WINTER FLING: HOMAGE by James Harkness, directed by David Oiye, with Tom Barnett, Patricia Hamilton, Al Kozlik and Roger Shank; and WILLIAM & JAMES by Robert Tsonos, directed by Edward Roy, with Martin Julien and Geoff Lacny. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times and the Shaw Festival at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, December 14); show run in rep to Sunday (December 17). $10 one show, $15 both. 975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
it's hard to imagine a greater contrast than Buddies in Bad Times founder Sky Gilbert and current artistic director David Oiye. The outspoken, self-promoting Gilbert pioneered gay theatre in Toronto, placing his mark on everything that Buddies produced during his tenure.
Oiye is happy to remain behind the scenes, quiet and thoughtful before answering a question. He's friendly, sure, but he has an air of reserve.
When I walk into his office, Oiye's kneeling on the floor going through three red binders of actors' headshots. It's a busy time.
This week alone he's working on Damien Atkins's new show, Real Live Girl; preparing for the upcoming Winter Fling; and still visiting The Vic, which he directed at Theatre Passe Muraille. And the headshots? He's looking for actors to cast in next February's Rhubarb! Festival.
Oiye's directorial skill matches his low-key personality. Patient and gentle with actors, he's a man who listens as much as he watches, suggesting a deep respect for playwrights and the artists who bring their work to life.
His dramaturgical instincts gave emotional punch to M. Nourbese Philip's poetic Coups And Calypsos. He brought exciting sass as co-writer and director of The Drag Queen That Time Forgot. And he infused the quartet of neurotic, martini-fuelled urbanites in the musical When We Were Singing with real human warmth.
But sometimes he doesn't take a firm enough grip on the material. The Vic could have used a stronger directorial hand to underline the multiple story lines and draw them inexorably toward a powerful, choking climax.
It should have been more successful, given that he's been working on the piece with playwright Leanna Brodie for two years, partly during his stint as head of Cahoots Theatre.
"It was a challenging experience, working with eight strong women who created a huge amount of energy in the rehearsal space. Sometimes that energy was unharnessable, but what ends up onstage is electric."
Today he wants to talk about Winter Fling, the second year of a collaboration between Buddies and the Shaw Festival that was set up by Oiye's predecessor, Sarah Stanley. The mini-fest comprises two works-in-progress, with Oiye responsible for James Harkness's Homage and Edward Roy directing Robert Tsonos's William & James. Both playwrights have a history with Buddies and spent part of last summer down at Shaw workshopping their scripts with the Shaw acting ensemble.
Dealing with the return of a gay prodigal son after his parents' deaths, Homage plays with two time frames that eventually start to blend. In the period piece William & James, which takes a stylistic page from Oscar Wilde's scripts, two Victorian men strike a bargain that ties together lust, love and fear of death.
"The audiences at the Shaw and Buddies are so different, but the disparity between the companies isn't as great as it might at first seem," notes Oiye with a typically even tone. He has an inside track here, having spent a few years directing at Niagara-on-the-Lake. "Buddies has always been interested in facilitating new work, and the Shaw's Christopher Newton has been wanting to explore different sorts of scripts as well."
It's a misconception that the Shaw Festival only stages museum-piece theatre. In fact, Newton and his associate Neil Munro regularly program challenging, unknown works that test audiences and keep them coming back for more Harley Granville Barker, rare Edwardian works or little-known 20s Canadian fare. And with a recent mandate change, the Shaw can now commission work.
"I want events like Winter Fling to be part of a two-pronged growth for Buddies," adds Oiye, whose office walls are lined with headshots of favourite actors like Brian Marler, Marc Richard and Greg MacArthur.
Then there's the trio of wigs on a filing cabinet: one auburn, another a blond Monroe styling and the last a fancy period wig complete with cascading curls and huge pheasant feathers. Oiye confesses to putting on one or another in his more stressed or lunatic moments.
"I'd like our Ante-Chamber series of new plays to feed into something like Winter Fling, and then developed into full productions," he says, turning serious again and crossing his arms over his 1994 Pride Day T-shirt.
"And as the largest gay and lesbian theatre in Canada, if not North America, we have the responsibility to be a queer version of the National Arts Centre, linking gay and lesbian companies across the country and eventually beyond."WINTER FLING: HOMAGE by James Harkness, directed by David Oiye, with Tom Barnett, Patricia Hamilton, Al Kozlik and Roger Shank; and WILLIAM & JAMES by Robert Tsonos, directed by Edward Roy, with Martin Julien and Geoff Lacny. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times and the Shaw Festival at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, December 14); show run in rep to Sunday (December 17). $10 one show, $15 both. 975-8555.SELECTED BIOGRAPHY DAVID OIYE
2000 Homage; Real Live Girl; The Vic; When We Were Singing
1999 The Shooting Stage; Coups And Calypsos
1998 The Drag Queen That Time Forgot
1995 Ladies In Retirement