Review: My Dinner With Casey Donovan

MY DINNER WITH CASEY DONOVAN (Cabaret Company). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to March 22. $20-$24, Sunday.

MY DINNER WITH CASEY DONOVAN (Cabaret Company). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to March 22. $20-$24, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NN

Today the name Casey Donovan is associated as much with the pop singer/winner of Australian Idol as it is the gay porn star who gained a measure of crossover fame with The Boys In The Sand in the 1970s.

Sky Gilberts slight new play concerns the latter, and its set in 1973 Norwich, Connecticut, long before reality TV. The gay but not out Calvin Limehouse (Michael De Rose) has invited the cool, smoothly confident actor (Nathaniel Bacon) whom he met modeling clothes at a convention to dinner with his uptight Lutheran parents.

After an awkward, exposition-heavy beginning in which Calvin continually screeches his disbelief and Donovan (whose real name, it turns out, is Calvin, too an idea thats left unexplored) blithely breezes up and down the Passe Muraille Backspace stairs, decked out in Sheree Tamss snug period costumes, the stage is set for a farce about repressed sexuality that could shed light on todays red state-vs.-blue climate: Guess Whos Coming Out At Dinner?

What follows is the best scene in the play, particularly when Calvins mother, Rita (Elley-Ray, the actor formerly known as Elley-Ray Hennessy), talks. Its a fascinating performance: sweet, smart, not played for laughs. When Rita and Casey hit it off discussing art and culture, Gilbert suggests a lot about roads not taken. And when the two are alone together, in a contrived set-up, theres a poignant scene in which Rita reveals her fears for her sons happiness.

Certainly that dialogue is more interesting than Calvins father Charless (Ralph Small) fishing around to see whether Casey is gay, or Calvins paroxysms of awkwardness at his parents.

One of the main problems with the script is that the characters are so thin. Calvin seems to have no motivation or inner life. And the way Gilbert directs De Rose doesnt allow the actor to hint at any other layers.

The final scenes descent into melodrama is lurid and watchable, but betrays everything thats come before. Both the staging and the set, dominated by two trees hide things behind them, are awkward.

And even Gilberts pedantic references feel off. He has Casey moon expound about the Bellini aria Casta diva, but Puccinis Vissi darte would have been much more thematically appropriate, given the little we know about this character and his aspirations.

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