Pig

Buddies in Bad Times takes a brutally honest look at contemporary queer life


PIG by Tim Luscombe (Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander). Runs to October 6. Pwyc-$37. 416-975-8555. See Listings. Rating: NNNN


Kudos to Brendan Healy and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for launching their new season with Tim Luscombe’s Pig, a play that proved too shocking for the writer’s native England.

It takes a brutally honest look at a subculture of contemporary queer life. It angrily responds to a climate of gay weddings, adoptions and “It gets better!” optimism with accounts of seroconversion parties (“seeding” HIV-negative men with HIV), baseball bat fisting and, ultimately, death.

Intentionally shocking? At times. But there are kernels of disturbing truths in the lives of these characters. And the idea of truth is important in the play.

When two men hook up online for rough sex, they call themselves Cuntboy (Paul Dunn) and Gourgeous Fucker (Blair Williams), and over a series of scenes spanning several years we meet their so-called “real selves” (Joe and Stevie, both writers, rent boys and addicts) as they embark on a relationship. We also meet their fictional creations.

Who and what is “real”? The term takes on special meaning in a culture where porn and drugs are prevalent, desensitizing users to any experience and making them crave more. And then more.

Under Healy’s firm direction, the various levels of fiction and reality create lots of tension in the maze-like first act. (Not surprising that someone mentions a minotaur.) Things collapse in the second act, though, as some scenes toy with melodrama and Luscombe’s meta-theatrical cleverness descends into chaos and confusion. A bit of editing might have helped here.

The nightmare-like feel of the show is enhanced by James Lavoie’s black-on-black set, complete with reflective floor, Rebecca Picherack’s precise lighting and Antoine Bédard’s sizzling soundscape.

And Healy gets strong, brave performances from his actors. Dunn’s troubled characters believably want to get punished and atone for something they can’t quite understand, while Williams’s dominant figures – pay attention to his use of dialect to suggest class – are equally out of control as their access to power shifts.

And in another exciting performance on the Buddies’ stage, Bruce Dow plays a series of johns and exes that is alternately funny and terrifying.

With material this hard-hitting, you need a bit of levity, and one of Dow’s campy, outrageous figures – an archetype from many gay plays in the past – delivers lots of bons mots.

He also nails the play’s best-written scene, at the top of the second act, in which he longs for the good old days of secretive gay life. This simple but heartfelt passage will haunt you after the more shocking imagery has faded from mind.

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