1 min

The sleeper

Piledriver offers softcore action

HOMOEROTICA FOR HOMOPHOBES. The true story of gay wrestler Killer Karl Kramer gets Darrin Hagen and Joe Bird all riled up. Credit: Ian Jackson

Sweaty men in tights rolling around together, epic violence, cock-sucking, repressed homoerotic passion.… What’s not to like about this play?

Piledriver follows a group of bush-league wrestlers in 1979 touring the bars and rec centres of redneck Canada on their way to the big city, Toronto. The troupe is almost entirely queer – after all, who else wants to spend all their time groping other men? The exception is the star of the show, Randy Rage, who travels with wife Angie in tow.

Along the way they are joined by Rock “the Cock” Hardd, a brash and talented young wrestler who wants to steal the glory from Mr Rage. Randy responds to Rock in unexpected ways and all types of passions are aroused.

There’s plenty of opportunities for erotica in a show about men rubbing against each other and writers Darrin Hagen and Wes Borg take advantage of them all. On one level, this play is just good soft core gay porn, but it’s also a lot more than that.

The show was inspired by the true story of Harvey Jones (aka Killer Karl Kramer), a queer wrestler in the ’70s whose full identity was revealed after he died of AIDS.

Hagen, a drag queen in real life, has said that he was drawn to writing about Jones’ story because of the similarity between wrestling and drag shows. The script effectively explores the thin line that separates apparent opposites: hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity, fear and desire, homophobia and homoerotica.

Underlying all the stylized action is a message about how scary blurring these lines can be to the mainstream and the connection between homophobic violence and repressed desire.

At times this message is revealed too directly and the show feels preachy. The play’s biggest flaw is an overly dramatic ending that rings false in the script and that none of the actors are able to grapple with believably.

Still, in general tight direction from Bradley Moss extracts strong performances all around and keeps Piledriver about characters instead of topics. The play succeeds because it is faithful to the mythic style of professional wrestling and deals with heavy (though somewhat clichéd) issues without ever sacrificing story.

Piledriver continues at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St)until Sun, Apr 15; call (416) 975-8885.