5 min

Like the circles that you find

In the bedroom of your mind

Credit: Paula Wilson

Remember that jingly-jangly clown doll that was under Robbie’s bed in Poltergeist?

Dave Tomlinson is boldly lifting his dust ruffle to show you his own personal stash of nighttime anxieties in his one-man show Things Under The Bed. Like that clown, what’s underneath Tomlinson’s bed may shock, thrill, titillate and even scare. But Tomlinson feels compelled to drag out his dusty demons, lingering impressions and secret thoughts and expose them to the harsh glare of the lights and a live audience.

Twelve characters are channeled by Tomlinson; his relation to them is like Laura and her glass menagerie. He’s touched and enthralled by them and their delicacy. When he discusses the characters, his eyes cloud over and his hand movements change and you sense a medium in the room. First up is Joey Summerhill, an enthusiastic boy obsessed with Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Joey began when Tomlinson was a merchandise salesman in the lobby of that very show. There, Tomlinson experienced his own coming out and introduction to gay Toronto and he clearly remembers being struck by a young boy fan who loved everything Joseph.

To Tomlinson, the child screamed gay in a pre-sexual way and he notes how reluctant society is to look at those qualities and appreciate the distinction. “My heart was breaking,” says Tomlinson. “I wanted to say, ‘Hang on, hang on for 10 years and you will be fine.’ I wanted to hold him and hug him.” You don’t have to be gay to appreciate the sweetness and the reality of the eccentric, sensitive child with an inhaler.

Next is Cory Amos, the slightly fey, ethereal and, unfortunately, less talented younger brother of music’s current earth goddess Tori. The character brought the house down at last year’s Where The Boys Are cabaret at Buddies. Tomlinson calls Cory “so present,” yet “pretentious and arty.”

There’s also Brad Cameron, modeling agent, who explains to young hopefuls competing at the mall that, “We don’t have girls with eating disorders in the modeling industry, what we have is girls who’ve got order over their eating.”

Even more poignant subjects, such as a marionette played with by an abusive child and a homeless mentally ill man named Ernie, stretch the boundaries of comedy and play with the notion of the Hollywood ending. “With every spoon-fed happy ending,” says Tomlinson, “people don’t know what to do in their own lives when something doesn’t work out.”

If that sounds like a Lily Tomlin show, Tomlinson admits his own admiration for her work. But his show is a multi media presentation consisting of costumes, sound effects, music, three short films directed by Ed Sinclair, and a 30 second video of what Tomlinson calls “one of the most humiliating displays that I have of me.” He felt that he had to “drag that from under the bed” because he enjoys the reaction of the audience.

The show turns out to be more revealing than you might imagine when Tomlinson’s nightmares and body issues collide. He calls this the “dead body syndrome,” where people are “in a place where no one wants to be uncomfortable because it’s not magazine cover happy.”

The show works on three levels: “Things under the bed, the things that no one likes to acknowledge or talk about; Alice in Wonderland and the sense of falling down a hole into dreams and nightmares; and Poltergeist, using my own experience with a spiritual presence.”

This may sound a little new age for a boy who moved to Palgrave, north of Bolton, at eight, and settled into a typically rural life with three siblings and not much access to cultural pursuits. He calls high school, “the worst years of my life” and feels like his outsider status taught him to be “insanely independent.” Tomlinson notes that he has come from ” a place of such low self-esteem – feeling good about myself is something that has happened in the last five years.”

But his own transformation played out with that of his family. After his parent’s divorce his mother took a journey of self-actualization that led her to her own natural healing practice; he has a sister who is a nutritionist and psycho-spiritual therapist and a songwriter brother. After studying fine arts at York University and radio and broadcasting at Humber College, Tomlinson moved into Toronto full time to find his way with the Joseph show in his mid-20s. “I begrudgingly realized that being gay was not a passing stage.”

He proceeded to improv classes at Second City and discovered it was like “coming home.”

After completing the conservatory class at Second City, he did a show with another alumni Jessica Holmes, and was quickly recognized for his improv, earning a nomination in 1999 for the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund. He began writing more monologues and performing around town and then met up with Lex Vaughn (“grrrl comic”). A discussion on who was gay on the Waltons led to the sketch duo called Glyph.

Tomlinson raves about Vaughn; the two found their comic sensibilities so in tune that the partnership continues to this day and Glyph was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award this year. “Glyph has a serious vibe, dealing with subjects like fan obsession and the corporatization of culture.”

He resists the label of gay comic or gay comedy, preferring to call it “human comedy” and finds that the material works with gay or straight audiences. Commenting that the gay comedy audience does not get out of the village very often and is used to drag and camp, Glyph’s performance in the last Were Funny That Way queer comedy fest, was their first performance for a predominantly gay audience.

He says that a sketch on a young kid’s anticipation of Pride day and the arrival of the “Rainbow King” and a boy/priest confessional sketch hinging on taking a gay date to the prom went over as well as with a straight audience.

“The world of comedy has been unbelievably cruel to the gay community and minorities in general. Why would they want to be in the audience when they are the butt of ugly, gross jokes…? I’m okay with the stereotypes because I believe that they exist in reality, but you have to make them real and play them with integrity.” He believes that his gayness informs everything he does (it’s “in the weave”) but that it is not the centre of his existence.

Tomlinson is working on another show with Vaughn and another one-man show. He’s also written a musical about the anti-Christ, called Heresy, with Scott White. His TV appearances include the Gavin Crawford Show, and, most memorably, as Emmett’s dream date on episode one of Queer As Folk. And he’s appearing in the upcoming films Daddy’s Boy and Trepanning.

This is a transitional time for Tomlinson. Things Under The Bed is his first show with a director, Lisa Merchant, a comic idol of his; he calls the experience a “ménage a trois” with her and the script. Sound designer Sean Fisher also plays an integral role. (A workshop production was also nominated for a Comedy Award.)

Personally, Tomlinson says, he “struggles with being social and then struggles with being anti-social,” and fears that he “may live too much in my head.” But Tomlinson is tall, gorgeous, with piercing blue eyes and a laugh like Auntie Mame on steroids – so attention must be paid. He has two celebrity boyfriends – Keanu Reeves and Joseph Fiennes – but since they, too, exist only in his head, you might want to check Tomlinson out in person.

Things Under The Bed.

$11. 9pm.

Thu, May 30, Jun 6 & Fri, Jun 7.

Tim Sims Playhouse.

56 Blue Jays Way.

(416) 343-0011.