Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Peaking at 60?

Sky Gilbert's new play an homage to 'excellent women' of a certain age

Ed Roy and Gavin Crawford play a pair of middle-aged, unmarried sisters in A Few Brittle Leaves.
It’s not exactly a shock to hear that Sky Gilbert’s new play features men in dresses. After all, this is the playwright who brought us Suzie Goo: Private Secretary and Drag Queens in Space.
But there’s something a bit different about the female characters played by Ed Roy and Gavin Crawford in A Few Brittle Leaves, opening April 24 at Buddies: they aren’t drag queens. “I call it Chekhov in drag,” Gilbert jokes. “But the actors are playing women. Drag is, in its essence, something that gay men do at parties and perform in bars. Some drag queens are very talented mimes, dancers, singers and even actors. But I have cast this play with fine actors, and they will be playing women, with real emotions, that I hope will move the audience.”
You can tell from looking at the poster image of Roy and Crawford sharing a rather stern cup of tea that this brand of female impersonation is more Kids in the Hall than RuPaul. “I’m an actor and so I’m interpreting and creating a character that was conceived by a writer,” Roy says.

“It isn’t a send-up or a parody of these women,” Crawford agrees. “I approach characters the same way, male or female: what’s the core of this person? What do they want? As an actor, that’s what matters. Well, that and a nice dress.”

A Few Brittle Leaves tells the story of a pair of middle-aged, unmarried sisters: Viola (Crawford) and Penelope Pie (Roy), whose world is turned upside down when Reverend Gupta, the new vicar, moves to their fictional London suburb. Penelope imagines a possible romance with Gupta that gets complicated when Nora Tweedy, an enterprising younger woman, comes on the scene. The ensuing comedy of manners is an homage to an influence Gilbert’s fans might find surprising. “I very much enjoy the novels of Barbara Pym,” Gilbert explains. “She wrote several novels around the middle of the last century about what were called ‘excellent women’ — the kind of women who go to church, have tea, frequent jumble sales and never get married. I was fascinated with Pym’s realistic and non-condescending portraits of these women. I think Pym was a prototypical feminist writer.”
Excellent Women is a far cry from Suzie Goo, and — perhaps especially for Crawford, known best for his outrageous characters on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Gavin Crawford Show — a tricky role to crack. “The challenges in Brittle Leaves are a bit more subtle,” he says. “I play the more conventional of the sisters, so I suppose I will need to find a way to be both boring and interesting simultaneously.”
As the Pie sisters negotiate spinsterhood, Penelope, in particular, struggles with what, at her age, she should expect from life. Should she search for a great romance, or is it time to be pragmatic? And what exactly is “aging gracefully” in 2013? “The issue around aging gracefully has, I think, a lot to do with age-appropriate outfits and activities,” Gilbert says. “How do you dress when you are older? How do you act? What if you want to show some flesh or wear trendy clothes? Is that over? What if you want to go dancing, get drunk and dance up a storm — should you do that if you are old?”
Roy thinks our culture has created a skewed notion of what getting older actually means: “The consumer society has us all by the short and curlies, creating the illusion that we’ll all be young forever. It’s a distorted view of life that causes a lot of unhappiness for people. For me, keeping an open curious mind, nurturing old friendships and creating new ones, and being adventurous in my personal and artistic life seems to keep me in the now, and that’s the best I can do.”
Crawford agrees that, especially in the gay community, aging can be incredibly difficult and suggests that it’s better to embrace the experience you’ve gained than to chase the youth you’ve lost. “But perhaps aging is more difficult if you were particularly popular or attractive when you were younger,” he concedes. “I was always a melon-headed ginger, so I figure I’m still growing into my looks. I hope to peak around 60.”

A Few Brittle Leaves
Wed, April 24–Sun, May 5
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander St