Arts & Entertainment
3 min

More gay highlights at Toronto Fringe

Tammy Faye, Big in Germany, and Being at Home with Claude

Catch An Evening with Tammy Faye at the Toronto Fringe Festival starting July 1. Credit: Karen Wright

Every queen who’s wondered if a decent cover-up can be found in heaven can finally relax: Tammy Faye Bakker is back from the great beyond to share God’s love for gays and heavenly makeup tips in An Evening with Tammy Faye.

Now, some may be surprised to learn of Tammy Faye’s history of supporting queers, but lesbian playwright Shannon McDonough is ready to spread her gospel of acceptance and love to the uninitiated.

“I felt bad for her when I was kid,” admits McDonough. “She always seemed to be crying. Then I saw that documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye and became a huge fan. It made me do all this research and find out how supportive she was of the gay community.”

Director Margaret Smith had no idea of Bakker’s activism until learning of it from McDonough and admits to some initial skepticism.

“I was just taking the National Enquirer headlines I had read and applying them to her,” Smith admits. “This play has really opened my eyes to a pivotal time in American history, where I think [gay acceptance] really took a turn for the worse, and I was shocked and surprised at the kind of stand Tammy Faye took personally. She was one of our first allies [and was] even marshal at several Pride parades.”

An Evening with Tammy Faye also features Jack TV host Peter Laneas. It premieres July 1 at 6:30pm in Factory Theatre’s Mainspace.

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Gay for history: A Fringe offering steeped in Canada’s murky gay past

The scene is a Montreal police station in 1967. Three men occupy a small interrogation room, oblivious to the happy sounds of Expo celebrations winding down outside. The air is filled with smoke and tension; an inspector has been grilling his suspect for 36 hours straight with little success. The suspect, an enigmatic young hustler (played by Ryan Fisher) has confessed to a murder, but won’t provide any details of the crime — much to the chagrin of the inspector in charge of the case (Lorne Hiro) and a court stenographer (Ross Tundo). Now, three days into the interrogation, nerves are beginning to fray as the truth slowly emerges in Being at Home with Claude.

French playwright René-Daniel Dubois first premiered Being at Home with Claude more than 20 years ago in Montreal (a film adaptation followed in 1992), highlighting a time in Canadian history when anything gay was securely closeted.

“This was in 1967, before gay rights,” says Hiro, who is also producing the show for this year’s Fringe. “Acceptance of homosexuality was such a huge thing back then. Everyone covered it up with hate.”

Director Alan Lee intends to play up the film noir elements in this production and promises a riveting murder mystery that will keep audiences engrossed and on the edge of their seats.

“It’s very fast-paced dialogue that runs like a freight train,” says Lee. “We have a hazy atmosphere onstage with these three guys who have been struggling with each other for 36 hours. You can imagine what they smell like, how close to the edge they are. I want the audience to feel exhausted when they leave.”

Being at Home with Claude features the eerie piano compositions of Frank Horvat and opens July 1 at 8:15pm in Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace.

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Band of brothers: Salerno tackles the star-on-the-verge narrative

Alex and Bruce have been friends for much of their lives. They went to school together, started a band in high school and managed to strike it big in Germany’s inexplicable pop music scene (I’m looking at you, David Hasselhoff). The duo returns to Toronto to pursue Alex’s dream of hitting it big back home, but Bruce is leery of investing their European loot in a last-ditch grab at Canadian stardom. He’s also more interested in Alex than his friend may realize in Big in Germany, a new play by Rob Salerno.

“It’s the idea of the almost-realized dream,” says Salerno, who also plays Bruce in the play. “There’s this sort of romantic idea in my head of almost getting everything you want, but a little bit of you still wants more.”

Salerno’s own experiences with the highs and lows of theatre life have made their way into his newest creation. His brilliant 2008 Fringe show, Balls, was a huge hit and toured to sold-out crowds all over the country before returning home for a full-scale production at the Lower Ossington Theatre.

“I came back to pump all my Fringe money into the remount,” says Salerno, “but the turnout just wasn’t that great. To be honest, that’s a thing that hits you as any performing artist, even if it was a big success in Vancouver and Alberta.”

Happily, his subsequent production, Fucking Stephen Harper, was another crowd pleaser at last year’s festival, and Salerno came to realize that even Mirvish has to struggle to get bums in seats. Reenergized, the playwright poured his experiences into Big in Germany, and even added a tasty little gay subplot about the boy who got away.

“I think that these are all really common experiences,” Salerno says. “What is it that makes you satisfied and what is it that keeps you going? Logically, it can look like you have everything, and yet it still feels like you’re so far away from what you want.”

Big in Germany also features Michael Young and is directed by Victor Correia. It opens July 2 at 7pm in Tarragon Theatre’s Mainspace.