Wednesday, April 10, 2019


Johnnie Walker's Shove It Down My Throat is a truly epic piece of 'queer' theatre. By taking a relatively recent incident of violence and subsequent incarceration, and turning it into a broad, meta-theatrical example of the ways in which history has tackled identifacatory language and physical prowess over the past century (or so), the playwright has crafted an eclectic and powerfully dark 'comic' drama about individuals trying to stay afloat in a sea of potentially misidentified words and acts. 

And yet it may be misleading to label this as simply queer theatre, as many identity terms move throughout this two and a half hour play (one intermission) and prey relentlessly upon our current sense of 'proper' pronouns, 'proper' behaviour in the face of violence, and 'proper' social responses to the many variations on a single story (see april 3rd blog post for the story behind the play, Bateman Reviews). And it may be difficult for many to negotiate all that is proper and potentially 'correct' in current culture as notions of woke, trans, queer, gay, non binary, gender fluid, bisexual etc. swirl in a significant storm of personal and political choice. But in the end, Walker's highly entertaining and thought provoking play provides prescient insight into where we may steer ourselves as we confront each example of homophobia, racism, misogyny, transphobia (etc etc etc) that shamelessly and all too frequently enter our lives.
By locating much of the action in a replica of a Buddies In Bad Times Theatre dressing room, replete with vintage posters, some audience members may find themselves taking a trip down memory lane as Walker's recurring theme of the ghosts that inhabit our lives, onstage and off, find theatrical representation in a flawless cast of characters performed by an impeccable ensemble. 

Seven performers take the stage and produce a seamless high-energy set of superbly staged scenes aided by rapid-fire sound effects, lighting, and set changes that are a testament to a complex multi-scened script that demands precise performance skill in order to succeed. And succeed it does as director Tom Arthur Davis deftly moves his actors through broad, distinct spaces defined by simple and effective set pieces. There is an almost Angels In America feeling to the many locale based settings, beginning in the poster laden dressing room and moving across continents and cites in order to discover the 'true' meaning of a single act of intense and harrowing violence, acted in several variations by the ensemble with impressive choreographed movement and performance agility. These moments draw skilfully on a dark comic kind of tableau, framed beforehand by a form of campy humour that contrasts and relieves the tension with remarkable, theatrically uncomfortable, and highly effective precision..
The cast is too numerous to mention individually, and there is not a weak performance in the pack. Highlights come from Heath V Salazar as their multi-gendered and high energy, intricately layered style of physical, vocal, and emotional prowess enters the stage from below and weaves throughout the cast and the narrative with a measured form of wild abandon. Salazar's performance and character bring six men together, in a sense, in order to reveal the political, social, class, race, and gender distances that exist  between them. 

Johnnie Walker, as writer and performer, accentuates the overall meta/epic quality by inhabiting the role of himself as he journeys through the creation of a script that he began to explore several years ago. One decidedly sexual scene with Kwaku Okyere combines elegantly and sensually placed blocking alongside dialogue that imagines the body as both city and continent, challenging a white Canadian individual's perceptions regarding the geographic qualities of perceived racialized identity. Okyere's presence, as he delivers a strong, sensual, and confident retort to Walker's queries, deftly anchors both bodies within misidentified notions of two American cities (Boston and Atlanta) divided by class, climate, racial definitional modes, and stereotypical perception. Again, an Angels In America quality emerges to great effect as the union of two characters raises epic considerations regarding nationhood and race. And yet, Shove It Down My Throat stands alone, apart from my perceived allusions, as a significant new play that may find even more diverse expression in future productions. 

Walker's presence onstage anchors the premise of this form of documentary theatre through his agile talent as someone able to speak directly and effectively to his audience while creating a believable, sympathetic, entertaining, and engaging character. Director/producer Tom Arthur David and producer Jivesh Parasram, in their collaborative program note, succinctly interrogate the "Doc-theatre" form and add significant details to consider in the overall quest to explore meaning through language, physicality, and forms of theatre -

"And so the question we return to on this project is whether or not this is in fact documentary theatre. Is it a conscious queering of the form, by its active engagement of liminality?...What we can say, is that this is an artistic rendering of a process of investigation. The truth of its subjectivity exists within its attempt, and perhaps failure, to achieve order out of chaos." 

Ultimately, SHOVE IT DOWN MY THROAT achieves exquisite order and chaos as scenes move seamlessly in and out of each other, both mystifying and enlightening, supported by an ensemble and a production team with a fine sense of staging, performance skill, and a frequently serio-camp form of drama that both moves and entertains. And finally, in a very personal sense, warms the heart of this old queen who loves to see young divas at play in a drama that brings generations together in a quest to conquer the worst kinds of fear and power...



No comments:

Post a Comment