2 min

Let’s get physical

Queer lives inspire entertaining brilliance

Credit: Sheila Spence

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald suggests that Mary Ellen MacLean’s “gift as an actor is the deft precision by which she sketches eight different characters in strikingly vivid strokes.” In her one woman show, Frankie, currently running at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, MacLean’s gift as an actor is equally apparent in the demanding physicality crafted into the piece.

Her ability to capture eight different characters brilliantly is achieved in a paradoxical way – with what appears to be a kind of Brechtian alienation effect – not by capturing eight distinct characters, but rather, by integrating a complex variety of character traits into her own special stage persona.

Joey, the drag queen character, is defined by lighting and beautifully clichéd physical movement, such as an arm and hand gesture that accompany a bitchy quip about growing up gay in a hostile environment.

MacLean’s engaging vocal technique seems to rely upon the sound of her own voice, allowing small, subtle nuances of other characters to creep through, thereby sustaining a single character within an eight-character monologue. This is no easy feat. A lesser performer would lose her audience in minutes. MacLean, however, keeps her audience in the palm of her hand from start to finish.

The large mainspace at Buddies is daunting. MacLean meets this challenge with simplicity of set and movement. When her physicality must briefly but powerfully move from comedy into an enactment of a bashing incident, the audience is shocked into tragic recognition of how vicious homophobia can suddenly occur within the fabric of our everyday lives. As she sweeps across the stage in black work boots and a flashy party dress, the large space allows MacLean to feature her skills in mime and physical theatre in a simultaneously broad and precise manner that gives her room to play with all of the characters she has created.

Stand out lines referring to KD Lang as a self-absorbed vegetarian, or, “Why can’t we have a gym teacher like Anne Murray?” reflect the very entertaining and sardonic Canadian content of the piece.

The character of Tundra, Frankie’s dope-smoking, singing and guitar-playing girlfriend is a highlight of the evening.

The sister of Lesbos musical interlude pokes good humoured fun at solidarity among lesbians while another song, sung by a reformed homosexual, represents the anti-gay cause as a laughable and fruitless endeavour and gives many audience members that much needed opportunity to laugh wholeheartedly at its decidedly non-queer detractors.

Ultimately, MacLean’s rendition of hockey playing dykes, drag queens, queer bashers and gay- away homo-no-more advocates, is a vastly entertaining evening presented by a brilliant performer. Frankie runs until Sun, Dec 15 at Buddies In Bad Times (12 Alexander St); call (416) 975-8555.