Monday, January 27, 2014

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don't think it'd understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man...

You can tell your ma I moved to Arkansas
Or you can tell your dog to bite my leg
Or tell your brother Cliff who's fist can tell my lips
He never really liked me anyway

Oh tell your Aunt Louise, tell anything you please
Myself already knows that I'm okay
Oh you can tell my eyes to watch out for my mind
It might be walking out on me today

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don't think it'd understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man

The Opening Ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games will happen Friday, February 7, 2014, at 12:14pm ET. The 2014 Grammy's happened just last night and thirty four couples, (same sex and opposite sex) united in a ceremony that has been viewed by some as  intrusive propaganda - an anti-Christian leftist political message inappropriate at an awards event that is suppose to be just about the music. In an age when sexual identity is still such a hotbed for infuriating discussions one may wonder where the whole notion that the personal is political has gone to. So many songs depend upon narratives that call into question traditional notions around love and romance, and yet we still have irate people voicing their opinions when a specific political message shows up in the midst of a lavish first world spectacle that tends to cloak everything in pomp and circumstance, and often shrouds the real life details of living and loving in very troubled times within non-specific, frequently heteronormative scenarios that leave so many sexual and gender possibilities out of the equation. My fakey achey breaky heart bleeds for spectators who cannot see the forest for the grammy nominated trees. For all the tone deaf music loving homophobes out there, get a grip!!!

And how does any of this politicized banter relate to the current piece of musical theatre gracing the stage at Theatre Passe Muraille? The Way Back to Thursday is a tender, at times bleak, always loving account of a gay man's struggle to find his way through all of the intolerance and lack of acceptance in time to share his identity with someone he loves deeply.

Living in a large urban centre can make the innocent and poignant charm of a musical about coming out in a homophobic world where huge political strides forward have been made seem a bit hokey and somewhat naive. And yet seventy-five minutes of non-stop melodic song cycle discourse between a young man and his grandmother ultimately wins one over in Rob Kempson's musical tour de force. 

The song cycle format allows two gifted performers, Kempson himself and Astrid Van Wieren, to tackle the daunting task of taking on a relentless parade of emotion, from childish delight to mature disappointment and discovery. Van Wieren has a powerful and commanding presence as her beautiful voice subtly navigates the array of musical motifs Kempson has created for her to explore. Kempson's physically and emotionally charged performance runs the gamut from frolicking pre-teen to inquiring adult who feels he has to leave the nurturing confines his grandmother provided and move to a large city to discover himself. 

Both performers move effortlessly through a narrative that brings us full circle, and yet the musical direction and the simple set, although effective, may not have given the political and emotional message the strength and power it truly needs. Simplicity can be a strong choice for a complex message, and yet The Way Back to Thursday could fare well through the use of more layered, less citational musical motifs - and a somewhat more developed sense of iconic theatrical gestures such as camp, satire, and even projections that would allow the Hollywood imagery referred to throughout to speak silently - and for itself.  

Rock Hudson plays a small part in a narrative that might have explored his presence further, thereby taking the analogous struggles between grandmother and grandson into more intricate areas. Two forty five minute acts, with an intermission, rather than a single hour and fifteen minute cycle, might begin to support the complexities of this very ambitious, entertaining, and important musical project.

Musical strains reminiscent of fifties pop, moving into more staccato rhythms that cite composers as diverse as Sondheim and musicals as iconic as A Chorus Line, could have been diversified further, giving the stories and the emotions a somewhat more layered rhythmic intensity.

And yet, at the end of the play, on the way back to the thursday night, old movie/filmfests that grandma and grandson once shared, one finds a very simple and moving story that still needs to be told in an era when there are still countless people being made to feel ashamed, even terrified, of their sexual identity. The Sochi Olympics and the Grammy Awards may appear to be very opposite cultural and social events, but they both take us back to, through, and hopefully beyond the horror that homophobia has wrought for decades. The innocent charm of Rob Kempson's musical, the terror of current Putinesque politics, and sixty eight women and men being married at the Grammys last night,  reminds us that there are so many intricate ways in which to view the personal and the political. The Way Back To Thursday promises to become one of many positive vehicles for a universal, much needed message about love.

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