Rhubarb’s Rebel Drama Returns

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This article was originally published in The Varsity, page 19, on Feb 12, 1991.

by Ray Deonandan,
Varsity Staff

In the big pink building on George street, the Rhubarb Festival has returned. This spanking new home of the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre is also the home of the thirteenth installation of this annual festival dedicated to providing a showcase for “new and/or innovative theatre”. In a venue that specializes in gay and lesbian thespianism, Rhubarbdom claims to “push the intellectual, aesthetic and political grounds of what defines ‘art'”.

This year’s focus is on young performers who have never before experienced professional stage life in Toronto in the capacity of writers or directors. The opening week’s line-up features five exceptionally well-crafted offerings: Gilligan’s Thailand, Hulla Baloo, Chaos, Dead Man’s Penis and Blonde.

Gilligan’s Thailand was what Calvin Klein’s Obsession commercials should have been. With persistent references to safe intercourse, latex concertos (numbers one through four), and an earnest solicitation of condoms from the audience, this play takes on an undeniable sexual bent; there are investigations of interpersonal relationships, romance, all manner of pleasure and all extremes of sex, including rape. And there is, of course, lots of slick music.

Hulla Baloo is almost a one-woman performance by writer/ director Susan McLay. It is the story of a schlock television variety show, complete with the mandatory berating of the entertainment media and the egotists who compose it: “We don’t need money, we don’t need anybody, we’ve got talent!”

Hulla Baloo‘s crowning achievement is a compelling phone seduction scene ending with the buzzing line: “please hang up and try your call again”, driven relentlessly by excellent hypnotic music. A good sound system,it seems, goes a long way toward convincing an audience that there is great relevance to an otherwise shallow
offering.

By far the brightest star of this fine collection is Chaos, an unforgiving dissertation on disorder and upheaval. From suburban angst through homy housewives to grammar school politics and psychiatric therapy, all dimensions of personal chaos are shown to interweave. The shadows of rape, cruelty and insanity are projected powerfully, and always — of course — there is the recurring infatuation with sex. Heroic performances all around.

The remaining fare is light and meaningless comedy to help diffuse the dark power of Chaos. Dead Man’s Penis is the story of a bereaved scientist’s theory on how a “dismembered member” changed history. Supposedly, this penis has appeared at all events of great historical relevance, from the burning of ancient Rome to the Last
Supper.

Blonde is a superficial laugh about how easy life can be for the blonde-haired woman. With a set displaying giant icons of Madonna, Marylin Monoe and Jean Harlow, Blonde is prefaced by the disclaimer: “There are women who have blonde hair, and then there are The Blondes. You know who you are. ”

Both comedies are good entertainment, but Blonde makes use of a strobe light which is always a questionable choice of techniques, especially three hours into a visually challenging drama festival.

The Rhubarb Festival runs until Feb. 17, with a different set of plays offered each week. It is an excellent opportunity to see inventive youthful theatre in a vibrant new venue.

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Firearms abound in raucous Tape

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This article first appeared in The Varsity, page 9, on Jan 17, 1991. 

by Ray Deonandan

RED TAPE

Written by Daniel Brooks, Don McKellar, Tracy Wright. At the Poor Alex Theatre until January 27

It’s amazing the way loud raunchy music can make anything sound cool. If you insert a wailing electric guitar behind a drab monotone newscast, the effect is a convincing simulation of standard coolness.

Red Tape, the Augusta Company’s new play at the Poor Alex theatre, looks and sounds pretty darned cool— due mainly to loud raunchy music. This three-person show is, more or less, the story of a murder of passion. It’s about lust, love, adultery, work, bureaucracy and gun control.

Somewhere in this miasma and juggled chronology of space-time events, a woman has killed a man without apparent reason. Somewhere she has been romantically involved with him. And somewhere her weird husband has bought her a gun.

With simple though powerfully innovative sound and lighting effects. Red Tape is a solid hour of entertainment. Furniture, sex, yoga and general weirdness are abundant throughout; and always there is the peculiar spectre of the power and virulence of personal firearms.

The loud sounds and stage antics project the feel of a music video, which can be both a plus and a minus. It’s a minus for theatre as a whole because, frankly, if I wanted a music video I’d stay home and watch MuchMusic. It’s a plus for the audience because the format makes even the most ordinary and meaningless phrase interesting and strangely compelling.

But there’s one thing in particular that concerns me. Why are local drama-types so obsessed with the yuppie experience? This vision of shooting clubs, office parties and extra-marital affairs is something we see weekly on ThirtySomething. It’s an experience that does not speak to the average individual, and certainly not to the typical audience one would find in the Poor Alex. To tell the truth, it’s starting to get a little boring. For sure, there is something to be found in observing the doings of standard cardboard television characters, but it’s been done so many times that it has ceased to be interesting. If I see another play in which an extramarital affair figures prominently I’ll probably run off to get married just so I can be unfaithful.

Yuppies aside. Red Tape’s most powerful moment is the eventual production of real handguns on stage. It’s an Eerie and nervous moment. The classical “suspension of disbelief is shattered as dangerous looking weapons are brandished before our eyes, reminding us that all of the violence and glorification of guns that we see regularly on television are mere shadows of the power and lethality of the real thing.

Had the guns been wielded by policemen or even trained soldiers, 1 would have felt a lot safer. But somehow seeing real handguns being shown off by stage actors who’ve probably just recently completed a mandatory crash course on firearm safety just didn’t make me feel as safe or as comfortable as I’d have preferred.

But as far as the intrinsics go. Red Tape benefits from strong performances and a good script. It’s difficult to glean an overall message from the affair; and the relevance of certain segments is definitely in question. However, bent comedy, audiovisual power and general coolness make Red Tape an entertaining experience.

 

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Italians mock fascist Disney

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This article first appeared in The Varsity, page 15, on Jan 8, 1991.  Please note that I did not choose the title, and protested when the Editors published it.

by Ray Deonandan

Allegro Non Tropo
Directed by Bruno Bozzctto
Bloor Cinema Jan 4-10
Fox Beaches Cinema Jan 11- 13
Revue Cinema January 16-17

What bothered you most about Walt Disney’s Fantasia? Was it the annoyingly cute Mickey Mouse crew trying to be operatic and respectable? Or was it just having to put up with bored and misled children in a theatre full of acidheads? Whatever it was that may have made it an unfulfilling experience. Fantasia was a great idea, but lacked introspection and self-parody.

So that’s why we have Allegro Non Troppo, Bnino Bozzetto’s vision of the Three Stooges directing a serious animated epic. Touted as “a Fantasia for those who wouldn’t be caught dead watching Fantasia, Allegro is completely unlike the Disney stereotype.

The animation is not as technically sound nor as complete as the high-budget

Disney production, but Allegro‘s choice of classical music accompaniment is apt and entrancing. Even a baroquial moron (like myself) will recognize Stravinsky, Sibelius and Ravel, all performed hypnotically and set to amusing visual features.

Allegro‘s major departure from Fantasia is in its moments of live black & white action interspersed among the animated performances. Maurizio Nichetti (The Icicle Thief) portrays the stoogey animator who is berated by the music conductor and the film’s director. This hokey, excessive addition actually serves to add continuity to the string of otherwise unrelated musical pieces -an element the Disney production lacked.

There was only one point at which the temptation to nod off seemed unusually compelling. It was during the dinosaurs’ march into the city, set to Ravel’s Bolero; and the effect was more akin to pleasurable hypnosis than to unwanted anaesthesis. In contrast, admission must be made to having dozed off at several points during Fantasia, despite noble and proper intentions to the contrary.

Bozzetto makes no apologies for his film’s resemblance to the Disney classic, nor are any attempts made to conceptually separate the two. Indeed, comedic reference is even made to other Disney staples.

Where Fantasia was gradual and graceful. Allegro is sudden and chaotic. Its humour is base and its messages unconcealed. Unlike the Mickey Mouse affair, the aid of serotonin-based hallucinogens are probably not required to fully appreciate the qualities of Allegro. One may even go so far as to recommend paying the full $7.00 for admission.

But beware. Because of the necessity of English subtitles, the profusion of tiresome slapstick antics and the use of poor quality European celluloid, it may be advisable to bring to the theatre either a soft pillow, a sympathetic date or a large bottle of Tylenol.

See it anyway, though. It’s something to talk about at cocktail parties.

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