LOVING THE STRANGER OR HOW TO RECOGNIZE AN INVERT by Alistair Newton (Ecce Homo Theatre). Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). See listing.
Times: January 7 at 2:45 pm, January 8 at 5:15 pm, January 9 at 6:15 pm, January 11 at 8:30 pm, January 12 at 9 pm, January 13 at 5:15 pm, January 14 and 15 at 7 pm. $12-$15. 416-966-1062. Rating: NNNN
Loving The Stranger Or How To Recognize An Invert functions exactly as writer/director Alistair Newton intends: it amuses while it informs.
Offering a packed history of the battle for queer rights in the 20th century - much of it in Germany but with references to the United States and Canada - the show is styled as a 20s cabaret, with whiteface figures singing, dancing and performing comic sketches against a backdrop of flickering silent-film projections.
Newton organizes the material around the life, art and memories of Peter Flinsch, a gay German who lived in Canada from the 50s until his death in 2010.
The writer's interview with Flinsch is the spark of the production, and Flinsch (played by Hume Baugh, capturing the man's humane spirit and awareness of his lifelong luck) gives the material its strongly beating heart.
The musical numbers, including some wonderful gay period songs by Mischa Spoliansky, an appropriate male duet by Verdi and Marlene Dietrich classics Lili Marlene and Falling In Love Again, are some of the show's best parts. Under musical director Dan Rutzen and accompanist Adam Weinmann, performers Seth Drabinsky, Matthew Eger and Geoff Stevens do them full, camp justice. Kimberly Persona is a standout cabaret performer, capturing just the right blend of wickedness, send-up and insouciance.
One highlight is a dance number, originally choreographed by Graham McKelvie and here restaged by Sky Fairchild-Waller. It's a fascinating combination of elements, with Flinsch's painting En Vitesse, seen first as a projection, coming to life as dancer Laurence Ramsay; the sensuality of his movement absorbs Baugh's appreciative Flinsch, while Persona provides musical accompaniment with Falling In Love Again.
If there's a problem with Loving The Stranger, it's that too much is compacted into one hour. The historical material is striking, but some passes by so quickly that its meaning barely registers. I wouldn't mind seeing a longer show, with some sections presented more leisurely.
But that's a minor point. Loving The Stranger tells an important story and does so in a clever, entertaining way.