TALES OF THE PARKSIDE by Edward Louis Cook, directed by David Oiye, with Peter Lynch, Tony Nappo, Thom Allison, Hume Baugh and Salvatore Migliore. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Tonight (Thursday, June 21), 8 pm. $10. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
actor tony nappo is an honour-ary queer.And not just because he greets me with an affectionate hug and kiss. That's a sign of a straight guy who's comfortable with his sexuality and doesn't mind being physical with a gay man like me.
It's also his acting career, much of which has been built on gay roles. Last spring he smouldered moodily as Cuirette, the leather/biker lover who deeply loves his partner, the title figure in Michel Tremblay's Hosanna. Earlier, as a closeted gay mechanic in James Harkness's Pills, he exuded enough testosterone to set many faggots' pulses racing, and also countered the brick-shithouse macho stereotype.
His latest role, in Tales Of The Parkside, is Yanni, a Greek factory worker in an abusive relationship who steals quiet moments in the former Yonge Street tavern. Buddies in Bad Times offers a staged reading of Edward Louis Cook's script -- they produced it in the 90s -- as part of Pride Week. The presentation continues Buddies' annual look at scripts (Boys In The Band and Suzie Goo: Private Secretary) that offer an historical perspective on queer life.
"But please don't ask me how I play a gay character, how I get into the part," Nappo says with a semi-serious smile.
"I don't have an answer for it, because I approach any character the same way. I've taken a page from David Mamet's teachings: tell the truth and keep it simple.
"People mystify acting too much. It's about revealing yourself to people. If you can't do that, get off the fucking stage."
A few minutes earlier Nappo had wheeled his car up to Buddies and onto the sidewalk, parking at a right angle to the street. A little late for the interview, his car's back seat and trunk filled with hockey equipment from a game the night before, the actor apologizes for sleeping in after a late night with his teammates.
"I was raised in the 80s, in a very male Scarborough," he recalls as we talk in the Alexander Street Parkette next to the theatre, gently taking a ladybug off his leg, "about the same time that Cook's play is set. I was taught that being gay was the worst thing that could happen to you. I've come a long way since then.
"When I studied at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts, my roommate and closest friend came out to me. It was like he'd whacked me with a baseball bat. Suddenly, the faceless homosexual monster became a real person I loved.
"It wasn't hard to do the math. Someone had fucked me over in what I'd been taught, hadn't painted all the colours in the picture."
His hockey buddies are miles away from the Buddies on Alexander Street. He's told his teammates about this interview. They might scoff at his gay roles, but he always has a joking comeback to let them know he won't tolerate their comments.
"My hockey mates don't know how much I draw on their world for a piece like Tales Of The Parkside," he says, gesturing a block westward to the former site of the Parkside, now replaced by an antiseptic Burger King.
"In it, guys talk about their lives, and there's a strong parallel to a hockey dressing room. The difference is that these guys aren't talking about pussy and cars but about sucking dick, taking Percodan and the ups and downs of the day.
"The audience watches a casual afternoon in a bar that these guys consider a haven, another home. It's not surprising that what they generate is a sense of a spirited family who, despite all their bitchy humour, really love each other."