There's both a good script and a good history lesson in Body Politic, Nick Green's play that traces the emergence and growth of the landmark gay Canadian publication in the 70s and 80s.
It explores the dramatically rich fact that collective members of the Body Politic (BP), a group of activists, authors and friends, didn't always agree on political tactics or the topics the publication covered.
We caught a workshop production at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse last weekend for lemonTree creations. Partly staged, partly read at music stands, the polished performance was often impressive in its writing and acting.
Green's way of getting into the history is to use a contemporary frame tale in which Phillip (Kent Staines), an original member of the collective, is picked up by a young neighbour, Josh (Kawa Ada). Through flashbacks and tales about his past, Phillip relives the history of the magazine from its inception to its closing, a shutting down that gave greater prominence to Xtra!, originally a section of the BP.
The script draws on but amalgamates and fictionalizes some of the real-life people who founded and ran the magazine: a blend of Marxists, gay men, lesbians, intellectuals and militants. The characters, all passionately drawn, came to life in the hands of director Alisa Palmer and the cast, which included Cole Alvis, Jonathan Seinen, Brendan Shoreman and Shelley Simester.
The narrative highlights the Men Loving Boys Loving Men controversy, the bathhouse raids and the growing prominence of AIDS in the queer community. Two of the workshop's most powerful moments were Simester's increasingly fiery monologue about organizing the gay community into a demonstration the day after the raids, and Alvis's poetic, seemingly dispassionate revelation that his character is dealing with AIDS.
At this point, the modern story involving Staines and Ada is only partially drawn; the two actors were convincing, but the writing doesn't always flesh out their characters or growing relationship, especially in the second act. Another draft or two could make that part of the script more solid.
Here's an idea: World Pride is coming to Toronto next summer. There's probably no better way to treat visitors to a perceptive view of our queer history than a show like Body Politic.
A trio of recent awards celebrate the commitment and quality of work that the theatre community fosters.
Director Alan Dilworth, currently working on Passion Play, won the Christopher Plummer Fellowship Award of Excellence, given to an artist who's contributed to the study of Shakespeare and/or the classics in performance.
The Cayle Chernin Award, presented in memory of actor and activist Chernin, goes to a female theatre artist who's either starting her career or transitioning within the profession. Susanna Fournier is this year's recipient.
Finally, the Mallory Gilbert Leadership Award recognizes significant leadership within the Canadian theatre community. David Abel received the 2013 award and selected Rebecca Singh as his protege, who shares in the prize.