THE BEWITCHING OF MAX GUNTER THE BEWITCHING OF MAX GUNTER THE BEWITCHING OF MAX GUNTER
written and directed by Sky Gilbert, with Mark Christmann, Gil Garratt, Ryan Hinds, Ann Holloway and Tracy Wright. Presented by the Cabaret Company in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to March 4, Friday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2:30 pm. $10, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN playwright sky gilbert opens The Bewitching Of Max Gunter with what he considers a paint-by-numbers AIDS-play scenario: a dying, sad but campily entertaining central figure (Mark Christmann) is surrounded by supporters and critics.
As the actors read from their scripts and a narrator moves the action along, Gilbert's satire intentionally verges on melodrama, even in the character of Max's lover, Thomas (Gil Garratt), who turns into a good fairy trying to rescue Max from accepted medical beliefs.
But then one figure objects to the script, and we're thrown into a different world, something out of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, where hysterical charges of witchcraft and possession fly about the stage like black-horned imps.
The switch emphasizes Gilbert's politics about the cause of AIDS -- it's not HIV -- and society's demonization of sexuality, be it in the 17th century or the 21st. Sex, as Gilbert keeps preaching, is good, and any attempt to inhibit it is bad.
Happily, the writer/director embeds his political statements in theatricality and refrains from hitting viewers over the head with a blunt message.
While the script still has the feel of a draft -- the second half's storyline could be clearer and connections between the play's two parts stronger -- the actors grab the stage when they have the chance.
Standouts are Christmann's Max, suffering equally from physical pain and internalized homophobia, who plays neatly with tonal shifts from comedy to pathos, and the explosive Ann Holloway as both a guilting, racist mother with her own homophobic agenda, and a second mother filled to the brim with sexual fantasies.JON KAPLAN