Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Theatre review: Zona Pellucida & The Needle Exchange

Membrane-busting humour

Although it may sound like an opera you’ve never heard of, Zona Pellucida is the scientific term for the membrane surrounding an occyte. And what, pray tell, is that all about? Basically Zona and her outrageous cohorts make it possible for sperm to gain access to the all-important egg, thereby enabling human life to develop in the womb, enter into the social sphere and become famous. Currently on stage at Buddies in Bad Times, the beautifully absurdist drag spectacle bearing the name Zona Pellucida, created and performed by Montreal-based, metaphorically adheres itself to the sides of diverse aesthetic membranes ranging from the work of Tennessee Williams to the ever seductive voices of Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis and delicious divas warbling operatic selections by Vincenzo Bellini.

It may sound a touch high-falutin for the constant theatregoer, and we probably won’t find Mr and Mrs Harper spellbound front row centre, but this show is a brilliant — at times comic, at times poignant — pastiche of 19th- and 20th-century film, music, video,  “a wild take on blue-screen puppet theatre” and first class lip-synch that is utterly captivating from start to finish.

Through a series of tableaux comprised of live performance alongside expertly conceived videos skillfully projected onto to a variety of props and surfaces, artists Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard present a seemingly disconnected narrative that ultimately tells an absurdist post-modern story about love, loss and the ways in which gay consciousness has been impregnated by a wide, wild and woolly variety of aesthetic forms. Like the biological Zona and her naughty egg hatchers, this confectionery piece of theatre impregnates the imagination with incredibly rich vocal and visual imagery.

Zona Pellucida gives birth, rebirth, pre-birth and afterbirth to a multitude of emotions that promise to make you laugh, cry and reestablish your innermost need to imagine yourself as beautiful, as tortured and as perverse as Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly Last Summer or Tennessee Williams fantasizing belligerently in a courtyard in the French Quarter.

And if that’s not enough sublime entertainment for one evening, there’s the ever-infamous hostess extraordinaire Keith Cole following Zona with his own brand of membrane-busting humour. Opening with a bitchy little ditty performed by Cole, the first installment of The Needle Exchange featured Steve Caffery in delectable boy drag flexing his dance-abilities with Cole doing a lip-synch performance beside him, both dwarfed by a video of Keith pouring unspecified liquid onto the street at a busy Toronto intersection.

Opening night saw Magician Magic Mike offer up witty card tricks, while Paula Wolfson sang a powerful version of the theme song from that irresistible 1970s/’80s sitcom The Jeffersons. Surprise guests, including any local politicians sane enough to accept an invite from Ms Cole, promise to litter the stage of The Needle Exchange over the course of the run.

A double bill with a vengeance.