- Johnnie Walker will make you want to hug a Redheaded Stepchild
I felt both weighted down and buoyed up as I left the Bus Stop Theatre late last night
I'd seen five very different plays that are part of the sixth Queer Acts Theatre Festival. The plays are in various stages of development, from newly-hatched to fully-feathered. They all made me laugh a little. They all made me think a lot.
But my heart is heavy. Several of the plays dealt with the senseless violence perpetrated against members of the queer community. I am sad that we live in a world where people are made to feel afraid to be who they are. I'm sad that there are people who think "different" equals "wrong".
Still, I smile when I think about the sense of community that I felt last night (a sense of community that is extended even to a middle-aged, cisgender, white woman). I smile when I think about the power of theatre to inform and transform.
The first two shows, Chimera by Rory Jade Grey and Tender Beast by Mary Fay Coady, are presented back-to-back as part of the Emerging Queer Artists Program. Grey's piece is unlike any I've seen before. Set in the womb, it raises interesting questions about the boarder's identity. Grey gives an amazing performance, creating two characters who start out fully-delineated by voice and mannerism but who eventually merge into one. Coady's piece is riveting. She is the type of actor who invites the audience in and holds them in the palm of her hand through the warmth of her smile and the depth of her gaze. Her story will strike a chord with anyone who has ever been in love.
It's difficult for a show like Waawaate Fobister's Agokwe, which has been lauded and applauded from coast to coast, to live up to its advance-press. And to be honest, it took me a while to fall under its spell. But in the end, I was moved and enlightened by the play. Fobister plays all the roles, including Jake, a young aboriginal boy struggling to embrace is sexual identity. Mike his hockey-star love interest, Goose, the self-absorbed party girl, and Mike's loving, recovering-alcoholic mother. But it's as Nanabush, the Trickster, that Fobister shines the brightest. Nanabush is larger than life, and give's us a bird's-eye-view so that a specific story encompasses a much wider landscape.
It's easy to forget how difficult it is to be young, but actor/playwright Johnnie Walker beautifully captures the confusion and angst of adolescence in Redheaded Stepchild. Nicholas, the titular character, who is geeky, gay, redheaded and the child of divorced parents, admittedly faces more strikes against him on the playground then most. But Walker makes this one-of-a-kind character totally lovable and relatable. Nicholas's alter-ego, Rufus Vermillion, offers an interesting window into the boy's busy mind. And his reluctant step-mom, who at first appears to be a cardboard character, becomes beautifully realized both in the script and the acting. Highly recommended.
The last show of the night was Stewart Legere's work-in-progress Let's not Beat Each Other To Death. It's a mix of poetic storytelling, techno music, projections and dance that provides the audience a kind of catharsis that comes through the rhythmic movement of sweaty bodies on the dance floor.
Queer Acts runs until July 20th. he complete schedule is available here: http://halifaxpride.com/event/queeracts/