Now that we have gay marriage in Canada, does it need to be monogamous? As gay men and women get closer to equality, do we blend in or continue to shake things up a bit?
These are some of the questions asked in Evan Tsitsias’s (pronounced Chichas) new play, Unstuck, opening March 16 at PAL Theatre.
Centred on a gay couple forced to reconsider their relationship after one of them invites a third to join them on their 10th anniversary, the play is an examination of monogamy and gay marriage. Adding to the couple’s confusion is a chorus of protesters arguing for and against same-sex marriage outside their cozy home.
While not dead, Tsitsias thinks that monogamous gay relationships are going through a bit of a revolution. “Some gay men feel that we have to be radical and that it’s normal to discuss opening up our relationship with our lovers,” Tsitsias says from Toronto. “They feel we have to rebel against monogomy because we’ve grown up in this heteronormative society and we’ve been bound by politics and religion to believe monogamy is right.”
He says that when he was younger and in a long-term relationship, he had all “these ideals” about monogamy, while his friends in their 40s told him the only way a relationship can survive is to open it up. Now that he’s crossed the threshold of 40, he still wouldn’t open up his relationship but acknowledges there is a grey area when it comes to sex and love.
“I wish it was easy to separate sex and love, and sometimes it is,” he says. “What does some guy’s ass have to do with the love I have for my boyfriend? Then I see my boyfriend looking at some other guy’s ass and the questions start. I know I can separate sex from love, but can my boyfriend?”
Tsitsias was inspired to write the play after getting a tepid peck on the cheek while visiting his partner in Houston. With plenty of time on his hands and nothing to do in Texas, he wrote Unstuck, as well as another play. Since then he has had plays produced in the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto, participated in master classes and studied under some of his favourite Canadian playwrights, including Judith Thompson and Brad Fraser.
In 2011, Unstuck was chosen to be part of Screaming Weenie’s Clean Sheets play development series. The Vancouver production is its premiere.
“Evan is a tight and funny writer,” says artistic producer Chris Gatchalian. “The play was selected for the sharpness of the writing and Evan’s ability to say a lot about the privileged status of monogamy in a way that’s not didactic.”
The play’s director, Michael Dobbin, thinks it’s interesting to work with a writer who hasn’t looked at a piece of work in a while and is now having another go at it.
Dobbin, a self-described senior artist, feels it’s important that queer theatre articulate hot-button issues to help Canadians continue to lead the world in what it means to be free. He believes it is more than conceivable that the life gays live today could be thrown into turmoil as easily as the couple’s relationship in the play, in a country where our government doesn’t want us to have these freedoms but is hamstrung by the law.
But in a post-epidemic, equal-rights Canada, does queer theatre have a responsibility to further the gay agenda, or can we finally tell stories about ourselves?
“Gay theatre is extending the agenda, and the agenda is: now what?” Dobbin says. “Who are we anyway? What is it we’ve been talking about, and how do we behave in this culture, both from a societal point of view and in response to the legal reality in which we live?”
Tsitsias echoes Dobbin’s sentiment. When pondering the state of queer theatre, he wonders what happens to our identity the closer we get to being equal.
Identity has a recurring role in much of his work. He says his plays tend to be about people trying to figure out who they are after weeding through years of being told they are something else. His characters ultimately take tiny steps toward making a change.
The premiere of Unstuck will also usher in some changes at Screaming Weenie, beginning with a new name, to be revealed opening night, March 16 (the preview is March 15). Gatchalian hesitates to call the new name a rebranding, saying rather that it’s a reflection of how the company has evolved. After a comprehensive strategic planning session and community consultation, the company is revising its mandate while renewing its commitment to queer theatre.
“With five program arms, ‘Screaming Weenie’ doesn’t do the company justice anymore,” Gatchalian says. “We’re thriving right now. It’s a bigger organization than it has ever been.”
Which goes to show you can take the Weenie out of the name, but you can’t take the innuendo out of queer theatre.