Broadcast Text reviews of THE GAY HERITAGE PROJECT and THE TIN DRUM

by Lynn on December 6, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, CIUT 89.5 FM. The Gay Heritage Project at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Dec. 8, and The Tin Drum at the Aki Studio Theatre, Daniels Spectrum Centre 585 Dundas Street East.

The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre blast from Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What theatre treats are you going to talk about this week?


Yes both are treats in their own way. First there is The Gay Heritage Project at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre that was created and performed by three terrific actors: Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir.

And then an original adaptation of The Tin Drum the sobering novel by German writer Günter Grass, about a kid who chooses not to grow up but play his tin drum all the time while the world blew up around in.


Let’s start with The Gay Heritage Project. What is it?


The Gay Heritage Project is created and performed by three gifted actors: Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir.

The intention of the piece, as per a program note: ‘is the attempt to weave together all the disparate threads that have contributed towards today’s western gay identity.’

It’s a huge undertaking. The impetus was that the three felt disconnected as gay men from general history and even isolated and alienated because of this lack of connection to that general history.

So about five years ago they began their research into this subject. And four years ago took the idea to Brendan Healy, the Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre who got behind the project whole heartedly.

In their research the three actors found stories and myths about gay culture from the context of other cultures—Africa, Asia, ancient Greece etc. Some of the resultant research revealed stories and facts that were uplifting and in other instances, horrifying. Paul Dunn found accounts of the horrific treatment of gays in concentration camps during WWII.

All three are united in this piece to find a gay heritage to connect with. I found what they unearthed really fascinating, but the piece took on a more poignant feeling to it when they got personal.


How so?


The show begins with Damien Atkins creating his fantasy of Canadian figure skater Brian Orser doing a complicated, challenging routine, seemingly in private except that Atkins is at home and occasionally his parents comment, and in a supportive way. A sibling is smarmy, but one expects that if siblings. It’s a lovely beginning.

Andrew Kushnir’s family is from Ukraine and he couldn’t find any reference to their being any gays in Ukraine. His mother said their weren’t any. Kushnir found that hard to believe and went on his own quest to find the truth, which he eventually did.

While the work is cohesive and seamless I found an interesting contradiction. Paul Dunn refers to his two colleagues as ‘my dear gay friends.’ Yet when Damien Atkins comments on being an actor it’s just that, an actor. He resents it when he’s referred to as a gay actor.

It’s his job to do a part and not be branded because of his sexuality. I love his commanding resolve in the definition.


How do they actually present this production. Is it just stand and discourse?


No. It’s directed by Ashlie Corcoran and it’s full of energy, movement, wit and generosity.

The very first thing is that while the audience is in the theatre, waiting for the show to begin, the three come out and shake hands with people in the audience and introduce themselves. Individually they greet the front row; then along the sides. They look you in the eye and they shake hands with a two handed shake. Solid.

The set and lighting (Kimberly Purtell) is simple. A few chairs that are moved around where they sit. At the beginning, on the back wall is a rolling projection defining what Heritage means.

Each actor has an individual body language. Paul Dunn, rather serious, sprawls in his chair with his legs spread out. Andrew Kushnir sits up, attentive. Damien Atkins sits up in his chair with his feet flat against the legs of the chair.

Kushnir tells a story, as if he is talking to the other two, and plays the other two as well. When he is Dunn he sprawls in his chair with his legs out looking serious, and when he is Atkins he sits up with his feet against the legs and when he is himself he sits up, attentive.

When one is talking, doing a bit, the other two sit at the sidelines watching. Kushnir is more likely to react and smile. Dunn is more serious. All three are compelling.

The thing I found so engaging about the piece is their true curiosity to find their heritage in this context. The telling and their discoveries are never bitter, angry or negative. They share their revelations with an open-hearted generosity.

What I get more than anything from it is that these three men are what my people (of the Jewish persuasion) would call “mensch” a Yiddish word that means human being in all their shining glory.

This is a wonderful production of an important subject that will make you bend over laughing and move you to your toes.


And now The Tin Drum. How brave to even attempt to adapt that dense book for the stage. Let’s start with a  brief précis.


Based on Günter Grass’s 1959 novel. It takes place in Poland. It’s about Oskar who got a tin drum when he was three and became obsessed with it. He was also obsessed with not growing up when he heard his father say that when Oskar grew up he would go into the family grocery business. This didn’t sit well with Oskar at all so he hurled himself down the cellar stairs and stopped growing and played the drum all the time.

He also didn’t speak except later in the play with someone he considered a friend.

As time went on Oskar witnessed his mother having an affair with a cousin; she dies in childbirth; his father remarries; Oskar has affairs of his own (although he hasn’t grown): he witnesses the invasion of the Nazis; he seems oblivious to the evil and creates some of his own without conscience.

Günter Grass’s novel is huge so it was a challenge for adapters Chris Hanratty and Shira Leuchter to bring the book to life on the stage.


And do they succeed?


Partially. It begins in an insane asylum and Oskar is writing his memoirs. He begins telling us his story, beginning with his grandmother and moving up to his parents and goes from there.

In the novel, Oskar is very sexually active but that seems to be either toned down here or so subtle I missed it. Characters have been cut; sweeping incidents have been cut or again pared down.  Oskar is a witness to history and often involved in it. He’s told not to be in the audience but right up there when the haranguing speeches are bellowed.

All the while he plays his drum—in a wonderful bit during a haranguing speech by a Nazi, Oskar beats out a waltz beat and not a rousing beat, thus leaving the audience docile and not agitated as was the intention of the man bellowing the speech.

The story ends with Oskar in the asylum again but it’s not clear why he’s there. It is a brave effort to tame the beast known as The Tim Drum. I think the production is pretty impressive.


How so?


It’s directed by Chris Hanratty who has an intriguing eye for the clever, effective image. Oskar has a talent of using his voice to such a piercing pitch he can shatter glass. So he screams; there is a pop and a flurry of paper explodes in the air, representing the glass. In another scene an invading army is marching into the town.

Each soldier balances a pole across his shoulders, and hanging down from it are many shoes bashing on the floor—voila, a marching army. So inventive.

There is a lot of movement and there is no finer choreographer than Monica Dottor who always integrates the movement fluidly into the story.

As Oskar, Jesse Aaron Dwyre is impish with an explosion of dark curls; slight so he could suggest he is three, and dextrous when he’s bashing the drum.

You can be both charmed by Dwyer as Oskar and also frightened because Oskar doesn’t seem to have a conscience. Dwyer is always compelling. As is the rest of the cast.

We rarely see The Tin Drum and while I have reservations about the adaptation, I think it’s worth a visit for the inventive production.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

The Gay Heritage Project plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Dec. 8.

The Tin Drum plays at the Aki Theatre part of the Daniels Spectrum Centre at 585 Dundas Street E.

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