Charlie Sheen and Sky Gilbert have a lot in common. They’re not afraid to say what’s on their mind, and they don’t care if it pisses a lot of people off when they say it. This past week Toronto was treated to brilliant extended tirades from both of these maverick celebrities in an age of rampant moralism and self-righteous Sheen bashing.
Sheen’s two-night stint at Massey Hall was a spectacle to behold, second only to the voracious voyeurism we have been treated to by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer over the years. A Queer Theory Professor once said to me that there is a fine line between Winfrey and Springer. I agreed at the time, but now I don’t believe there is a fine line at all. They do the same thing, in different ways. They do what Sheen is doing. They bring trouble onto the stage and screen and they let us become titillated by it and they get paid hefty sums to do so. The difference between Oprah, Jerry, and Charlie is that Charlie does it to himself. Winfrey and Springer do it to other people and play high priestess slash lofty chaperone to the fugitives and the dispossessed.
I was in the second row centre for Sheen’s torpedo tour and two women to my left could not get enough of hearing themselves howl in support of Charlie’s sex crazed drug induced escapades, and they clearly loved both pastimes themselves. They had to be restrained by security guards at one point. Later in the show another woman screamed from the balcony, “Charlie will you go down on me?” Charlie, in a sense, took the moral high road by saying that of course he would never do a thing like that in public, and then played devils advocate by asking the woman what they would actually do if he were to take her up on her seemingly preposterous proposal. Moderator Russell Peters intervened by jokingly suggesting a live sex show, but was overshadowed by the two screaming crack loving sex goddesses to my left who yelled out, loud and clear, “You would spread her legs and eat her Charlie. That’s what you’d do!!!” Wow!!! I was loving every distasteful minute of this horny night in Canada. My own past forays into booze, sex, cock and roll were being pandered to and it felt good - in a strange, uncomfortable and totally satisfying way.
The spectacle at Massey Hall last week was not primarily about Mr. Sheen. It was all about me, and you, and the ways in which we, as a viewing public, play voyeurs to so many acts that we may not want to always take part in ourselves, but many of us love seeing them enacted within the framework of television, film, theatre, what have you. But when it steps outside of those safe, comfortable confines some among us tend to moralize and begin to loathe the same people we loved when they were just pretending. Charlie Sheen never really pretended. As a character named Charlie on Two and a Half Men, where he continually battles with strong, complex, sexy women who frequently demolish his testosterone ridden ways, it is clear that he is playing a version of himself.
If Sheen, in ‘real’ life, chooses to take part in what some people (not me) consider a grave illness that needs to be disavowed, then so be it. I’m not condoning or damning any of his behaviour. I’m devouring it. Clearly some of his behaviour will be up to the courts to judge. But in the final analysis, Sheen is just capitalizing on something that has been going on culturally for a very long time, and whether he knows it or not, he has decided to be one of many glorious sex positive metaphoric pricks attempting to burst our self righteous little bubbles regarding the fine line between art and life - sometimes they are the very same thing.
On the second day of his Toronto visit Sheen publicized a walk from the Rtiz Carlton to Massey Hall, and invited anyone who cared to join him to make the trek with him in support of people struggling with bi-polar disorder, something Sheen has been recently diagnosed with. I was otherwise occupied and not feeling terribly bi-po that day. But if circumstances had been different, who knows, I might have joined the crowd of 200 groupies who graciously accepted his invitation.
And as if that was not enough gorgeous, over the top, sentimentality on Sheen’s part - at the end of the evening when I was at Massey Hall, Sheen invited a Toronto woman onstage who had publicly declared her severe depression over her husband’s sudden death two years ago. She revealed that she had mourned for a year by staying in bed and finding profound comfort in watching Two and a Half Men episodes every single day. Apparently she had sent Sheen a letter asking if it might be possible for him to christen her husband’s ashes onstage during his Toronto visit in order to help her lovingly let the legacy of her hard drinking hubby rest in peace. Her honest disclosure and subsequent ritual were a wonderful testament to the healing powers of televised, hilarious, syndicated mayhem. Charlie and his torpedo team could not have asked for a better finale. It was outrageous and it was moving and I tried not to shed a tear. But I failed, miserably, succumbing to sentimentality in the same way I cry at the end of Extreme Home Makeover or during an especially harrowing episode of The Young and the Restless.
And how does any of this relate to Toronto playwright Sky Gilbert? Well, go to see his current play The Situationists at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and find out for yourself. It sparkles and shines with fabulous vulgarity, glamour and a particular brand of Canadian sheen that Gilbert has become famous for. It is an exhilarating and intellectually stimulating two hours (one intermission) in the theatre with a brilliant cast lead by the magnificent Gavin Crawford sporting a French accent that competes with the comedic genius of Peters Sellers memorable Inspector Clouseau.
Basically, Gilbert’s play does what Sheen is doing, in a different way. It rips the veil off of polite, moralistic discourse and implicates the audience in a complex web of farcical antics that cross sensitive political lines, exposing cultural, social, sexual, and intellectual play as complex social constructs to be reckoned with. The only thing it lacked, and certainly didn’t need, was a running commentary by Russell Peters, the wonderful Canadian comic who came to Charlie’s rescue last week and fended off potential hecklers with his impeccable brand of self mocking, reverse racialized humour that is simultaneously dangerous, uncomfortable, and absolutely hilarious. So if you missed Charlie and Russell, and prefer your farce a little less ‘reality based,’ then there is still time to catch the frightening and delightful antics of Gilbert’s play, running until April 24th at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.
What a week! I think I need theatre rehab!!!!