Buddies in Bad Times' fest of cutting-edge new works has nurtured lots of hit plays and artists. The 27th edition kicks off this week with everything from clown to a naughty gay opera. Here are some highlights. By JON KAPLAN
RHUBARB ! A festival of new works. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Opens Wednesday (February 2) and runs to February 20, with weekly program changes, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm (some productions begin earlier). $15, week pass $20, festival pass $40, late-night events $5. 416-975-8555, www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com. Rating: NNNNN
In Hostage Diary, hanging from the ceiling and wrapped in chains so that only his head shows, actor Philip Riccio sure has a chance to focus on text. "I think I'll look like a chained Christmas ornament," smiles Riccio, who also wrote Hostage Diary, the thoughts of a man kidnapped and imprisoned for reasons he doesn't understand. Each time he speaks, it's in reaction to the clichés voiced by an unseen captor.
"It's more a character creation than a play," offers the co-artistic director of The Theatre Company, currently performing in A Whistle In The Dark. "It's like a mask piece without a mask."
The idea came from a homework assignment in a class with playwright Sheldon Rosen; everyone was asked to create a hostage diary as an exercise.
"Though I was bad at doing homework and never finished the assignment," he says, "the idea stuck with me. I've written before - I have lots of unfinished scripts - but this is my first one-person show. A 30-minute Rhubarb! slot is a great chance to try something different."
Most of Riccio's work has been in the classics - he spent some time at Stratford and performed in several Soulpepper shows last summer - but he admits that as far back as high school he was influenced by the solo shows created by Daniel Brooks and Daniel MacIvor.
"It was a revelation for me that storytelling could break the fourth wall and be clearly theatrical," he recalls.
"The hostage metaphor works for me in that fashion, with the image of seeing someone dangling from the ceiling an arresting way to start a show. But the idea of isolation onstage isn't groundbreaking. Beckett and others led the way.
"I wanted to give myself as many restrictions as possible and experiment with the idea of how to be compelling and entertaining when I can't do anything but talk."
HOSTAGE DIARY by Philip Riccio, directed by Darcy Murphy, with Riccio and Tim Campbell. February 16-20 at 8 pm.