I had no idea what to expect when I entered the Mainline Theatre to see Brave New Productions’ staging of the Martin Sherman play Gently Down the Stream. I knew that the play was part history lesson, telling the history of the persecution of gays in the United States, but I had no idea what the format was going to be. As a reviewer, it’s often best to go into historical plays without any prep – a true test of how well the play tells the history without boring the viewer.

The play is set in the London flat of Beau, a gay pianist from New Orleans, whose claim to fame was being the accompanist to cabaret singer Mabel Mercer in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The history of gays in the United States is told by Beau to his young English lover Rufus, who is fascinated with history and into older men.

Beau’s knowledge of the past is fragmented and Joe Dineen’s portrayal is at once sincere, funny, and heartrending as he describes losing a lover to the terrorist attack at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, and another to the AIDS crisis. Dineen’s Beau comes off as veteran-like and sweetly grandmotherly.

It is not, however, the history lesson that sets this play apart. It’s the sincerity with which the relationships are portrayed. The age difference between Beau and Rufus – the former is in his late sixties, the latter in his late 20s – is a constant point of contention, as is Rufus’s mental illness. The on-stage kisses between the two men seem real, not forced, and you get a feel of genuine intimacy between all the characters and a sincere snapshot of gay male domestic life.

Sean Curley’s Rufus is one of the most realistic portrayals of Bipolar disorder I’ve seen on the stage. Montreal native Daniel James McFee is sweet and saucy as the tattooed performance artist, Harry.

Brave New Productions’ play is not perfect. Though he never breaks character, Joe Dineen seems to have trouble remembering his lines from time to time, though he does recover quickly enough. Sean Curley’s British accent slips here and there, and while his portrayal of depression is on point, it lacks the look of deflation depressed people usually have. People who aren’t into history or domestic scenes may find parts of the play boring, but they brought a tear to my eye.

If you want to laugh and cry, and learn a little and see scenes separated by beautiful old timey music, you need to check out Gently Down the Stream.

* Gently Down the Stream is playing at the Mainline Theatre from August 2 to 11th. Tickets and info through MainLineTheatre.ca

** Featured image by Donald Rees, courtesy of Brave New Productions

Montreal Pride is upon us and with it tons of amazing entertainment! Whether you like drag shows, workshops, films, plays, or parties, Pride has something for everyone, all it requires is that you have an open mind and not be a bigot.

The History of Sexuality is one of Pride 2018’s many theatrical offerings. It started as a low budget two week production at the Mainline Theatre in September 2017 and was selected to be part of Pride’s 2018 programming. It was also recently awarded a grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec (CALQ).

The History of Sexuality is producer/director/playwright Dane Stewart’s creation. He had the idea while doing his Individualized Master’s degree in Theatre, Communications and Gender and Sexuality at Concordia.

“I knew that I wanted to write something about queerness in Montreal but I didn’t know exactly what the format of the play was going to be,” the playwright said in an interview.

Stewart was more interested in the method of writing, so he had the idea to do interviews. The play is based on a series of interviews he conducted with queer people living in Montreal which he then worked into his script.

Many of his subjects were friends and acquaintances, while others were second and third degree connections he made by reaching out on social media. In order to tell their story faithfully, he offered copies of his script to interviewees for feedback in cases where he used their actual words in the play, and made sure he had everyone’s consent to include them.

“One of the things I wanted to incorporate while I was writing was a feedback mechanism,” he noted, “I used their words in the script, I then returned the script to them with those scenes so they could reflect on whether or not they felt they were adequately represented and if they felt they hadn’t been, I worked with them, usually one-on-one, to address those issues.”

I asked Dane about the title of the play as many would see the title and assume they were getting a history lesson. Dane explained that the play’s title comes from a book of the same name by the philosopher Michel Foulcault.

The History of Sexuality is kind of a bland book,” Dane said with a smile. “But it’s a sexy title. Put that title on something and pair it with a sexy image and people will come see it.”

He said that audiences will see a show that’s really sexy.

“There are on-stage representations of sex and there are all these different types of queer relationships represented,” he explained, “so there is a really sexy element to it. It is also highly intellectual. It doesn’t approach sexuality just to say ‘come and watch these people get naked on stage’, it’s ‘come and let’s watch people represent sex on stage and then let’s analyze the power and the truth and the dynamics that go into that.”

Stewart is not worried that he’ll lose audiences by being too intellectual because he admits that he’s not going to appeal to everyone:

“It’s been really a process over the three years I’ve been working on it to pare down the intellectual theory and really make it digestible and I think we’ve done a half decent job of that. People will have a fair number of questions hopefully…It’s about analyzing what power dynamics look like in our sexual relationships, what power dynamics look like in our romantic relationships, how we’re socialized and raised into those power dynamics and how do we, moving forward as a society, start to deconstruct that to make society as safer place for expressing sexual identity.”

I asked Stewart who he feels needs to see this play the most. He said the two groups are members of the queer community and, for the educational side of it, straight men.

“I think we’ve done a decent job representing real, honest queer experience on stage. A lot of representation of LGBT folks you’ve seen still is like a stereotype and we really work to overcome that so I think there’s a feeling of empowerment in seeing that representation.”

Regarding straight men, Stewart mentions that he recently incorporated an edit into the script. It’s a scene that will show in upcoming performances in which a woman recounts an experience of being sexually assaulted overlaid with audio clips from the actual interview he did.

In the scene the actress is speaking in dialogue with the actual audio clip. Following the #MeToo movement, Stewart really wanted to address that issue in his play, “and especially address what can men do improve their own actions, to address their own behaviors.”

“I incorporated an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with a man who identified as a perpetrator of sexual assault so we actually have the actress who’s playing a survivor of sexual assault interviewing another actor whose speaking from text from that interview. It’s intense, for sure, but I’m hoping to give straight men a point of access to say ‘Ok, I’ve heard all these conversations, I’ve heard all these women and others sharing their experiences of violence maybe I’ve perpetrated that but how do I recognize that and how do I start to move forward and be a better human.”

In the era of #MeToo and a growing recognition that sexual identity and consensual expressions of it is not something to be ashamed of, The History of Sexuality sounds like the kind of play everyone needs to see.

* The History of Sexuality runs August 9th through 12th. Tickets available through Place des Arts

** Featured image by Peter Ryaux-Larsen. (L to R) Darragh Mondoux, Trevor Barrette, Kayleigh Choiniere

I should say right off the bat that I wasn’t expecting much when I went to see Brave New Productions’ Buyer & Cellar at Montreal Fringe. Though the show was a hit at Montreal Pride last year, the whole idea of a one-man show struck me as egotistical and pretentious. I am very happy to say that this play and its star, Donald Rees, proved me wrong.

The show is about a gay aspiring actor who, having recently been fired from Disneyland in LA, finds himself hired to work as the only clerk in the mock shopping mall of Barbra Streisand’s cellar.

When I asked Rees what audiences should expect, this was his reply:

“Expect to see me sweat and eventually lose my voice. I’m (half) kidding. Buyer & Cellar feels like story time with an old friend. It’s a fast-paced and funny show that mixes an energetic theatrical performance with elements of stand-up comedy.”

And he was right. Amidst show tunes and impressions of Streisand that were at once funny and deferential, there was a delicious amount of charm, snark, and humour. You don’t feel like an audience member at this play, but rather someone who is letting a new friend tell their life story.

The only flaw I could find in the play was with regards to the language. The hero’s boyfriend, Barry, is Jewish, as is Streisand, so there are a lot of Yiddish words that may be lost to audience members unfamiliar with Jews and Ashkenazi slang.

I mean, one could always look the words up on their phones, but using your phone during a theatrical performance is just plain rude. Brave New Productions would be wise to include a Yiddish glossary in the show programs for future performances.

To go further into detail about the show would be to spoil it, and I think that if you love storytelling and aren’t homophobic, you should see this play; it’s delightful. Instead, I’m going to treat you to the chat I had with Donald Rees about the play itself, what brought him to it, and what to expect in the future:

What drew you to this play?

I read the script about five years ago, and even though I knew nothing about Barbra Streisand (for example, I had no idea she removed the middle A from her first name), I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The script itself is wonderful and has elements of stand-up comedy, which I love.

Is it more of a challenge playing a one-man show? What do you feel the differences are as a performer?

I think, between the first run and these encore performances, I’d forgotten just what a challenge the show was. On the one side, in terms of text memorization, it’s an incredible volume to commit to memory.

I won’t lie. Every once in a while the audience cracks me up and I’ll lose my spot. So far, I haven’t had to reach for the script to get back on track, but it’s backstage just in case.

The real challenge is energy. There’s no break. It’s over an hour of my energy mixing with the audiences’ reaction. Near the end, it starts to feel like a marathon.

At the Fringe, the added challenge is our limited time slot, so we have to push the pace a little harder. With that, the challenge is still to make sure that the laughs still land and the emotional parts still have time to sit and resonate.

Why do you think Buyer & Cellar was such a hit last year?

That’s a great question. I know we were up against a show which was basically naked men singing cabaret songs, which clearly has naked men and songs (I’m a big fan of both those things) and then we were up against RuPauls’ Drag Race show (also a fan), but luckily people still came out to see the show.

I think it may come down to the fact that it’s good old-fashioned theatre and that really speaks to people these days. It’s not complicated, it’s not convoluted. It’s also not politically charged, which is maybe refreshing these days.

What do you feel resonates most with audiences?

Laughter feels so good to the soul and this show is filled with moments of laughter. It’s nice to just sit down for story time. In the end, it’s so wonderfully written, and brings up some wonderful themes we can all relate to.

The play addresses issues of employment, the price of fame and more. What do you think the most important issue addressed in the play is?

Barbra has a lot of stuff. Who doesn’t? But what happens when you start to value stuff more than people? Without revealing too much about the ending, it really comes down a loving reminder to appreciate the people who matter in our lives.

Will the play run only during Fringe, or do you anticipate appearing at Pride 2018 as well?

For now, the plan is for this to be the final run. When it comes to comedies, I’d rather do less performances with fuller audiences, not for any reason other than people feel more comfortable laughing at a busy show, so it’s a win-win for all.

But I’m excited to tell you that we are preparing something very special for Pride this year. We had such a great experience with Fierté in 2017. This year we are returning with the Canadian Premiere of Gently Down The Stream by Martin Sherman.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a show. It’s a powerful piece of theatre that explores LGBTQ history, but has this beautiful hope and energy to it. The performances are astounding and humbling to me. We’ll be sharing more details about that after the run of Buyer & Cellar.

* Buyer & Cellar runs until June 16th as part of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. Tickets available through MontrealFringe.ca

The trans march kicked off Montreal’s Pride week yesterday in Place de La Paix. For its third edition, the event chose to focus on the rights of trans migrants. Organizers called attention to the additional obstacles faced by transgender migrants, especially when changing their gender and name on official documents.

“It’s completely sad that trans migrants have to wait up to seven years in order to be able to change their documents while trans Canadians can easily do that, thanks to Law 35 and the Law 103,” explained Dalia Briki, spokesperson for the event.

Law 35 was passed in 2013 to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without having to undergo surgery and removed the obligation to publish their transition in the newspaper (which was actually a thing). Law 103 recently extended that right to minors.

However, this much applauded update of Quebec’s Civil Code has little effect on trans migrants since immigration procedures do not allow them to change the gender they were assigned at birth.

“We feel trans migrants have been left aside. The government did not help them, the government only helped trans Canadians,” deplores Briki, who identifies as a trans immigrant and woman of colour.

Demands trans march1in the press release include:

  • Removal of Canadian citizenship from admissibility conditions for a change of name and sex in Quebec’s Civil Code
  • That documents of immigration authorities at the provincial and federal levels recognize the actual current gender of migrants
  • That deportation of trans people cease
  • More funding for organizations specifically aiding trans migrants

Around 150 people of all ages and genders gathered in Place de La Paix around 2 PM. A couple of transgender people of colour spoke to the crowd and a short march started, followed by a pick-nick.

A special effort was made to ensure that people of all origins, economic backgrounds and abilities were included. French and English translations, as well as a sign-language interpretation were available. Organizers provided snacks and bus fares.

Speeches particularly focused on the lack of accommodations in immigration services and procedures, the disproportionate rate of violence against trans women of colour and the deportation of trans immigrants despite obvious risks to their safety.

Studies conducted in Canada and the US found alarming rates of violence against trans people, and especially trans women of colour. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 55% of victims of hate homicide documented in the US in 2014 were transgender women. Almost all of those were women of colour.

“You don’t talk because you’re scared, you’re afraid to be in trouble. Migrants don’t say anything. Well, I’m talking now,” declared one speaker as the crowd cheered.

Pride and Representation: The Ongoing Saga

Euphorie dans le genre organized the event on the eve of the official start of Montreal’s Pride week.  Pride activities across the world have often been accused of failing to properly include both the transgender community and cultural minorities. The feud between Black Lives Matter and Toronto Pride last month brought a sudden spotlight on this issue.

Dalia Bikri is “quite worried” about the lack of representation of both communities in the Montreal chapter as well. The trans march, she says, wants to fill that void.

“I feel that trans people of colour are not involved in the organization of the big events of Pride as much as they should be. On the other side, at least in our trans march, trans people and migrants are on the front line.”

The distinctly militant aspect of the march also sets it apart from the usual Pride events, believes Bikri:

“Pride tends to be more celebratory. Our march is more militant. Our needs have not been fulfilled; our demands have not been fulfilled, that’s why we are marching.”

According to co-organizer of the march Gabrielle Leblanc, “there is not quite enough” representation of the trans community in the overall organization of Pride yet, but it’s “getting better every year.”

Montreal Pride runs from August 8th to 14th.