Tuesday, September 27, 2016


"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” 
                                                                   Henry Kissinger (Wikileaks)

LEMON: Hello dear audience, dear good people . . . It’s easy to say we should all be loving and sweet, but meanwhile we’re enjoying a certain way of life - and we’re actually living - due to the existence of certain other people who are willing to take the job of killing on their own backs, and it’s not a bad thing every once in awhile to admit that's the way we’re living, and even to give those certain people a tiny, fractional crumb of thanks. You can be very sure it’s more than they expect. But I think they’d be grateful.
                                                                            Aunt Dan and Lemon, Wallace Shawn

About the distinction between good people and bad people and everyone in between, Wallace Shawn’s Obie acclaimed drama - Aunt Dan and Lemon - is an intricately built play that takes a lot of patience and skill to get through - whether you’re reading it or watching it. The recent Shadowtime Theatre production of this frequently oblique and tantalizing drama (a drama that people seem to love or hate, there is very little in between) was a fulfilling exercise in complex socio-political narrative and extremely skilful thespian enterprise. 
Joanne Latimer (Aunt Dan) & Helen Juvonen (Lemon)

Joanne Latimer as Aunt Dan and Helen Juvonen as Lemon gave remarkable performances as the two central characters embroiled in lengthy monologic discourse that outlines a rather bizarre relationship between kin. Sexual tension that is brought to the forefront only by the end of the drama might have been subtly explored throughout with a sense of quirky tentative physicality between the two. But it was left to the final textual/non-physical moments, with little affection laden physical rapport throughout the play, providing a slightly bewildering sense of who these two women actually were - and had been - for the past eighty minutes.
l-r Joanne Latimer, Helen Juvonen, Daniel Carter, and Breton Lalama

Both performers implanted nuance and power into their characters. Lemon as the fragile flower and Aunt Dan as the somewhat more assertive, ever-blossoming entity of wild reminiscence and opinionated political assertiveness - bordering on aggressive bombastic import. Both Latimer and Juvonen matched each others skill beautifully as they interacted as the oh so subtly affectionate pseudo aunt and n’er do well niece. The supporting ensemble, entering at particular intervals into the drama of the central duo, and at times performing somewhat fragmented bits from the past, fared very well under the lively, measured direction of Daniel Spurgeon. But they might have been supported further through more diversity in stage design.
l-r Jane Hailes and Philip Cairns

At times the time/spatial distinction between characters and scenes was somewhat unclear and the sections were difficult to connect in any narrative-pleasing manner. But performances were solid and entertaining, An especially harrowing and homicidal scene between Daniel Carter as Raimondo and Breton Lalama as Mindy that begins as romantic and ends as, well, frightening, was managed very well within the same space that Lemon lived, yet effectively evoked a different time and place. But similar to the sexual overtones that come very late for Lemon and Dan, the sexual voracity of the characters Raimondo and Mindy could have been sprinkled with more nudity (only the woman was partially naked) thereby both balancing and heightening the tension of the final sensational moment of bondage, unintentional submission, and, well, read the play or watch it on Youtube and find out for yourself.
l-r Helen Juvonen, Daniel Cristofori, Philip Cairns, Jane Hailes, Breton Lalama, Joanne Latimer

Philip Cairns as the Father, Jasper, and Freddie inserted a strong aggressive yet paradoxically jittery element necessary to the character of the hapless dad and the two incidental characters that provide an essential contrast for the overall ensemble. His interactions with Jane Hailes as the mother, were powerful and menacing. As Lemon's Mom Haile's also inserted strong and essential counter attacks on Dan’s rather questionable view of the world and politics. And Daniel Cristofori as a kind of gigolo character forever bandying about in his well packed underpants was a breath of fresh, cologne’ish macho air as his prowess and sly swagger was suitably marked by a paradoxically smaller physical presence nicely contrasting his larger than life performance. 

And the world and politics are what Wallace Shawn seems to have been going on about in this monologue heavy Obie award winning play. Although set in the somewhat distant past (mid 1960’s) the recurring presence through Dan’s nostalgic obsessive rants regarding Richard Nixon’s secretary of State Henry Kissinger might be linked to current politicians trying to make sense of the seemingly permanent wars raging globally that every governmental head off state is forced to deal with ad nauseum. As we set out on yet another path of self-styled late capitalist destruction on the eve of the ‘greatest’ empires next election, the decisions those in power make put us on the edge of our terrifying seats - much like Aunt Dan does to Lemon and any given spectator during her many unsettling and dubious observations that implicate the viewing public in complex ways. An early response to the original production suggested that the primary argument/confrontation in the drama occurs between the playwright and his audience.
l-r - Helen Juvonen, Jane Hailes, Philip Cairns, Joanne Latimer

The overall setting, a little english garden house outback behind the big dwelling place is so essential in a play like this as a metaphor to sitting back and watching the past present and future blur by - as Lemon is forced to do. And yet the set, although effective visually as a sullen portrayal of Lemon's inner world (unlike the light flowery English’y poster for the show) was somewhat somber, without enough detailed effect. A few scattered books on largely inaccessible shelves had a looming, haunting quality but presented no clear distinction between playing spaces for the other scenes. This confined space, although evocative, did not serve to frame or contrast Lemon's isolation in an effective or lighthearted way that could have provided crucial dramatic tension. Lightheartedness can save a heavy drama of this kind from collapsing into drudgery. But the two featured performers (Latimer & Juvonen) and the ensemble’s engaging ways and physical acumen brought Shawn’s complex, at times convoluted and concise thoughts to the forefront and made for a very entertaining experience.

Kristen Johnston and Lili Taylor in the 2004 off-Broadway revival 
(an interview with Lily Taylor on her role in Aunt Dan and Lemon can be seen on youtube)


photos by Scott Gorman

The current Canadian REP Theatre and ENSEMBLE (CANADIAN YOUTH THEATRE) production of Wajdi Mouawad’s Tideline is a spare expressionistic canvas of rich and varied tones. The initiative on the part of Canadian REP Theatre, under the direction of Ken Gass, to bring Canadian classics and new work to the stage with a group of young theatre practitioners creates a remarkable challenge for actor and audience alike. Mouawad’s script is the perfect vehicle for this venture as a surrealistic landscape populated by individuals caught between a longing for innocence, and terror-fixed lives trapped within severe trauma - aging them beyond their years - becomes a symbol of generational debts being paid for by the young on behalf of the sins of older patriarchal blunders and blunderers. A vicious circle scenario reigns supreme as the journey implicates past future and present in a complex weblike plot that is not easy - or necessary - to unravel. 
Paternalistic motifs that draw from sources as timeless as Antigone and Oedipus, and gesturing toward past present and future global wars present (on designer Jung-Hye Kim’s stark stage, carefully & elegantly littered with functional white risers and pristine wooden slopes) a timeless meditation on cultural and familial sorrow, devotion, outrage, and sexual prowess. The first few pages of the text, beginning with a lengthy monologue, speak of being in bed with goddesses and a fleeting quip by the central character that encapsulates a primary symbolic theme in the play;

Wilfrid - I don't know. He died tonight. I was probably having sex when it happened. And some people say that’s life. There’s no life dammit, there’s nothing, nothing, you’re stuck with an impossible mess that doesn’t, not one iota, dammit, make any sense at all. Is your father dead?

The death of the father becomes a puzzling piece of an overall jigsaw of confusion, lament, and the desire for resolution by a complex cast of characters.

The range of acting styles, although slightly jarring at times, does add to the diversity of emotion - from melodrama to heartfelt naturalistic emotional outburst. This tapestry of sight and sound fills the playing space with diverse signs of life, death, and the pursuit of a kind of existentialist meaning - or lack thereof. Like Antigone and Oedipus, a final resting place/burial plot becomes the hoped for outcome for this 150 minute journey (one intermission). Stylistically, the first act wanders a little, and might have fared better with a more cohesive sense of acting style and character distinction/delineation that mixes more obviously comic elements to the sexual motifs, thereby lightning the load of intense sorrow. But the text is strong enough to weather the deluge and the actors draw us into the drama at the outset. 

The second act swiftly picks up on the primary tensions as it quickly moves spectators through to a beautiful and poetic climax that picks out some of the more bewildering first act threads - and turns them into powerful drama that unfolds and indirectly explains itself with sharp poetic intensity. 

The cast, too numerous to mention in detail, works extremely well as an ensemble willing to take risks regarding movement and camaraderie in a text that rips characters apart with wild, demonstrative gestures of epic proportions. A final scene, with part of the ensemble behind a translucent backdrop, creates the filmic meta-theatrical motif that ends the play. The actors present a fine tableau of symbolic movement. Standout performances from Wilfrid (Danny Ghantous) and the Father (Eric Mrakovcic) occur as they deliver poetic denouement-like sections with a beautiful and moving intensity. Markovcic’s final speech, in particular, resonates with an epic tone, vocally presenting subtle highs and lows regarding the gravitas of his Odyssean journey - a journey that brings the title of the play into high relief. And yet again, the ensemble provides such a stirring visual motif for these two actors to play before that their individual tasks become solo feats dependent upon the silence and skilful, vibrant agility of the whole company - with wonderfully evocative audio visual by Wayne Kelso (composer/sound design) and Andre du Toit (lighting design).

Angela Sun in dual characters as The Knight and the The Director brings an at times lighthearted - yet menacing and powerful - effect to the meta/choral element through a kind of in your face declamatory pose that both charms and alienates as a form of theatrical distancing through a lead choral/orator role. This style might have been used more frequently as an element of contrast in order to vary the action. Cassidy Sadler (as Simone), Augusto Bitter (as Ame) Harrison Tanner (as Sabbe) Kwaku Okyere (as Massi/Wazaan) and Madeleine Heaven (as Josephine) all take on rich layered parts that add immensely to the overall journey and the many pitfalls and idiosyncratic characteristics that marks the primary quest for resolution. Khaki Okyere has a particularly riotous and harrowing scene at a kind of dinner table conflagration/conversation gone terribly wrong. His physicality and vocal intensity fill the stage and set the bar very high for an ensemble that consistently meets the challenges the script, and the arduous physicality director Ken Gass demands from a haunting text and a very talented and skilful cast.

Running at Hart House until October 1st, Canadian REP’s production of Wajdi Mouawad's Tideline is a powerful production of a great Canadian play that takes on timeless issues in a poetic and deeply moving manner.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Rebecca Northan’s show Blind Date was already a smash hit - beginning as a ten minute improv at Harbourfront Centre (under the encouragement of Harbourfront Performing Arts Director Tina Rasmussen), becoming a full length 70 to 80 minute show at Tarragon last year, as well as countless other venues - spanning five hundred plus performances, beginning with Northan as the improvising ‘clown’ date Mimi - and subsequently starring a variety of performers in the lead role. So what else could happen to make the show even more expansive. Well, now it’s queer - with it’s queer premiere at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. As artistic director Evelyn Parry queries in a program note - “in this queer context, just how different - or similar - will the show be? And, how will the many complex manifestations of contemporary queer identity be revealed in this space?” That of course will be up to the performer and the audience participant as they take us on a very unpredictable adventure every night.
photos of Julie Orton with her 'Blind Date' are not from opening night

On opening night Julie Orton chose a date with a wonderful manic energy (she admitted early on that she might be a little addicted to Red Bull) that gave spectators and Ms. Orton a complex challenge to behold. Orton’s immense skill (courage, charm, creative energy and intelligence - to name a few) as an improv artist racing through a lightly structured improvisational narrative where the date progresses along particular romantic lines, was put to the test. And she came out of it all triumphant and irresistible as both date and performer. 

At the outset, Mimi (Orton’s character in the show), and her date enter “the world of the play” whereby general rules are laid out at the beginning and then the ride begins. It was beautiful, romantic, intimate, hilarious, and vastly entertaining. And as Parry suggests in the program note, it revealed complex manifestations of queer identity. 
It also revealed some of the endless intersections within the identities of two women thrown into this amazing theatrical formula that pulls out all the stops regarding strict convention and puts audience, performer, and participant at risk of - well, who knows. In its new queer incarnation Blind Date promises to show people who they can be within an ever expanding queer universe. On opening night this universe was decidedly sexual, flirtatious, fun loving, and full of surprises. At one point the audience participant raised the idea of “meta” - wondering how one responds to onstage ‘truth’ as it plays with emotions and intention. This is part of crucial dramatic tension that successful theatre, whatever form it takes, relies upon. How we behave on a date - a meptahor to being onstage -may affect our future responses to and from the people we engage with when we embark upon this age old social custom - dating. How does this behaviour move beyond the date and into our lives and all of our social interactions?. Where does the date begin and the fantasy end? By constructing this simple yet brilliant meta-theatrical premise in her show, Northan has created a kid of spellbinding meta-evening of unpredictability and performance acumen that, as she suggests herself “is showing no sign of slowing down.” 
A large poster in the bar, during a pre-show meet and greet, articulates the need for consent, as well as an open ness toward queer subjectivity that moves beyond lesbianism and gayness into other areas of sexual and gender expression.
Each night is different and susceptible to the personalities and the collaborations between the individuals onstage. Bruce Horak and David Tomlinson provide skilled comical interjections throughout that pay close attention to all that has gone before as they interact briefly as waiters in a restaurant setting. This provides a kind of re-charging and mixing up of the onstage energy - giving the show a re-boot/re-framing effect that can serve to keep audience and performers on their toes regarding all that has been shared so far. And to make matters even more complex - and queer - David Benjamin Tomlinson will take on the lead role, as Mathieu, next week, choosing nightly his queer catch for another romp through improvisational intimacy.

When Evalyn Parry saw Blind Date at Tarragon last year the idea of a queer version immediately sprang to mind - for both Parry and Northan, almost simultaneously. In her show and her first season as Buddies Artistic Director Parry reveals her knack for pure entertainment with a queer twist that is sure to please a variety of audiences. And as Parry suggests - and the opening night audience participant tapped into with her mention of meta-theatircality as it moves beyond the stage and into our daily lives - what does it mean “to be authentic and generous, to really listen, and what can happen when you say “yes.” [Evelyn Parry, program note]

Say yes to Blind Date by buying a ticket or two - one for your date - or three or four, and find out more about yourself - and your date[s] - by seeing one, or two, or three or four of these shows. Find out how complex queer, queer dating, and queering dating can be during an onstage encounter. Then take it home as a model for your own next blind date.


Monday, September 19, 2016



photo of Julie Orton and  David Benjamin Tomlinson by Tanja-Tiziana

“I shrieked with laughter… This show is a don’t miss, even if you’ve seen it before.”
                 -Paula Citron, Classical 93.6FM

“A perfect marriage of theatre and comedy”
                                                                        -Now Magazine

A must-see performance … the theatrical equivalent of walking a tightrope.

                              -The Calgary Sun

“One of the most daring and exhilarating undertakings in the scope of contemporary theatre.”

“Do you believe in love at first sight? I do, because I once spent 90 minutes under the spell of Rebecca Northan. I’m willing to wager that no matter who this gifted woman selects by chance from the audience, the end result is likely to contain the same mixture of uproarious laughter, honest sexuality and genuine emotion… a flight of theatrical fancy that is absolutely magical.”
-The Toronto Star

“It’s a risky thing to do…. it wasn’t an ordinary evening. It made me want to see the show again. Each evening is unique because there’s a different date every night.”
                 -Mooney on Theatre

“Very funny”
                        -The New York Times

SEPT 20 - OCT 9

“Irresistible…a cheeky and charming evening.”
— New York Daily News


There’s nothing like the thrill of a first date… anything can happen! In this reimagined version of Rebecca Northan’s smash hit play, the saucy Mimi and the handsome Mathieu take turns finding love with a  different person every night – plucked right from the audience. 

Following sold out runs across North America, this fast and funny fusion of improv, theatre, and clown takes its first-ever journey into queer romance to welcome a whole new community of romantic heroes that will have you falling in love every night.

Performed for the very first time with queer couples, this Blind Date celebrates and explores the peculiarities of queer romance. Our sexy French clowns revel in our quirky queerness in a way that is sure to make you fall in love with them and their audience-member-turned-romantic-hero.

Performers Julie Orton and David Benjamin Tomlinson take turns in the starring role. Check the schedule online at Buddies In Bad Times website to see who’s performing when.

RN As a team, we've worked closely with Evalyn Parry to identify any moments from the original Blind Date that might not play the same for a Queer audience. We've kicked at the structure looking for places to tweak here and there, we have had the most illuminating conversations about how what might work in a heterosexual context takes on a different meaning, often in terms of power dynamics, in a homosexual context. In a number of places - the narrative structure remains the same, or quite similar...in others, as a cast, with great input from Julie Orton and David Tomlinson, we have some very exciting bits up our sleeves that I will be on the edge of my seat waiting for.

The core thesis of Blind Date has ALWAYS been "everyone is loveable" - this is not something that changes for a queer audience. I hold fast to that. Humans want and need to connect with each other. I am never bored watching two strangers tentatively reach out, in their own ways, in an effort to get to know each other. I have also always maintained that at its core, Blind Date is a very cleverly packaged interview show. We are not bringing people up on stage to make fun of them - quite the opposite. It is the clown's job to ask questions (at the same time revealing themselves) and slowly uncover a stranger's personality...so that by the end of the show, the whole audience loves this stranger. 

DB Are you still doing the pre show 'meet and greet' element and if so how do you both approach this, and are you looking for particular qualities in an audience member?

RN YES! This part of the process is essential. The cast are looking to get a feel for who is in the audience, and who might be interested and/or willing to participate. The rule of thumb is, "If you were at a cocktail party - WHO did you meet in the lobby that you'd want to get to know better?" Qualities we look for are: someone who is open, friendly, a little bit playful, or delightfully shy - but game. We NEVER invite someone on stage who clearly does not want to participate. 

DB And, will you both always select a participant according to your own sex/gender identities, not to assume these identities are fixed at all times, but can we expect a 'straight' exchange and a 'queer' exchange from each performer?

RN I don't anticipate a "straight" exchange...but, it IS improv - anything CAN and HAS happened in the past! The idea is to keep opening, opening, opening up to infinite possibilities! So long as MORE LOVE is being brought to the table!!!

JO Well, as Rebecca said, the driving force of the show is the notion that everyone is
lovable. Everyone has a "romantic hero" inside of them, regardless of gender identity or
sexuality. For me, adding a queer element gives me the opportunity to contribute to
something that I aggressively yearn for as an audience member, which is a story and
"characters" that I, as a queer woman, can directly identify with. As Mimi, it gives me the
opportunity to tell my stories, ALL my stories, as they happened without omitting key
elements or changing the pronoun of the characters in the story. Simply, what we're doing
by "queering" Blind Date, is studying and appreciating the structure and boundaries of this
iconic show and finding opportunities to transcend them in a positive and
celebratory way. 

DB Are you still doing the pre show 'meet and greet' element and if so how do you both
approach this, and are you looking for particular qualities in an audience member?

JO Of course we are! The pre show meet and greet is essential since it affords us the
opportunity to get to know our audience and who out there may be a playful and willing date.
When I mingle as Mimi, i'm looking for someone who isn't immediately nervous at the sight
of me...i'm sort of kidding, but not really. Those folks that get bright eyes as you approach
and enjoy chatting and laughing with you are usually the ones who stay on my radar. And no
less important is the partner of the potential date (should they have one). If, at any time, the
partner seems uncomfortable by the prospect of their person being onstage with a french
clown, we will keep looking. We never want to make anyone uncomfortable or isolated by
this experience, whether they're are chosen as a date or whether their date is chosen as a
date. Basically, the rule of thumb is, if this were a cocktail party, who would you want to
camp out in the corner and chat with all night?

DB  And, will you both always select a participant according to your own sex/gender
identities, not to assume these identities are fixed at all times, but can we expect a 'straight'
exchange and a 'queer' exchange from each performer?

JO Well, i'll never say never, but this run at Buddies will primarily be a queer adventure. 



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sky Gilbert's 'Toller' 

‘legitimizing effeminacy’ 

One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art. 
Oscar Wilde

 top, David Benjamin Tomlinson - bottom, Keith Cole

                    bottom Toller Cranston     -    top Sky Gilbert

A few Tollerisms? Do not tolerate mediocrity. As you age, it is better to skate backwards. (Better for a receding hairline.) And the Oscar Wilde gem: “I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.” https://skatecanada.ca/2015/07/skating-community-celebrates-tollers-artistry/

Toller was a terrifying figure to me as a closeted teenager growing up in rural Ontario. He was artistic, flamboyant and outrageous; all the things I carried deep inside but was too ashamed to express. It would seem I have become the very thing I was so terrified of and, remarkably, I love the view.

David Benjamin Tomlinson, star of Sky Gilbert’s 2016 solo play Toller

For those of us, as Janis Ian pointed out in 1975, “who knew the pain of Valentines that never came…and those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball” Canadian figure skating icon Toller Cranston was a role model, but not one everyone was always comfortable with. For specific encounters of the campy, cutting, and uncomfortably fabulous kind, just google the November fourth Toronto Sun interview, 2010 (Toller Cranston vents about Elvis Stojko) for a few classic remarks from the ice monarch’s mouth. It is a fabulous and entertaining exercise in gender politics and close encounters of the camp filled kind.
Even the interviewer for the Sun couldn’t contain himself from sharing shards of his own camp consciousness during the interview when he remarked

“Figure skating legend Toller Cranston has metamorphosed into a world renowned artist, which is not hard to believe given that his skating performances were, in a way, works of art. But he also would have done very well if he had joined a spy agency when his skating career ended a decade or so ago. The man has "spies" everywhere.” 
Sun article

In his revealing and delightfully bitchy article Sun writer Steve Buffery composed a remarkable pre-posthumous homage to Cranston and his unique place within the pantheon of tell-all queens with a penchant for validating gossip and giving it its rightful place within sports - both social and athletic;

excerpts from Sun article;

And it was one of these spies who told [Cranston] that Elvis Stojko, another great Canadian skater, had imitated him in an unflattering way once at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
The way Cranston tells the story - and telling stories is certainly another one of his many talents - Stojko was asked one day to teach the "Morning Glories", as the older women at the club are known, for a guest session - a big thrill for "the old bags", as Cranston calls them.

"He apparently did a lot of unflattering things imitating me, but ended up cutting himself and being rushed to the hospital, so it served him right," said Cranston on Thursday night, as he prepared for a showing of some of his art this weekend at Artworld at Sherway Gardens.

Perhaps it was that incident that soured Cranston on "poor Elvis" as Cranston refers to Stojko, a three-time world figure skating champion who was known for his amazing jumps and other technical elements, and not so much for his artistry - the complete opposite of Cranston.

And when another spy told Cranston that Stojko had teed off on Evan Lysacek after the American won the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Cranston did another slow burn -

"When I first heard Elvis slam Lysacek, I thought: 'Why do I want to jump into his imbroglio?' But that was then, and this is now. Now I'm opening my mouth," Cranston said. "I'm venting and spewing."

Cranston is furious that Stojko suggested to a number of media outlets, including the Toronto Sun, that Lysacek was unworthy of the gold medal because he did not attempt a quad jump. Basically, Stojko said that Lysacek's skating is not worthy because there are not enough difficult technical elements to it. And that freaked Cranston out. Of course, Cranston, a former Olympic and world championship medallist, is considered one of the great innovators in skating, a skater whose ground-breaking artistry set new standards to this day.

"Elvis Stojko's pronouncement that only real men do quads, was said because he could do them," said Cranston. "But that said, what about all the things Elvis couldn't do? He was the most inflexible skater in history. He was a poor spinner. He was inartistic. It didn't really matter what music he skated to because it was either a theme from Rocky or Rambo. One or the other.

"The great skaters of history are always are the most rounded skaters," Cranston continued. "Kurt Browning is far superior, in my opinion, to the likes of Elvis. Because Kurt really was everything you're supposed to be. There was nothing Kurt couldn't do.

"The other thing, is," added Cranston, "you can push the envelope, as I did, but certainly not with quads. With other ways. There are many ways to cut the cake."


My own very indirect brush with Toller came from the lips of my maternal grandmother when she remarked that she admired his skating but “he was too effeminate.” Imagine my shock, in the mid seventies, as a teenaged fairy mincing and lisping among the small town closets of Peterborough Ontario, when my beloved Nana took offence at everything I embodied. She also designed and constructed figure skating costumes for my female cousins, but none for me. I would have to steal away to the attic at grandmas house and try the sequinned creations on all alone in the dark shadows of a musty rooftop hovel. Woe. Is. Me, tra la.

But enough about my sullen brush with icy fame. David Benjamin Tomlinson, the star of Sky Gilbert’s new solo play, partially based on Cranston’s memoir (Zero Tollerance), makes the quintessential remark about male effeminate identity when he says that he now loves the view from the very place that terrified him as a teenaged boy. Many of us know the feeling. And when Tomlinson takes the stage in Gilbert’s hour long tour de force, he crafts ‘outrageous’ words and ‘flamboyant’ blocking with a fine sense of elegant pacing and physical acumen. Moving within a relatively confined space at the Toronto Fringe this past summer, his performance included a lovely and hilarious use of fabric (written into the script) that simultaneously trapped and freed the actor/character from all the essential  artifice that has been culturally manufactured around the idea of femininity when it is found in a man’s body. 

Among Cranston’s greatest achievements as an athlete, according to many figure skating aficionados, was that he broke new ground for men in his field by liberating them from purely technical manly displays, allowing them to include more creativity within the overall execution.

Cranston’s taste for camp is not lost on any camp-queer reader, and as Susan Sontag claimed (and was criticized for) “camp is a tender feeling” * - despite the cutting edge of a figure skater’s blade-like retort. Abject views can spring from the retaliative palpitations of an oppressed subject hell bent on both loving and loathing their greatest critics. Cranston also publicly admired Stojko’s obvious skill as a skater, but was clearly in no mood for any gender divisive pronouncements. Stojko recently took on the role of Billy Flynn in a production of the acclaimed musical Chicago and garnered positive reviews as someone who steals the show from a much beleaguered third rate touring cast. How butch! Go girl!

top to bottom; Elvis Sotjko, on the ice and in Chicago

But enough about Toller’s critical affair with Elvis. What Gilbert has done so well in his new solo play is to take, and to distill, a variety of elements from Cranston’s life and turn them into a mere sixty minute manifesto on how to speak of all that you love, and all that frightens you, in a sophisticated, informative, and extremely entertaining manner. Anecdotes about critics, mentors, friends and lovers, come across as a kind of stream of consciousness rant, peppered with variations in tone and emotional levity, mixed with deeply disguised (at times not so disguised) poignancy within a man who lived his life as he chose. As a director and a writer Gilbert knows precisely how to manage tricky characters by putting their greatest strengths and weaknesses on full display, both physically and emotionally. A single chair and a closing vocal duet with a very personal critic provides the conclusion of the play with an especially revealing and deliciously uncomfortable finale.

On an international stage Cranston never faltered. His language, as seen in Gilbert’s Toller (and the many public interviews) reveal his insistence upon a very complex and often misunderstood form of communication within an oppressive cultural site - camp consciousness. The effeminate male body continues to undergo negative critique (e.g. - film and television), and frequently stands in as the butt of so many jokes that go unnoticed - or at least unattended to. Gilbert’s rendition of this phenomenon, in the body of Toller Cranston, exists, like much of Gilbert’s work, as a testament to the lives of two Canadian artists (Cranston & GIlbert) who continue to defend, define, and represent ‘bodies that matter’ both onstage and off - bodies that mince, lisp, flaunt, and hope to garner the complex forms of respect they have always deserved. 


The intersectionality that marks both homophobia and misogyny is one of many concise political moments existing within the layers of Sky Gilbert’s latest creation, a creation that both Gilbert and Tomlinson hope will allow a national conversation to begin;

I hope the show is the beginning of a national conversation about Toller. He was a contentious figure, I get that, but he also revolutionized a sport, challenged the system, and devoted his life to art. He is a 
fascinating and iconic individual. Innovative, prolific, polarizing, his example of his dedication and the ferocity with which he attacked self-expression is inspiring for any artist.
- interview with David Benjamin Tomlinson



DB How did you develop the Miguel sequence that ends the play - the  
following sequence in particular?

excerpt from Toller, by Sky Gilbert 
MIGUEL. Do you think anybody is  interested in a show about the good old days? This is 2014! All people want to do is think about the future. They are on their cellphones 24 hours a day planning their lives for the new cyber century! What interest do you think would they have in an old man and his reminiscences?

SG This passage came from both my personal life and the importance of  
contextualizing this play. My partner is my greatest critic, and their  
are aspects of Miguel in him (particularly Miguel's tendency to bring  
Toller back to 'reality' which is what my partner does with me). But  
in a dramaturgical sense what I wanted to do was put Toller's  
obsession with the past, which is indeed the whole play's obsession,  
as Toller is the star and spends a lot of time talking about things  
that may have happened before some audience members were born, into  
some context. It has a lot to do with knowing that I am writing for a  
young audience which is perhaps gay, but who live in a digital world  
that is not very concerned with history, but very concerned with the  
present and the future. It's an old rhetorical trick; bring up the  
arguments against Toller so that we might be able to appreciate him  
more, since we are conscious of what the objections might be.

DB What drew you to the subject matter initially? 

SG Keith Cole gave me a copy of the book Zero Tollerance and then I read  
a passage from it at a Buddies event. But I couldn't bring myself to  
read it. My partner suggested I write a play about the subject matter.
Yes, I used to  figure skate as a kid and though I was never very good, I spent  
several years in the 'culture' which is believe me, it's own little  
world. My 'pro'(teacher) knew Ellen Burka and I met her and her  
daughter Petra, the medallist. They used to work at the Cricket Club  
in Toronto where I trained at one time. So Toller's 'pro' was  
contingent on our lives. But also I know how competitive and toxic and  
most of all CLOSETED that world is. I knew gay figure skaters or (as I  
was in the closet) gay skaters who I secretly thought were gay, But  
what really drew me was the fact that I knew that Toller was an  
insufferable character, easy to love but also to hate, because of his  
pomposity and tendency to elegize himself. I think this is a big issue  
for me as an aging gay man. When people ask me about my 'legacy' I  
want to hit them. That's a very hetero male idea, I'm just an old drag  
queen and I live for the moment. I love to create, but there is no  
'legacy' and talk of it is nauseating and patriarchal and self-swelling.

DB Could you describe some of Toller's 'celebrity' as a queer icon  
and how he, and your play, contribute to a sense of Canadian identity, or lack thereof? 

SG I always knew about Toller from his TV commentary and from the fact  
that he was considered to be a male 'artist' of figure skating, who  
freed up men to be more 'creative in their performances. I thought  
everyone knew of him in this way, and I think it's true. But I wasn't  
prepared for the volume of fans that he has. Every performance meant  
that there were people (mainly older women) who either claimed to know  
him, be his friend, have met him, or just be inspired by him. He had a  
HUGE following. I think it goes far beyond figure skiing. As an old  
school closet case, he comes from a time when women were permitted to  
adore gay men, without being considered fag hags, or having to deal  
with sexuality at all. You just adored this talented creative guy,  
that's all. So it was innocent this adoration. That's the key to it I  

DB Do you have future plans for the show? 

SG Yes. We definitely want to tour it to the fringes in Canada next  
summer. I also have a connection with the international performance  
network, I am hoping to take it to Germany but of course with what  
money? Also there is Edinburgh as anybody can put on a show there, but  
again, money. But we are trying to raise money through grants and the  

DB Could you respond briefly to some of the excerpts I have included  
below - how they developed, how they contribute to Toller's story,  
and how you made your decisions sturcturally and or thematically in  
order to provide a sense of Toller's life as a Canadian and an  
international figure skating celebrity. And are most of these  
excerpts loosely based on 

excerpt from Toller, by Sky Gilbert
I’ve always been bisexual, if I had to put a label on myself, which I would rather not, because  
truth be told sex just seems to me to be an awful lot of trouble.  
Always has.  And it’s so messy. 

SG I think I am -- if not quoting Toller here -- quoting the essence of  
his public (highly hypocritical) attitude to sex and sexuality. In his  
book he claims to be bisexual, but doesn't talk about sex with men at  
all, only about his tutelage of Christopher Bowman. We as younger  
'out' gay men grew up in the shadow of these tortured fags who had to  
disguise their sexual feelings with artistic impulses, and often  
became artists. I personally know two men who had sex with Toller, and  
I know that he was homosexual. If I know two, think of how many there  
were! And that promiscuity is NOT reflected in his bio. One wouldn't  
expect it to be, I don't blame him but it's typical of an era. Also ,  
he seems prudish in the book, he goes overboard to express his disgust  
at various things that disgust him (including S and M0 which I find  
very hypocritical.

excerpt from Toller, by Sky Gilbert 
I could not stop myself from believing in Christopher Bowman and so  
I pushed him, I yelled I screamed, I made him do his figures over  
and over, I demanded  excellence and artistry from his free style  
program — I was a relentless nay nearly sadistic coach, amentor who  
would broach no excuses, who would endure no  procrastinations nor  
laziness but at night…oh those nights… inevitably, ineluctably, he  
lured me too….he lured me with those eyes those deep dark pools  
of….of of.. (he takes a drink) of talent. The short story is that we  
lived together for nearly a year and I don’t hesitate to say that it  
was my perhaps tragic misdirected passion for art and beauty that  
led me astray I believed he could be a great skater I believed it so  
much that I became somewhat of a drug addict myself  oh I cant even  
talk about it

SG This again is not a quote. But it is true. I have stories (sorry make  
that three people I know, I just thought of this guy) who used to  
attend sex parties at Toller's house with Christopher Bowman and the  
three of them used to do whatever was fashionable at the time, maybe  
coke, or a hallucinogenic. Toller also admits he became an addict in the book. Again, this speaks to his hypocrisy. and how he substituted 'art' for 'sex.

excerpt from Toller, by Sky Gilbert 
All art is a peregrination. A journey. You never know where you will end up. What position art will put you in.

SG This is really just Toller being pretentious. I intended this to be  
funny. But I can never get the audience to laugh. Toller has just been  
spanked, which offends some of them, especially those who adore Toller  
in an old way. They want to love him. I even went to the point of putting Toller  
upside down when he says art puts you in a strange position, but few  
laugh, unless they have been laughing all along at everything he says,  
which some people do.At any rate, of course I do kind of believe this, but I would never speak of art this way, as it seems very pretentious.

I kind of believe this. I think this is what saves the play. I am like  
Toller. I am the kind of person who tends to live in fantasy more than  
reality. I am writing about this all the time in various ways now. And  
I find justification in certain academic research around Shakespeare  
for the notion that fictional worlds are more real than real ones. I'm  
skeptical of science.

You see in Early Modern Times the way people perceived reality was  
through poetry. They didn't not 'observe' things around them to figure  
out what reality was, as there was no such thing as science. I'm a bit  
like that. Yes, we have to live in the 'real' world, but whose to say  
it's more real than the ones we make up?

Keith Cole “curling up with a refrigerator”

DB Tell me about your brief encounter with Toller Cranston. 

KC Sure. 

20 years ago, I hosted Claudia Moore's launch for her dance company "Moon horse Dance Theatre.” It was at Toller's Queen Street West studio / apartment (Queen and Augusta) -- 3rd floor. Toller 'lived' on Spruce Street in Cabbagetown - big house. Claudia dated dancer / choreographer Robert Desrosiers years ago - Robert is great pals with Toller -- that was Claudia's IN with the space

Toller was there - at the event lurking around in the corners and staying close to the wall. It was all about Claudia and Toller let her have the limelight. He was creepy but low key.
Lots of plush red drapes, lots of strawberry paintings (his signature style) and the place was very big but felt very gothic - Claudia has a skill to make anything pretty so the room was alive but Toller just felt and looked a bit dead.

I am a star fucker and I remember saying to myself that I wanted to bag Toller that night. I had been drinking - not sure what state Toller was in. The launch party was a 6pm - 9pm sort of thing. It wasn't a huge party but we were a healthy crowd. My plan was to hang around and help with the clean up. Not a regular thing for the host to do - but I had sex on the brain.

I found myself in a conversation with Toller - one sided. He was relatively silent and I was drunk and chatty - he listened - I talked.

In the corner of this huge wide open space was a futon - double (possibly Queen) that had a deep burgundy cover - no doors - but it did feel like a bedroom space.

I made the first move. I kissed Toller. People left the party with Claudia and her husband the last to leave. Toller was quick. We made out for a long time - standing. Not a tall guy (well, shorter than me). Not strong. Not very "present" and not a great kisser. But a full head of hair and a pulse. This will do - I thought to myself.

Probably around 10pm. Clothes off in darkness - no condoms or lube. He went in dry with a few pokes and then he rolled over. Done. I don't think there was sperm. I tried to give him a blow job but he brushed me off. He rolled back over and gave me a hand job. I did blow him eventually. Not a huge dick and nothing really special about it - totally serviceable and not to say "nice" but it wasn't bad either. He had a cock. Normal size balls. 

I must have passed out - I woke up the next morning. Early. We were both in the futon - back to back. He was asleep. I put my clothes on and went home. Didn't wake him up to say goodbye, leave a note or anything. I just left. No final kiss on the cheek to my sleeping beauty.
I had 'fancy' clothes on - not drag - just some better than normal guy clothes. No money! I had enough money to buy a small Coffee Time coffee and a chocolate walnut cruller & no sunglasses! So the walk of shame home was bright. It was early and I think a Saturday morning on Queen West. Never heard from him again. Never saw him again.

Really, the night was like curling up with a refrigerator, kissing it, being rolled over by it and then a few quick pumps and done. I never felt cheap or used or drugged or.... anything really. Felt nothing.

hope this helps
good luck