How do you describe a show you can’t see? Do you go by the sounds? The scents? The sense of motion? Or do you pretend to be like the heroes in eighties and nineties martial arts films and try to “see without seeing”?

I was invited last Thursday to experience two scenes from the play Camille with other members of the local media. The brainchild of Concordia professor Audrey-Anne Bouchard, it’s a multi-disciplinary show specifically designed for those with visual impairments.

Bouchard lives with Stargardt’s disease, a rare macular disorder. After the media preview I had a chance to sit with Bouchard so I asked her about what it is and how it affects her, for when I first saw her, she seemed to have perfect sight.

“I don’t have the gene in my body that eliminates Vitamin A so Vitamin A accumulates itself on my retina and it blocks a part of my sight which is exactly at the center of both my eyes so I use my peripheral vision,” she explained. “I’m quite fortunate that I’m still very autonomous because my peripheral vision is good and I can see and I work with my sight a lot. The hardest is really to read, like to focus on the details. When I go see a show, for example, if I’m not in the first row I will most likely miss an actor’s head or a part of the image – I always miss a part of the image. The closer I am the easier for me it is to put all the pieces together.”

Unfortunately for Bouchard, there is no treatment for the disease yet. In order for Bouchard to see, she has to rely on her peripheral vision, explaining that if she wanted to see into my eyes, she will train her sight a little over my eyebrows because focusing on the center would make them fall into the dead spot of her vision.

Bouchard created the show after speaking with people who were completely blind as they confided in her that they were always feeling that they were missing part of the experience when they went to a dance or a theatre piece. She created the show with the goal of having an experience where people with no sight won’t miss anything and it will be interesting for them.

“Everything is conceived not to be seen. The language that we created is transmitted through the other senses.”

The project started three years ago when the team met with seven people who have different visual impairments and asked them if they would be interested in a show like this. For Bouchard, it was important to have this adventure but only if those for whom the show was created would want to experience it.

The show is multidisciplinary, meaning that it includes multiple forms of art such as dance, theatre, music, and they’re all intertwined. Instead of having one theatre scene, one dance scene, and so on, they are all one “in the language of the show”. The choreography, by Laurie-Anne Langis who is also a dancer and massage therapist, does not just involve dancing to music, it also involves how you approach someone to guide them. The interaction between spectator and performer is part of the choreography of this show.

In order to develop the choreography, the team worked with people with different kinds of visual impairments, some fully blind, some with partial sight. This was important for Bouchard, for despite her disorder, she relies on her sight and works with it a lot.

Over the three years developing the show they had thirty different people come into rehearsal – whom Bouchard refers to as their ‘experts’ – to tell the cast how they would like to be guided. The team also underwent training in partnership with the RAM – the Regroupement des Aveugles et Amblyopes du Montreal metropolitain and they gave the team training on how you guide someone who cannot see, as there are certain specific techniques involved. They even organized activities for the team including a dinner in the dark with other blind people so they got to experience what it was like and get their feedback.

To experience the show, those with sight have to wear a blindfold. Given how much visual impairments can vary, I asked Bouchard how severe would they have to be to wear the blindfold for the show.

“If you can see anything – light, movement, color – you have to wear the blindfold. It’s only if you can see nothing that you won’t wear a blindfold.”

I got to experience two scenes from Camille as part of this media preview. They taught me two things: the first is that we take our sight for granted when humans have so many other senses by which we can process information. The second is that you can still experience theatre without sight.

Prospective audiences should know that there are parts of the show that might make you a little dizzy, and that in order to guide you, the cast will touch you a little during performances, but nothing inappropriate or weird.

If the snippet I experienced is any indication, Camille is going to be a great show. It’s running from September 4th to 22nd at the Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI) and tickets are available through the MAI website.

I saw Lesbian Speed Date from Hell this past Sunday and having experienced the emotional rollercoaster of the piece, I was curious as to how it all came about. I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s producer Christina Saliba and she gave me some fascinating insights.

The show was originally submitted to be part of Festival De La Bête Noire, Montreal’s first ever horror-themed festival. One of their writers had an idea for a piece about speed dating.

Saliba’s own experiences with lesbian speed dating events at the popular queer hangout Notre Dame des Quilles and the interesting date encounters she had at them really helped the story come together.

Saliba explains that when she saw the call for submissions for Festival De La Bête Noire, she jumped at the opportunity not only to present something queer-centric, as many working on the production identify as queer, but also to present horror comedy.

“Horror-comedy is a genre that is not commonly seen on stage. The horror aspects of the show are boundary pushing, not only for the audience but for the artists involved. Horror allows you to sit within your fears and anxieties and face them in a safe and controlled environment. There certainly may be some triggering moments for some audience goers as it is a show that tests limitations. However, the comedy aspect to it provides that relief and comfort. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition of genres and a fun medium to work in.”

Many people primarily associate horror comedy with The Evil Dead movies starring Bruce Campbell, so I was intrigued as to what it meant to someone putting on a show of that genre.

“I would say it is more outlandish, over the top, and hysterical rather than gore, terror, and horror. The comedy takes you out of the horror fantasy.”

The cast of Lesbian Speed Dating came from diverse backgrounds including comedy, sketch, improv, TV, and film. For Saliba, this diversity of perspectives elevates the show. While auditions were held, some of the show’s talent were deliberately sought out because of their unique talents.

“The structure and the script are there, but they are all so talented that they bring in the occasional ad-libbing and improv. Half of the team falls under the queer umbrella, as authenticity, particularly with our leads, was essential for me.”

Though the show only ran for two nights during Festival De La Bête Noire, Saliba couldn’t let it die. She had her sights set on it being part of Just for Laughs and a cast member suggested it be part of Pride’s programming. Saliba hopes to eventually take the show on tour internationally.

The theatre is dark, the rules are announced, and the band breaks into America the Beautiful as a solitary figure in a blonde wig and cape approaches the stage. Waiting is the band and a drag king in leather jacket, denim, and do-rag, with the sad-downcast eyes of a domestic abuse victim. The figure approaches the mic and in a reveal reminiscent of FranknFurter in the Rocky Horror Show, the cloak is opened to reveal a facsimile of the Berlin wall, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s title character breaks into the show’s first song Tear Me Down.

Following a successful run in November 2018, In the Wings’ Promotions’ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was invited to be part of Montreal Pride’s official programming. As director and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal put it:

“The show is so iconic in the community, that it’s the perfect fit for Pride.”

The venue has changed from Cabaret Mado to Café Cléopatre, but aside from a few enhancements, the show is every bit as riveting as during its first run.

For those of you unfamiliar with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is the brainchild of actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask, who developed the off-Broadway show which then became a cult film and from there a Broadway show starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show is about a slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin and is a blend of glam and punk rock, politics, and gender bending, with tunes so catchy even the biggest curmudgeon will be dancing in their seat.

Trask was a major part of the first Montreal run, sitting on dress rehearsals and answering Hannibal’s texts as needed. The result is a show that’s more than just pretty makeup, gender-reversals, and catchy tunes.

In my review of the show’s first run, I noted that the relationship between Hedwig – played by New York based actor Andrew Morrissey, and Noelle Hannibal’s Yitzhak was interpreted as one of domestic abuse. In this rendition that portrayal is enhanced with more passive aggression by Yitzhak – there are muttered curses, and spitting, and Yitzhak’s eyes seethe with the hatred of the powerless for their oppressor.

Morrissey’s Hedwig contains more deference for Yitzhak’s talent, as if the abuse comes from the recognition that her talent is no match for Yitzhak’s and she can only shine by putting him down. It provided more nuance to the characters from a script that by Hannibal’s own admission, had very little to guide them.

Morrissey’s Hedwig is much improved from the November run. Though his German accent is on and off and his voice is occasionally pitchy, you see more madness behind the makeup, more sincerity behind the line:

“I’ll laugh because I’ll cry if I don’t.”

With this more nuanced portrayal is all the sass and sex the part requires, and Morrissey pulls that off beautifully.

As important to the production as its stars are the band and costumes. Hedwig undergoes multiple costume changes during the show and designer Sig Moser clearly understood what the show is all about.

“He was very familiar with the show and the film version and brought in some fantastic ideas that would work with our extremely tight, indie budget. He can whip up a dress in an hour,” said Hannibal, whose own costumes were tweaked to work better for this run.

The outfits are an amazing mix of showmanship, denim, leather, lace, and sequins, a true nod to music genres you’ll live during the show.

The band, made up of Ian Baird, Kevin Bourne, Stephen Menold, and Sebastian Balk-Forcione, are not passive background musicians, but people who must actively interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak on stage. Though I wished the tempo of Tear Me Down was a bit quicker, the band did not disappoint. Decked out in punk rock pieces and colored hair, they are an amazing accompaniment to a show that features glam and punk rock in all its glory.

That said, the show is iconic for a reason, so come with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed!

The current run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch finishes tonight. Tickets available through HedwigMontreal.com

A Brief History of Time is a show with a daunting task. It aims to present a heavily abridged history of physics in just an hour. The snippet I saw at Fringe for All gave me high hopes for the show and I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s creator and Artistic Director of Théatre du Renard, Antonia Leney-Granger. She said the show was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time and that all the scientific theories in the show are accurately presented.

She added that the portrayal of the historical context of the discovery of those theories should be taken with a grain of salt as they were tweaked to make the show more funny and relatable. Though the show is very educational, Leney-Granger admits that her background isn’t in science or teaching.

“I’ve always had a very curious mind and bucketloads of hobbies and interests: I’m interested in learning the basics of pretty much everything, from pottery making to quantum physics! A Brief History of Time started me off on a path that became the mission of my company, Théâtre du Renard: disseminating complex or seemingly inaccessible ideas to a variety of audiences through the playfulness and poetry of object theatre.”

For those unfamiliar with object theatre – sometimes referred to as object puppetry – it’s a kind of theatre where objects are used to create a story with characters. In the case of A Brief History of Time, Leney-Granger uses everything from troll dolls to paper lanterns to magic eight balls to teach the audience about Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Hubble. The ensuing show is informative, funny, and enlightening.

I asked Leney-Granger what her target audience is and she said it was created with adults in mind, but she has also performed the show for high school groups and even kids age ten and up. She has had physicists and scientists come to the first shows and aside from a few vocabulary changes, they were very happy with it.

It should be noted that there is some content in the show that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for younger audiences. There are mentions of alcohol and orgies that may make parents think twice about letting their kids see it. If Leney-Granger has a tweaked version that leaves these things out, the show will be a definite hit among groups looking for educational entertainment that’s fun, engaging, and available in both official languages.

You won’t just see a woman playing with toys on stage, you’ll receive an education on the theories about our universe, the philosophers and scientists that developed them, and the hidden figures that contributed to their development but were never credited. In addition, the setup of the show is fairly light technically, so it can be done in a variety of settings.

What makes A Brief History of Time particularly special is its timing and use of sound. There is no wasted time in the piece and the audio jokes and pop culture references are everything you’d hope they would be.

Though Montreal Fringe is over, Théatre du Renard is planning to take A Brief History of Time on tour in Quebec and internationally, so you may have a chance to check it out.

Whether science, history, or physics are your thing or not, go see A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.

The Moaning Yoni was a show I was prepared to hate. While I’m all about demystifying women’s bodies, health, and sexuality in fiction and non-fiction, I find the idea of a show devoted entirely to a single body part repugnant. I was however, pleasantly surprised when I finally got to see it.

The show is the brainchild of Joylyn Secunda, an actor, dancer, and singer from Vancouver, who created the piece out of a desire to create a solo show that expressed something personal.

“At the time I had just came out as asexual and was thinking a lot about how I fit into society as an ace, female-bodied person. I began to explore different characters and developed the show through a lot of experimentation and play.”

The show follows the heroine Zoë through a journey of self-discovery during a “Yoni Healing Circle”, a sort of yoga class devoted to honoring and nourishing “sacred feminine organs”.

Secunda, clad in red harem pants and a matching long-sleeved crop top, plays almost all the characters in the play, including Crystal, the class instructor, Zoe – the show’s protagonist, Zoe’s “Yoni”, Zoë’s promiscuous college friends, and the men she’s dated. The only character she doesn’t play is a male voiceover done by voiceover performer Adam Bergquist, who clearly represents the condescending patriarchal voice of ‘reason’.

At the beginning of the class, the Crystal hands the students a magic elixir and asks them to apply a small amount to their vulvas. The effect causes Zoe’s yoni to talk, resulting in the first pleasant surprise of the show.

The Yoni in question is portrayed by Secunda as a Yenta: a shrill, nagging, opinionated old Jewish lady. I grew up with women like this, so while I appreciated the portrayal and found it hilarious, those unfamiliar with Jewish culture and Yiddish expressions might not understand all the words expressed by the Yoni in her anguish and irritation with Zoë.

The struggle between Zoë and her Yoni was fun to watch, as it even included a dance with a giant tampon.

The show is unfortunately not without its flaws. Secunda sings a few songs in the show that go on far too long without contributing to the story. The ice cream song about sex with frat boys and the multilingual song praising mother earth were repetitive and could easily have been cut in half without sacrificing the play’s message of self-love.

Where The Moaning Yoni really shines, however, is in its merciless attack on all the things a woman navigating her health and sexuality has to deal with. Everything from sexual assault, to online dating, peer pressure, to bad kissers, to toxic masculinity, to oral sex, to snake oil peddlers selling dangerous vaginal insertion devices – the latter clearly a dig at Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, to pubic grooming is mercilessly lampooned by Secunda during the show.

There are parts of the show that are triggering so sexual assault survivors might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s still worth watching. Secunda is incredibly talented, with her supremely expressive face and body carrying much of show. If Jim Carrey is the male rubberface, Secunda might just be the female equivalent.

Secunda hopes that audiences walk away thinking about the nuances of their own genders and sexuality and the affect it has on their relationships. Some men might have reservations about seeing the show as she pulls no punches in her descriptions of negative heterosexual male behavior. When I asked her about it, she said the show is as much for men as it is for women. Her message to potential male viewers is that:

“Toxic masculinity hurts men just as much as it hurts women and non-binary people. I hope by watching Zoë’s journey in the play, you might have a better understanding of an experience that is different than your own. It’s a really fun comedy for anyone, no matter your age, gender, sexuality, or culture.”

The Moaning Yoni is a piece with a lot of potential, and if anyone is wondering whether Joylyn Secunda can carry a whole show, the answer is yes. She just needs to do a little trimming.

The Man Behind the Curtain is a hard show to review. Inspired by magic, the show is cramped, unpredictable, and uncomfortable, but it’s also fast-paced, hilarious, and intense.

The venue is set up in the apartment of co-writer and director Sam Jameson. Anyone who feels squeamish about attending a performance in someone’s home is missing out on a great show. Productions Presents describes the show as:

“A series of fantastical vignettes that are all tied together by the theme of magic… The show consists of the performance itself, the physical space around you, and the how the physical space changes over the course of the show. “

The Man Behind the Curtain stars Erik Leisinger and is directed by Sam Jameson who met on themet on the set of Glam Gam’s Fringe Production, Peter Pansexual, when Sam was director and Erik was a performer. They worked together again last year on Glam Gam’s Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story – currently the highest grossing Fringe play of all time.

In 2018, Jameson and Leisinger founded Productions Presents, a company for the work they produce together. When I had the chance to speak to them, the question on my mind was whether Jameson or Leisinger were actually magicians, given the show’s magic theme.

“Neither Sam or Erik are professional magicians, and quite frankly can’t really do magic to save their lives. Fortunately, Erik Leisinger’s childhood friend, Erin the Magician is a hotshot magician from the west coast and has helped us throughout the process.”

You will see magic tricks in this show, but they’re nothing spectacular, and as a viewer, you really won’t care because you’ll be too busy laughing. Unlike the classic theatre setup where audience and performance spaces are separate and distinct, The Man Behind the Curtain is immersive theatre, a type of show where “the entire performance area is a part of the show, and the audience has far more freedom to interact with the performance environment and the performers themselves.”

As audience members you won’t be picked on by the performers, but you will be expected to participate a little. That said, the venue has extremely limited space, with a maximum capacity of ten people.

Shows are often sold out so get your tickets in advance. You won’t be disappointed!

The Man Behind the Curtain runs through June 15. Tickets available at montrealfringe.ca

The Montreal Fringe Festival is a festival for the underdogs. As Fringe Spokesperson and Board President Helene Simard said at the festival launch, Fringe is a place for people who want to put on a show but have always been told “no”. Whether you’re a female artist, an artist of colour, a non-binary artist, or on an LGBTQI artist, “Fringe always has room for you.”

The Montreal Fringe Festival is huge, with hundreds of artists putting on shows from May 27th to June 17th. With so many shows to choose from, it’s hard to pick what to see.

One way to choose is to go to Fringe for All, an event that takes place on opening night of the Festival. At this event, anyone with a show at the Fringe can take the stage for two minutes to give prospective audiences a taste of what their show is about.

It’s an endurance test, as some of the snippets you see confirm every negative stereotype about independent theatre. But if you’re willing to tough it out, you’re going to find some real gems.

I’m here to help. Below you’ll find some of my pics for the best shows at Montreal Fringe 2019. Please note that I have tried to offer recommendations in a variety of genres and languages.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

There is something inherently funny about a cutesy character behaving like an awful human being, and if the snippet I saw is any indication, the R’Iyeh Theater Company’s Why Are You Afraid of Clowns? is going to be a blast.

A man came on stage in a clown costume with a blanket over his head, screaming angrily. Then he pulled off the blanket, revealing a clown wig and red nose, handed an audience member an apple, and pulled out an axe.

It was short but hilarious, and by far the best snippet of the night.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

Les Plaisirs Interdits

Some of the best comedy is about contrast, and like my last recommendation, Productions Belle Lurette’s Plaisirs Interdits offers just that.

The characters presented were prim and proper and in period costumes– a nun, a priest, a maid, and a very conservatively dressed upper crust man and woman. I was about to roll my eyes… and then they opened their mouths, and what came out was a slew of hilariously lascivious songs about sex and sexuality.

It’s a French language production, so if you have a poor grasp of the language you might not get all the jokes, but if you can manage, check it out!

House of Laureen Presents: Mx. Queerdo MTL

If you love drag, you need to check out Mx. Queerdo. Presented by House of Laureen, a Montreal-based drag family. The show stars Uma Gahd, and is all about a pageant, Mx. Queerdo.

If the snippet I saw is any indication, it’s going to be a blast!

Re-Imagined

I’m not much into dance shows, but if I were to see one at Montreal Fringe, it would be Eva Kolarova Danse’s show Re-Imagined. The twenty-five-minute show explores loneliness and relationships with contemporary dance.

Their two-minute bit at Fringe for All featured a dance at once graceful and erotic, portraying without words the complexity of human relationships.

Happy-Ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling

In the era of so much anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec, Happy-Ish is a show worth seeing. Vadim Gran’s solo storytelling show is about a Russian immigrant trying to navigate life in Canada.

The bit I saw featured an angry bearded Russian man holding a smiley balloon while trying to smile to make himself more approachable… And failing spectacularly. It was hilarious and a good indication of things to come.

Opera Reviens-Moi

One thing Fringe heavily encourages is seeing a kind of show you never have before and opera is certainly outside the box for many.

Though the art form has a reputation for being more for rich old people, the snippet of Opera Reviens-Moi I saw was approachable and funny, and the actors certainly have the pipes befitting the genre. It looks to be a marriage of the classical and modern and a good way to introduce people to opera.

Fairy Fails

Fairy Fails is the story of a fairy who can’t fly. Starring House of Laureen’s Dot Dot Dot, it looks to be a treat for anyone who loves glitter, twinkles, twirls, and fairies.

A Brief History of Time

This play specializes in presenting complex concepts in a simplified, approachable format. Their presentation at Fringe for All used a variety of toys and props to explain astrophysics.

If you’re interested in the unknown but don’t feel like opening a book, check out A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.

L’Appel du Vide

Anyone who ever went through a witch phase in high school will want to check out L’Appel du Vide. It’s the story of a grieving witch who decides to perform a ritual to bring about the end of the world.

It looks hilarious and the bit I saw told me it will have all the theatrics a witch story needs.

L’Appel du Vide

The Aventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca

Following a successful award-nominated show last year, Philo 14 is back with an English sequel to their French language puppet show Les Aventures de Humphrey Beauregret.

The theatrics in The Adventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca seem to have been taken up a notch, but the drama and humour and puppets are still there, proving that puppets aren’t just for kids.

Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood

Director Marissa Blair assures you that there will be blood in Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood, but it’s blood that will wash out. An immersive theatrical experience featuring a cast of characters as interesting as they are creepy, it’s play written by philosopher Antonin Artaud while developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.

Though the snippet at Fringe for All was mostly disclaimers about the kind of blood in the show, it looks to be a sure thing for people wanting something a little different.

The 2019 Montreal Fringe Festival runs May 27-June 19. Full Schedule: MontrealFringe.ca

Featured Image via Montreal Fringe on Facebook

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.

I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.

Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.

Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.

“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”

Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:

“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”

The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.

“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”

As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.

With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.

For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.

* Featured image by Romantic Photographic

On a chilly night in November at Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, a band takes the stage. At a microphone on one side is a drag king, looking somber and sad as a solitary figure in a cloak covered in stars and stripes walks on stage to the tune of America The Beautiful.

Suddenly the figure, seemingly a blonde woman glamorously made up, turns, grabs the central mic and breaks into her number Tear Me Down. It’s the opening of In the Wings Promotions production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its title character, Hedwig, has just taken the stage.

This is not your typical play. Based on the so-called “off off off off-Broadway show” and film by John Cameron Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask who was present during opening night for a post-performance Q&A). It’s the tale of a “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who gets a sex change in order to marry an American soldier and cross over to the ally-controlled Western side of the city at a time when the Soviet Union restricted access.

It is not a play featuring many characters played by many actors, nor are there elaborate scene changes. The story is told almost entirely by Hedwig while she and her band, the Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak, perform across from a venue where her last spurned love, the star Tommy Gnosis, is playing to crowds of adoring fans. Her storytelling is interrupted by the show’s numerous songs, including the famous sing-along Wig in a Box.

Andrew Morrissey plays Hedwig. He does a fine job showing her struggles with her sexual identity, finding love, and peace with herself in America. His makeup, wigs, and costumes, done by Jess Beyer and Sig Moser, are faithful recreations of what people have come to expect of the character: black leather, denim, and studs that are staples of eighties and nineties rock outfits, Hedwig’s blonde curls with their signature center part, and the garish blue eye shadow, penciled eyebrows, and red lipstick.

Morrissey is unsteady in his high heels at times and his singing is occasionally pitchy, his German accent ranging from pronounced to non-existent. That said, he has the stage presence and the emotion the character requires. In the parts where Hedwig is coming unglued, you never doubt the sincerity of it.

It is not, however, Hedwig that steals the show in this production, but rather her second husband, Yitzhak, played by producer Noelle Hannibal. Clad in the beard and shapeless clothing of a drag king, her portrayal conveys the depression, fear, and passive aggressiveness of someone in an abusive relationship.

You feel it in every gesture, in every insult muttered under his breath, and in every passive reaction to Hedwig yanking the microphone from his hand when his powerful feminine voice breaks through hers. While Morrissey’s performance was very true to form, it is Hannibal’s portrayal that I remember the most clearly from that night.

The band, known as The Angry Inch never misses a beat (despite some issues with the sound system that night). Though they are clearly musicians first, they do have some acting talent and interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak throughout the show.

The show also featured animations by flash animation artist, StickdudeSeven. While they lacked colour and were less stylized than the animation in the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie, they did suit the material well. Unfortunately, the stage was not set up to truly do them or the projected lyrics for the sing-along justice. They were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage that was so low to the floor that Hedwig, standing in front of the stage, often obscured them. A set up that was higher or ever above the stage would have been easier to follow.

All that said, the play is a lot of fun. The story is sincere and relatable to anyone struggling with gender identity, domestic abuse, artistic expression, or just finding oneself. The music is catchy and uplifting with the occasional hint of guttural sex. Check it out.

* Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays Wednesday, November 21 and Thursday, November 22 at 8pm at Cabaret Mado, 1115 Ste-Catherine Est. Tickets available through In The Wings Promotions

** Featured image by Romantic Photographic

Halloween is upon us and in Montreal that means just one thing: fastening your garter belts and doing the Time Warp at the city’s Rocky Horror festivities!

As always there are two events in Montreal to partake in: the Halloween Ball at Cinema Imperial and the live musical play put on at the MainLine Theatre. The Imperial ball involves a costume contest and a screening of the film accompanied by actors miming the show on stage. Audience members are invited to yell out call lines, dance, and throw stuff during strategic points in the show.

With scores of drunken attendees and the risk of being hit with a toilet paper roll, the Halloween Ball is not for everyone. If you want something a little tamer but still very much in the spirit of Rocky Horror and Halloween, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show at the MainLine Theatre is a sure bet.

This is the original musical play the 1975 film is based on. The actors on stage are all actually singing and dancing and the MainLine’s production contains a few artistic changes that may throw off die-hard fans of the movie and former attendees of the Halloween Ball. Though you are not allowed to throw anything during the play, audience members are invited to do call lines and even heckle as many of the actors give as good as they get.

Elyann Quessy reprises her role as Janet from previous years and it’s a role she does well, maintaining the girlish squeak and feigning unease as she becomes more and more comfortable with her sexuality. Though her singing is pitchy at times, it fits the character perfectly.

Adrian MacDonald also reprises his role as Brad this year and he is a talented singer and performer. Though his portrayal of Brad is never hammy enough for my tastes, MacDonald does an excellent job of portraying the stereotypical cis straight male forced to face alternative forms of sexual and gender expression. In the current political climate here and abroad, perhaps this is the Brad we need.

Cassandra Bluethner is once again Columbia and her portrayal this year is a massive improvement. Unlike last year, she offers a lot more of the squeak and cuteness one would expect from the character. Instead of a teenager in the “I hate everyone” phase, we have a more authentic groupie, in love with Eddie but enamored with Frank N’ Furter and addicted to the drugs the latter offers (shown in the play as sprinklings of glitter).

Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz reprises her role of Magenta. This year, though, she doesn’t sing on Science Fiction Double Feature, leaving vocal duties on the opener to Lindsay Miller as the Usherette, complete with skimpy costume and a box slung around her neck. Though her part was a bit smaller, Kulaga-Yoskovitz provided one of the biggest laughs I had during the performance.

Kenny Streule resumes his role as the Narrator – the character fans of the film will know as the Criminologist. It’s a role Streule does well, keeping a straight face in even the harshest heckles.

The true star of the MainLine production is Stephanie McKenna, who reprises her role as Frank/Dr. Frank N’ Furter. Though she’s dropped the English accent of previous years, her snark and strut are on point and her physicality is a sight to behold.

She is the first actor I’ve seen in the role to slip seamlessly from lying down, to a headstand before jumping into a standing position. She is also the first Frank I’ve seen with the physical strength to simulate sex positions most people find difficult.

This year’s production features a few newcomers.

This year the role of Riff Raff was cast gender bent, with Meghan Vera Starling in the part. Her portrayal was good; she had the right amount of creepiness and the BDSM vibe they gave her character explains why Frank beats her during the play.

Unfortunately her singing suffered due to her excessive use of the vibrato in which, on a particular note the singing voice sounds like it is vibrating or pulsing. It’s a vocal style that doesn’t suit the character, making much of Starling’s singing sound more like an American Idol audition than part of a musical number in Rocky Horror.

While in previous years the roles of Eddie and Dr. Scott were played by one actor (Kenny Stein for the past two editions), this year they were split. Eddie was played by Mathieu Samson and Dr. Scott by Nicolas Mancuso. Both were good in their respective roles, but nothing outstanding.

David Hudon is also new to MainLine’s production, taking the role of the beautiful creature Rocky, and he was perfect for it. Of all the past Rockys, he is the first one to come close to the physical type the part calls for and Hudon actually does a few push-ups and takes a few poses. Though Rocky has few lines in the play, Hudon manages to portray the character’s just-been-born naiveté with empty smiles and body language.

One of the stars of the production that deserves mention is the band, led by Katharine Paradis on saxophone. The music was always on point and helped further the play’s jokes along through their strategic use of sound effects.

There were a few changes that threw me off. Though all the songs were included, some scenes were changed that put some of said songs out of context. For example (spoiler alert) in the dinner scene, Rocky comforts Janet, causing Frank to get jealous, thus triggering the song Wise Up Janet Weiss. This version does not feature Janet’s interaction with Rocky, giving no context to Frank’s sudden rage against her.

Despite the difficulties, the MainLine show is worth checking out. It’s sexy, it’s catchy, it’s fun, and you’ll laugh yourself silly, if not from the play itself, then from the audience’s brutal heckling.

Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show runs October 25, 26, 27, 30 and 31 (all shows 8pm) at MainLine Theatre, 3997 St-Laurent. Tickets available at MainLineTheatre.ca

The History of Sexuality is a play that is going to make you uncomfortable, but the reasons it will are the very reasons why you should see it.

Following a successful run at the Mainline theater in September 2017, it was selected as part of Pride 2018’s programming. Playwright, director, and producer Dane Stewart set out to write a play about queerness and power dynamics and the result is a piece that is visceral, heartrending, intellectual, sexy, and authentic.

The play revolves around a Master’s seminar about Michel Foucault’s book, The History of Sexuality taught by Marie, played by Renée Hodgins. It is through this seminar that the stories of the professor and her students are tied together. Though they have their own lives and relationships with power dynamics and sexuality, they always end up in class to talk about Foucault.

Hodgins’ portrayal is partly of the stereotypical passionate university professor doing her best to make her students think, while at the same her character is given depth through her relationship with her long-term partner, Gayle, played by Haitian Canadian actress Melissa Toussaint.

Gayle is disabled and the struggles between her and Marie to maintain intimacy despite the disability are relatable and real. Toussaint’s Gayle is one of the most faithful representations of the struggle to live with disability I’ve ever seen on stage.

You feel her frustration as she struggles to find a job not only as a black woman, but as a disabled black woman, and you see the deflated look of depression so many disabled people have when Toussaint is on stage. It is a look similar to that of Madeleine, a black woman struggling with depression while doing her best to maintain her relationship with Alissa – played by Kayleigh Choiniere.

Madeleine – played by Jazmin Illidge – is a woman struggling to find her place in the world despite being a black lesbian with depression. You feel the listlessness in her portrayal and the impact on her relationship with Alissa, who works as a stripper. Alissa shares her struggles with being objectified in her work and her portrayal is a good demonstration of how ordinary and likeable strippers can be. In the play, Alissa is asked to introduce her classmate Talia (played by Katherine King) to stripping.

It is Talia and Darr, the play’s transgender character played by Darragh Mondoux, who are in one of the most important parts of the play. This section addresses sexual assault, and is overlaid with audio clips of an interview Dane Stewart did with an actual sexual assault survivor.

It mercilessly addresses the fact that it is the female victims’ accounts that are always put on trial and not men’s, and with every graphic detail, audiences are made profoundly aware that coercion or the simple violation of the accepted terms of a sexual encounter can turn a consensual encounter into a rape.

The play also includes an interview with a male self-professed perpetrator of sexual violence. It is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s an important one that we need to keep talking about.

The History of Sexuality also addresses kink, which is another topic that might make people uncomfortable. Craig – played by Trevor Barrette – is a student in Marie’s class, but he also works as a gay male escort, and is into puppy play. You see him being whipped by his master Martin, played by the Oliver Price who comes off a bit cold but well-suited to the part, as well as some simulated pee play that may make some people squirm.

That said, Barrette’s Craig is sweet and loveable and the relationship between Craig and Martin helps to demystify some aspects of kink. The portrayal also addresses the issue of emotional abuse while highlighting the power submissives have in BDSM relationships, a notion that is typically misunderstood. After Fifty Shades of Grey, we need more realistic portrayals of kink like this one and Stewart, Barrette, and Price certainly did it justice.

The History of Sexuality does have its flaws.

The portrayals of the characters in prostitution seem to minimize its dangers. The classroom scenes can get a bit boring and heavy with intellectual discussion, though they do succeed in addressing the viciousness with which some people on the Left speak to those with opposing views.

David Hudon is perfect as John, the stereotypical cis white male who is a slave to the gender binary and adheres to essentialist notions of differences between sexes. You feel John’s defensiveness constantly when he is on stage as well as how quick his non-gender conforming classmates are to attack him. Though the character has no backstory, Dane Stewart admitted in an earlier interview that the character is meant to represent the majority of men women and queer people have to deal with regularly.

The History of Sexuality is the kind of play we need more of. It’s not perfect, but it helps to demystify many aspects of sexuality many cis straight vanilla people would like to ignore but cannot. If you identify as queer, disabled, or trans, or a person of colour you will see aspects of yourself on stage and feel the power of being adequately represented. If you’re a woman who’s been victimized in the past, you will feel vindicated. If you’re cis and straight, the play will hopefully make you realize that people are people. For this reason alone, it’s worth seeing.

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

** Featured image of Darragh Mondoux in The History of Sexuality by Peter Ryaux-Larsen

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

If there’s one play that truly embodies the spirit of diversity and creativity of the Montreal Fringe Festival, Glam Gam Productions‘ Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story is it. If you’re open minded and want to laugh yourself silly, this play is a sure bet.

Greasy is not for everyone.

If you’re a prude who takes offense to nudity and simulated sex acts, don’t come to this play. If you’re homophobic, do not come to this play. If the idea of people being open and free about their sexuality makes you angry, do not come to this play. If you’re the type to have a social media tantrum about a few Catholic school jokes, stay away.

Inspired by the musical play Grease, Greasy is a racier, raunchier, funnier, gayer spoof with all the right jokes in all the right places.

The play starts with Winter, a cute blonde lesbian played by Magenta Haze, whom nine months earlier had rolled around in the snow with Dani, played by the amazing Phoenix Wood. Like in the original play, the sweet naïve Winter finds herself at the same all-girl Catholic high school with her old flame, who shrugs her off to impress her clique of butch dykes.

Many of the character names in the play are riffs on the names in the original. Rizzo becomes Jizzo, Danny Zuko becomes Dani Fuko, Kennickie becomes Kink-Nikki, and the Pink Ladies become the Pink Tacos.

This play is a treat because no topic is off limits. Queer identity, drag culture, gender roles, polyamory, and even mental illness, academic stress, and school debt are all addressed in the piece. What particularly sets Greasy apart from the original, however, is how thoroughly the other characters are developed.

The original Grease revolved around the romance between Danny Zuko and Sandy, giving it an almost nauseatingly sentimental note while leaving the other characters’ storylines superficial. In Greasy all the characters are given a voice and a story to tell, whether it’s Frenchie’s struggles to get into med school, Jizzo’s conflicted sexuality and her romance with Kink-Nikki, or Rummy and Slutzy – played by the hilarious Booze Crotch and her puppet Slutzy – and their struggles with mental illness and love for Tarty.

Even gay male identity is addressed through the play’s two drag queens, Cha Cha and Ta Ta, played by the beautiful Lez Izmohr and Spoopy Patootie, respectively. We also get this through Prince LaFontaine, played by Micheal J. McCarthy, whose outfits consisting of the tackiest suits I’ve ever seen, trumped even the most beautiful drag costumes in the play.

The show has the added benefit of promoting body positivity via its numerous burlesque performances. Few in the play fit the Hollywood ideal of an anorexically thin body and big boobs, but all who took their clothes off for the audience made it sexy through artful shimmies and shakes and the sensuous removal of their outer costumes revealing glittery pasties and thongs.

Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, you may want to give this play a shot. All the singers and band members are talented and never miss a beat even when the venue’s sound system screws up.

This play shocked me in many ways, but awed me in more. If you want to laugh and cheer and dance in your seat, check out Greasy. It’s worth it.

* Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story runs until June 16 as part of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. Tickets available through MontrealFringe.ca

* Featured image via GlamGam.com

Montreal Fringe is one of those events that truly has something for every theatre go-er. You like burlesque? They have shows for that. You love drag queens and drag kings? There are shows for that too. You want drama? Comedy? Something different? Fringe has got you covered. If you’re willing to look, you’re bound to find many diamonds in the rough.

The Montreal Fringe Festival prides itself on creativity, diversity, and accessibility so even the shows that producers consider unsellable get a shot at stardom by having a chance to take the festival stage. One of the best ways to sample local talent is to take in the Fringe for All event that happens the first night of every festival.

For up to two minutes, all the local performers get a shot at enticing attendees to come to their plays. It’s a slog, but for your stamina you see a lot of gems hidden among snippets that confirm people’s worst prejudices about independent theatre – that it’s pretentious, artsy, and consisting of symbolism lost on even the university educated.

I’m not going to bore you with those. Having witnessed bits of shows that look REALLY good, I’m going tell you MY picks for Montreal Fringe 2018:

Apocalipsync : Humanity Is a Drag

I should admit right off that bat that I LOVE drag, so the show intrigued me before I saw their bit. When they took the stage I was not disappointed. Their lip sync and choreography was immaculate as was the glam the genre requires.

The premise of the show is that – “CONSERVATIVES REJOICE!” – the left ended the world and the “Social Justice Road Warriors” played by drag queens Uma Gahd, Dot Dot Dot, and Anaconda are searching for humanity’s salvation. If you’re a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you NEED to see this show.

Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story

True to the title, the show is riff on the classic musical play Grease but with a much naughtier touch. There isn’t just dancing, there’s riveting burlesque performances proving that you don’t need to be a busty toothpick to be sexy.

Also, this is the latest offering from Glam Gam Productions who produced Peter Pansexual, which set Montreal Fringe box office records last year and a group we at FTB have been following for a while.

Mid Knight

Mid Knight is a modern fairy tale about what would happen to Little (Prince) Charming if his parents got divorced. The snippet I saw featured a piñata with the word “childhood” on it getting smashed to bits by the show’s prince with a blunt sword. The audience got any candy that came out. It’s an interesting approach to the classic fairy tale that’s timely given the renewed public interest in medieval themes due to shows like Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time.

CLIO: Puppets, Not Patriarchy

If you’re a heterosexual male who doesn’t believe in making sure your sex partners are satisfied in bed, this isn’t the show for you. It’s a puppet show about Clio, a clitoris on a journey of self discovery to find out what she is capable of, thus becoming “cliterate”.

The snippet I saw was funny and sweet so while I don’t typically go for shows about one body part, this looks intriguing, if only to marvel at how the puppeteer keeps a straight face through the performance.

What the Hell Happened to My Patio Furniture?!

I’m not normally a fan of one-man shows, but Joshua Budman’s two-minute performance in which he wonders how his patio chairs disappeared from his sixteenth-floor balcony to the song Dust in the Wind had me laughing so hard it looks like a sure thing.

#ashtag

This is an interactive show in which audience members are invited to participate using their cell-phones. It’s a format I’ve never seen before in theatre and it featured a male and female actor with perfectly synchronised dialogue. It’s worth checking out if you like high tech audience participation

Mme Brulé

Mme Brulé starring Evelyne Laniel is a French language play that embodies the frustrations of formerly idealist teachers everywhere. The snippet I saw was hilarious and heartwarming, making me want to laugh and cheer. If you have any teachers in your life, bring them to this show.

Drunk Live Reading: Bridesmaids

If you were a fan of the film, you need to check this out. Featuring Montreal’s own Cat Lemieux who co-hosted the Fringe for All with Kenny Streule and Dayane Nbaritukure, all proceeds of the event go to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Not only is that an amazing cause, but Lemieux’s snippet channeled Melissa McCarthy and the late Chris Farley in way that was hilarious and riveting, making this show a sure bet.

Les Aventures d’Humphrey Beauregret

Philippe Gobeille’s one-man puppet show surprised me. His puppet “Humphrey Beauregret” is a 1940s style P.I. reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart’s classic roles. Not only does the character tell stories, he sings songs such as Unbreak My Heart and All By Myself channeling the trope’s loneliness and taking it to amusing extremes. It was riveting and funny and a good sample of what’s to come in his show.

Montreal Fringe is on from May 28th to June 17th. As festival spokesperson and Fringe veteran Véronique Raymond declared in her opening speech: “It’s the only time when Francophone and Anglophone artists share the same stage.”

Check it out. It’s worth it.

The full schedule is at MontrealFringe.ca and look for our reviews over the next few weeks