by Lynn on June 26, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ont..

Written and performed by Alison Wearing
Directed and Co-Created by Stuart Cox
Creative Director, Larry Peloso
Motion graphics and sound design by Calvin B. Grant
Lighting by Sharon E. Reid

Background. First there was the one woman show called Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, Growing up with a Gay Dad, which Alison Wearing wrote and performed across the country, to great acclaim. The play was 30 pages long of her remembrances of her family, and her dad in particular. That developed into an exquisite book of the same title. For my purposes I’m reviewing the one woman show which is part of World Pride Week in Toronto.

The Story. Alison Wearing learned her father was gay when she was twelve years old in 1980. Her mother told her. Her mother found out when she found a letter written to another man. Wearing put clues together from her young observations and realized her father was gay. Before she knew she thought he was just flamboyant; wearing loud shirts, skipping down the street with her, snapping his fingers like castanets, singing show tunes. He read “Anne of Green Gables” to her but got choked up when Matthew died. Wearing laughed at her father for that. He never finished reading her the book for fear he would become too emotional and Wearing would laugh at him again.

Her father spent a lot of time in Toronto, away from the family in Peterborough. Eventually Wearing realized that her father had his own apartment there and a room mate. Her parents slept in separate beds. When she saw only one bed at a friend’s house, for her friend’s parents, Wearing thought they were too poor to buy two. She soon learned.

When she travelled by bus to Toronto to see her father, she met his boyfriend—the word used in those days. They have been together for 33 years now and Wearing says she has loved her father’s partner from the beginning.

She hated that bus ride. She hated the smell of the bus exhaust. She probably hated to have to leave him. While she never hated her father for being gay—it was not something he could help, it was who he was—she did lament what it did to her mother. Her mother eventually remarried and that was the beginning of awakening. Interestingly there was a reminiscence of one family Christmas with her mother, stepfather and his children and Wearing and her brothers, that involved a potent spiced tea in which magic mushrooms were an ingredient. A few days later she had a rather quiet traditional Christmas with her father and his boyfriend. The humour and irony in the juxtaposition of the two Christmases is one of the many reasons this show should be seen.

The Performance. As we file into the theatre, and receive a program from a young woman wearing fairy’s wings, a large screen projects photographs of Alison Wearing as a child with her father. I recognize one of the photos as the cover of her memoir, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter. There is a closed hamper off to one side and a coat tree with various pieces of clothing beyond that.

The play starts with film clips of the bathhouse raids in Toronto in 1981 with search lights panning the audience. Wearing bounds out, petite and energized, wearing skinny black pants, a black tank top and black comfy shoes. She says that her father was not arrested in the raids but did act as a decoy.

As she energetically moves from one story to another Wearing puts on the clothes on the coat tree at various times to assume a new identity; her father’s flowered shirt; her nightgown when he read to her when she was 10 years old; a bomber jacket; her father’s formal tails when he conducted the gay men’s chorus. At the same time projections illustrate a point and behind that is music of some kind.

Frankly I think all that stuff is too much and unnecessary. Wearing tells us in a question and answer session after the show that Larry Peloso, her producer/creative director, came up with this as a way of elevating the show from that of a Fringe production. I think all that stuff is too distracting and does not add to the piece. It’s Wearing who is and should be the focus. The projections are meaningful, but all the costume changes are not.

The love of opera is of course a stereotypical fact of a gay life. To Wearing it’s a point of exasperation. Opera plays in the background for this segment. She moans out the word “Opera” and the whole audience roars with knowing laughter.

But just after that is a segment on her mother and how sad she became living with the shame in that small town, that her husband was gay. There is a projection of her mother, looking sad and mournful. Opera music plays in the background without any irony at all. The music too is heartbreakingly mournful. In that segment Peloso steps away and just lets the scene unfold. Wearing sits on the hamper, still, thoughtful and the effect is powerful in its simplicity. For the rest of the show that simplicity speaks volumes.

Comment. My initial concerns aside, this is a terrific show. Wearing is an animated, funny, poignant performer and a gifted writer. Her sentences are polished and beautifully frame an idea that has you holding on to the final punch-line or exquisitely presented thought. Many people struggle in phrasing a line. Wearing seems to do it effortlessly. There is nothing show-offy or pretentious in her writing. It’s just true. Her observations are perceptive, deep, and openhearted. Her joy that her father found his place in the world and in his own skin is palpable, so is her thoughtfulness and compassion at her mother’s difficulties. And yes, joy too, when she tells us that her mother found her own ‘flowering’ eventually.

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is not just a show for World Pride Week, it’s a moving, tender, joyous show for every single day, about a daughter’s love. The run is short. Don’t miss it.

Produced by Giant Productions.

Opened: June 25, 2014
Closes: June 28, 2014
Cast: 1 gifted woman
Running Time: 70 minutes.


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