment. MacDonald calls him both “mighty” and “helpless” and says the character was inspired by a man he saw sitting in a Montréal gay bar.
“He was a very elegant old queen,” he begins. “He had wonderful rings on his fingers, very manicured. He had a brandy snifter and he was just staring ahead and there was a steady stream of tears rolling down his cheeks. It was startling. I was completely taken by him.”
MacDonald’s imagination transformed the man into Lyle, who’s caught in a dead-end relationship with a younger man, Otto, whom MacDonald describes as “a frozen child.” “He’s really never grown up,” he explains.
Enter Sault Ste Marie native Jack Wetherall, of Queer as Folk fame, who finds playing paranoid Lyle a challenge.
“He carries with him a worldweariness,” says Wetherall. “He’s been on the planet a long time. The image for me is the idea of one of those great whales that has sort of beached itself and we don’t know why. That’s what my character is, a great big whale that’s lost his way.”
Wetherall’s resume is lengthy, but he notes Lyle has the same “panache” as his previous roles, Cyrano de Bergerac and Oscar Wilde.
Wetherall, who has called both New York and Stratford his home, says Whale Riding Weather is “one of the most beautiful plays” he’s ever read,noting that the language is “excruciatingly beautiful” and that MacDonald manages to capture the Canadian landscape. The play explores many themes including paranoia and co-dependency, he says, but adds that the play is sexy, sensual and resonates for anyone.
Ottawa actor Paul Hopkins plays opposite Wetherall as Otto, a younger man plagued by panic attacks and agoraphobia.
“Otto is somebody who’s built up a wall,” explains Hopkins. “He’s sort of lost touch with the outside world. His main struggle is coming out of that shell.”
Otto recognizes his situation through Jude, a fresh-faced young romantic who acts as a catalyst in the play. But playing Otto is a change for Hopkins whose roles include high-voltage characters such as Caliban in The Tempest.
“Usually I play very expressive characters,” admits Hopkins. “The interesting part of this role is playing a character who has to learn to express himself, has to show a lot of inner turmoil. The challenge is there for me to not use my visual devices.”
Whale Riding Weather runs until Apr 27, but an extra performance has been added Apr 25 as a GCTC benefit for Bruce House (See related article, page 12).
“People will be able to meet the actors afterwards, there will be a little function at 11 o’clock,” says Sean Fitzpatrick, communications manager at the GCTC. “It’s a really good cause. If the play fits a charity we can help out, we’re always willing to do that.”
Tickets for the benefit are $40 and are available at After Stonewall, Ottawa Knights and Capital Xtra.
“Box office numbers have been amazing this year,” says Fitzpatrick of the theatre’s 28th season. “We like to give back to the community. That’s important.”
WHALE RIDING WEATHER.
Great Canadian Theatre Company.
910 Gladstone Ave.
Box office: 236-5196.