SummerWorks review: Box 4901

BOX 4901 by Brian Francis (timeshare). At the Theatre Centre BMO Incubator. Aug 14 at 5 pm, Aug 19.


BOX 4901 by Brian Francis (timeshare). At the Theatre Centre BMO Incubator. Aug 14 at 5 pm, Aug 19 at 4:45 pm. See listing. Review: NNNNN

Box 4901 is part of the SummerWorks Lab series, but its ready for a full production. Brian Franciss play is that good and that essential.

The title refers to the mailbox number for a personals ad that Francis placed in the London Free Press in 1992 when he was a gay, lonely 21-year-old student at the University of Western Ontario. Of the dozens of replies he received, he wrote back to everyone except 13 men. Now older and wiser, hes written (and reads) replies to them, and theyre infused with wisdom, humour (Francis is the author of the comic novel Fruit, after all) and heartbreaking honesty.

Director Rob Kempson has assembled a group of 13 diverse queer actors to play the letter-writers, and the way he stages their readings, and the way they interact with Francis (who reads from a podium), is great fun.

So are the ensemble scenes, where the group will occasionally act out what Francis depicts: witnessing an older gay man be ignored at a Hamilton bar, for instance, or being a young kid lip-synching to Celine Dion songs in his bedroom.

Whats remarkable is that for such a narrow-seeming project, Francis gets to cover a huge range of topics that everyone will relate to, but especially queers: loneliness, aging, AIDS, body image, safety (one passage will bring to mind the Bruce McArthur allegations, although hes never mentioned) and the vice-like grip of the closet.

Most memorable are two remarkably truthful scenes from Franciss life, a humorous one involving underwear (proving that nature always has its way), the other a poignant confession about eating lunch in high school.

As the actors, whose diversity contrasts with the generic whiteness of the actual letter-writers, finish and mount the back of the stage, the show begins to wrap up, and Francis and Kempson manage to inject a bit of suspense to the proceedings.

With the ubiquity of hookup apps, personals ads are mostly a thing of the past, but the humanity in this show is universal. I could easily see Box 4901 remounted here and produced in cities around the world, perhaps with local casts.

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