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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