Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Summerworks theatre fest’s new lease on life

A queer spin on reality

REBORN. D'bi.young launches Benu, a new mother's examination of life and mortality.

Reality might stink — especially to Torontonians these days — but the artists at the Summerworks theatre festival, running Thu, Aug 6 to 16, can turn even the most off-putting material into something life-affirming.

One of the must-see shows has to be d’bi.young’s newest offering, Benu. Young wowed audiences and critics with her stunning performance of an abused child in ’Da Kink in My Hair, while her playwriting (blood.claat), beat poetry and social activism continue to showcase her amazing talents. Her new play adds yet another dimension to young’s fascinating persona as she explores motherhood and mortality.

“All of my work in some way deals with death and rebirth,” says young, who began writing the piece while pregnant with her second child. “The Benu bird is a predecessor to the phoenix — the Greeks got the story from Africa.”

Using the story of the Benu as metaphor, young examines the cycles of life and mortality from a hospital bed after giving birth. She inhabits many characters on this quest, including a psychiatrist, a heart specialist, a “Babyfather,” two wise-women and the mythical Benu bird itself.

As the piece evolved, young began to realize that her experiences as a parent were changing her own perceptions of society and reality. “One thing my children have taught me is that I know nothing,” she says, laughing. “They make me question what I’m trying to teach them. It constantly feels as if I’m starting from scratch.”

Benu is directed by Natasha Mytnowych and premieres Fri, Aug 7 at 6:30pm in Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace (60 Ryerson Ave).

In February of 2008, 15-year-old Ventura, California student Lawrence King asked schoolmate Brandon McInerney to be his Valentine. A few days later, Brandon shot Lawrence in the back of the head with a .22-calibre revolver. It was an event that horrified the gay and lesbian community throughout North America. Playwright and actor Dave Deveau (Are You Afraid of the Dark?) first learned of the tragedy while watching the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and has turned his outrage and grief into a new performance piece called My Funny Valentine.

“When I first encountered news of the case I was deeply shaken,” says Deveau. “It became a sort of obsession that shaped itself into a piece.”

That shaping is still going on; McInerney’s trial has been anything but expedient. “There’ve been countless delays in just having the preliminary hearing,” Deveau says, “so there are script rewrites happening every day to reflect the changes in the case half a continent away. Huge decisions are being made in people’s lives as I write this in my living room.”

Certainly there is much grist for Deveau’s creative mill. McInerney has pleaded not guilty, while King’s penchant for coming to school in make-up and heels are giving right-wing commentators plenty of fuel.

“Dave’s connection to the piece has certainly been one of its strengths, but it’s also a challenge,” says director Cameron Mackenzie, who is also Deveau’s partner. “I really watched him struggle with why this piece should exist, if it really is just obsession or is it something that needs to be said.”

Mackenzie encouraged Deveau to focus on his own story as an outside observer to Lawrence’s murder, rather than trying to get inside the heads of those involved.

“This is not The Laramie Project,” says Deveau. “It’s just me looking down at this thing, thinking “How was (McInerney) able to take a gun into class, take it out and shoot someone twice? How was this possible?”

My Funny Valentine opens Aug 6 at 6pm in Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace.

Other Summerworks shows on the gay radar: a remount of Winnipeg-based artist Daniel Barrow’s weirdly wonderful “manual animation” performance piece Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry (beginning Aug 7 at 4:30pm in Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace), a delicious new opera by Njo Kong Kie and Kico Gonzalez-Risso called La Señorita Mundo (Aug 7 at 8pm in the Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen St W), a dark satire from Bronwyn Glover and Tre Whan (of The Hobo Homos) called Old Peculiar (Aug 6 at 8pm in Factory Theatre Studio, 125 Bathurst St) and Actionable, a lament of Canadian Idol exclusion by brilliant songsmith Bob Wiseman (Aug 7 at 8pm in the Factory Theatre Studio).