Toronto
3 min

Stratford road trip

Where the queer imagination dares to go

PERI-GIGI-CLES. Stratford offers up fearsome romance for women and romantic adventure for men in both productions of both Pericles, starring Jonathan Goad and Nazneen Contractor, and Gigi. Credit: Xtra files

What with the shadow of SARS, West Nile and a floundering continental economy, the summery theatre streets of Stratford appear a little dispirited these days. But a single afternoon of Shakespearean fantasy – The Adventures Of Pericles – followed by an evening of Lerner and Loewe musical comedy – Gigi – may provide theatrical reassurance in these sardonic, world-weary times.



Shakespeare’s Pericles is considered by many a disconnected series of puzzling scenes penned by a disenchanted, experimentally challenged playwright. Program notes by director Leon Rubin, however, move this tale beyond the confines of incredible history and render it a fairy-tale replete with dubious Orientalism, spectacular costumes, gorgeous Shakespearean verse and a set that makes a startling exit during the final moments of the play.



But it is all a little troublesome to have to view two classic tales in a single day. So if I get the plots of Gigi and Pericles a little mixed up, forgive me. After all, they both render romance an equation fearsome for women and adventuresome for men. So why not go whole hog and wander blindly from the Festival Theatre to the Avon Stage imagining yourself bearing witness to an all day post-modern production of Peri-Gigi-cles.



Gigi was adapted in the 1950s from Colette’s novella of the same name. Why a Parisienne bi-lesbienne would write a story about a very young, straight, French courtesan stretches the queer imagination to places one hopes others dare to go on stage. But as it stands, the Lerner and Loewe version is just another gloriously campy musical testament to the fearsome global marketplace we make of women, and the adventuresome commodity mongering theme park we make of men.



I was hoping Stratford artistic director Richard Monette, who directs this production, would make a special appearance as Aunt Alicia, reprising his historic 1970s drag expertise as Michel Tremblay’s fabulous Hosanna. But my great expectations are rarely satisfied. Lo and behold, Patricia Collins excels in this outrageous role as Gigi’s meddlesome pimp-ess who procures quite a handsome dowry/settlement for the fledgling wife to be. This is a superb drag role played with immaculate butch-femme bravado by a strong charismatic woman. Bravo.



Pericles starts off slow, with director Leon Rubin presenting ridiculous, inept little sword fights and processions of knights that do not fare well on the Festival stage.



In contrast, Cameron Porteous’ luscious, painterly designs fit Gigi perfectly into the proscenium confines of the Avon Theatre. It is total delight from start to finish. All of the voices are exquisite, notably James Blendick as HonorĂ© and Domini Blythe as Mamita. When they pair up to sing the enchanting, “Ah Yes, I Remember (It Well),” they warm the gay cuckolds of my musical comedy heart. In leading roles, Jennifer Gould as Gigi and Dan Chameroy as Gaston are remarkably attractive specimens who perform with the vivacious energy of nightingales on steroids.



Next door, the men and women in Pericles are overdressed, succumbing to an over-furnished, over-produced fashion show early on. Designer John Pennoyer has paid too much attention to the decor of a Pier One Imports showroom.



Jonathan Goad as Pericles is stiff at the start, but once he dons an elegant grey wig as the dispirited old man, his performance becomes electrifying and thoroughly moving. Thom Marriot as Gower is an engaging, exotic study in white powder and senior diapers, while Thom Allison’s tremendous musical talents seem underutilized in a small drag role and some barely noticeable fifth business. Why on earth wasn’t he in Gigi?



As HonorĂ© exclaims musically, early on, “Thank heaven for little girls, without them what would little boys do?” And although politically aligned readers know precisely what little boys and little girls do without the opposite sex, it is quite quaint and terribly thrilling to watch grown-ups mis-identify it all in song. This is a camp “straight” musical struggling to become a gay extravaganza – like much of musical theatre. The struggle is vastly entertaining.



Go to Stratford at some point this summer or fall. Gigi is well worth the visit, while Pericles disappoints at the start. But if you make it to the end, Pericles becomes a thrilling ensemble filled with fine performances, though burdened by scant attention to an articulate and otherworldly distinction between fantasy and fashion.



THE ADVENTURES OF PERICLES.

$39.40-$94.47. Till Oct 31.

Festival Theatre.



GIGI.

$51.15-$105.04. Till Nov 1.

Avon Theatre.

Stratford.

1-800-567-1600.