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
Salvatore Antonio understands the Buddies system inside out.
He performed nearly a decade ago in Buddies' 4-Play festival, was a member of Buddies' playwrights unit and currently is playwright in residence at the theatre, which is producing his script In Gabriel's Kitchen next season.
So why a Rhubarb! show now?
"It's a way to test the water with a new piece that doesn't make me crazy with worrying about the fallout from it," offers the writer/actor. "And Load, which has me working non-stop during rehearsals, has engaged me in a way that I've not felt since I was at the National Theatre School."
Inspired by the televised Trudeau funeral in 2000, Load focuses on a pair of brothers, sons of a deceased prime minister, on a whistle-stop train trip with their father's casket, heading toward Ottawa for a state funeral.
"I remember seeing Sasha and Justin peeking out of the car and waving at the crowds, and I wondered about the relationship between the brothers and the public. Then I realized that the nation was burying a former leader who'd make his mark on the country, but the two brothers were burying their father.
"I wondered what it would be like in that car when the public wasn't around. From there, I left the Trudeau story and created my own, about the golden-boy tightwad son and the spirited gay black-sheep son."
Antonio, whose film and TV work includes The Gospel Of John and Paradise Falls, is quick to point out that one brother's queerness isn't the issue in the family.
"It's when Simon's being gay is factored into a public situation that it matters. How do you handle the public and private sides of your life, especially when you're a very visible family that always tries to avoid scandal? The result is a piece about brothers, death, obligation and blood.
"The two brothers are trapped in this room and have to resolve something. The actor in me knew that the way to make that happen in a theatrical way was to keep putting obstacles in their way and raising the stakes."
LOAD by Salvatore Antonio, directed by David Oiye, with Antonio, Jonathan Watton, Andrew Kushnir and Sharon Forrester. February 2-6 at 10 pm.