Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Situationists - Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Well, this play was a first for me. Not only was it a terrible show, it damaged my psychologically.

I saw this play Thursday night and considered not writing a review. I needed time and space from the experience and am only now just recovering.

The play concerns a group called The Situationists, a group that was popular in France in the first half of the twentieth century and had a pinnacle with a strike by 11 million workers and students bringing the French economy to a standstill in the late 1950's. The group creates situations to further their left-wing ideals and goals.

This play is set in Toronto in modern day. No mention of what occurred from the late 1950's to now, no mention of how the group travelled into Canada, no mention of anything really. As one man said to me in the intermission "Before this play I didn't know anything about the Situationists." and I replied "You still don't! Not from this play anyway."

Gavin Crawford plays the lead role of a snooty aging French activist. I had enjoyed Mr. Crawford previously as host of the CBC show "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" and in his last play, another Sky Gilbert production, "I Have AIDS". I met Mr. Crawford on a gay cruise this February and remarked how much I liked his performance and he told me about this play so I was anxious to see him in it. He is an attractive man hidden by a grey suit, makeup, glasses, in fact he was almost unrecognizable. Add to this a French accent. Now while the Globe and Mail said the accent was over the top, I disagreed for the most part and found it believable. The problem was the accent was so thick much of what he said could not be deciphered by anyone in the audience. The play was staged in the round and when Mr. Crawford wasn't facing me, I have really no idea what he said.
Haley McGee played his mousy sidekick and for the entire first act, and it must be said most of the second, the two sat in the corner and smoked French cigarettes while muttering, sometimes incoherently, about the problems of the world. And this is where the main problem with this play lies, the script by Sky Gilbert. It's a stumbling block to creating realistic characters when you cannot get past yourself, when you make every character a large part of you. The play seemed little more than an excuse for Mr. Gilbert to rant on everything from recycling to the fallacy of heterosexual AIDS in rants that have long since shifted from shocking to tiresome. When a character begins his sentence with "The problem with left-wing politics in Canada today is..." what can the audience do but roll their collective eyes? This has become the trademark of a Gilbert play and really distracts from any other attempt at narration. The friend I saw the play with suggested Gilbert in future work with someone else, that by writing, directing, attending every performance and putting so much of himself into his characters, it's really not doing a service to the play itself and that perhaps a collaboration could help with this.

The very handsome Gil Garrett delivers most of the trademark Gilbert lines with a great gusto, really opening himself up and checking his ego at the door, making rants that sound trite due to repetition at least believable and for that he deserves to be commended.

The play ends with the actors, still in character, breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience and encourage them to reveal their secret sexual desires, and here comes the psychologically damaging part. After I and others engaged in the discussion amongst the audience, the entire thing is revealed to be a farce, a put on, all part of the show. The real emotions and feelings revealed in vain by those who fell for the hook, and the whole thing a hoax.

After sitting through two hours of rants, to be made the patsy is really the final blow in what can only be called a terrible theatrical experience.

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