by Lynn on June 4, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Red face of furyThe God That Comes

At the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
Written by Hawksley Workman and Christian Barry
Conceived and directed by Christian Barry
Performed by Hawksley Workman
Sound by Jesse Ash
Set by Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry
Choreography by Monica Dottor
Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy
Costumes by Dana Osborne.

The Story. This is an homage in song, light and dialogue to the Greek god of wine, sex and ecstasy—not the drug, the ‘real’ definition. The story is based on mythology in which a new god arrives in the land and takes up ‘residence’ up a mountain. Slaves, women, outlaws and outcasts climb the mountain to worship at the feet of the god, drink, give in to wild abandon and lose themselves in the ecstasy of it all. The soldier-king of the land is curious about this god especially since his mother has joined the revellers on the mountain. The god invites him to see for himself what’s going on up there. The king makes the trip up the mountain. It doesn’t end well for the king.

The Production. The audience is greeted at the door by a young man and woman holding trays of grapes and glasses of red and white wine. We are invited to partake. Inside the theatre proper, the stage is set for a concert: drums over there, keyboards on the other side of the stage; a mannequin in a red dress with a red boa. Behind that is a shelf of three busts that will signify the new god, the king and his mother. The front half the theatre by the stage is arranged like a cabaret with round tables set for couples or parties of four. Glasses of wine are set on each table. The rest of the theatre is the regular seating. No wine is offered to those folks unless they got a glass at the door.

With a drum roll reminiscent of the beginning of the musical Cabaret, Hawksley Workman appears in white light that sometimes makes his face look distorted and forbidding. He tells the story of the king and the new god in the neighbourhood, in a sing-songy voice, as if sending up the story. Often during the story, the god comes, not in the sense of arriving, but in the sense of sexual release. Workman pauses for effect at these points. Finally he tells of the drunken frenzy on the mountain in which all the people up there, including the king’s mother, are crazed with drink and desire. When the king arrives up there the folks rip him to bits and his mom tears off his head, not realizing it’s her son. And when the god sees the head, (you guessed it) he comes. I’m not giving anything away. This telling of the story takes place in the first 10 minutes of the show.

Then Workman gets to the meat and tells the story again in a cabaret-rock and roll form. His voice is strong and pure, going for notes way up that mountain. There are songs about memories of good times, probably gone now. “Ukulele Boy” is a beautiful sounding song with a dark message. Gays focus a lot in the songs. Workman plays all the instruments on that stage. At one point he takes the mannequin, unscrews the top half of it and puts his head under the dress (the back of the mannequin is facing us, Workman is facing the front of the mannequin) and next we hear harmonica music coming form under the dress. Quite a sexual image.

He bangs rhythms on the floor with two long rods that is quite impressive getting more and more frenzied. Also impressive is director Christian Barry’s visual images for the show; for example how each bust at the back is illuminated to illustrate a point in the story telling. It does seem as if the show ends a few times. One song is rousing, angry and crazed and one thinks that’s the end. But no, another gentler song follows.

Of course Workman’s lyrics are elegant, poetic, and lyrical. The show is technically accomplished with Workman doing his own backup. Often he would stop playing the piano or other instrument and the music would still play. Once he stopped singing and the voice kept on singing because it was recorded, making one think the whole thing was pre-recorded. I know he sang the show. Just one of many tweaks of the nose of Workman and Barry.

At the end of the show “DON’T STOP LOVE” flashed up in red light. Maybe that was a cue for Workman’s next show, because love has nothing to do with this one…just sex, frenzy, ecstasy, coming and the occasional ripping apart of an innocent person. Perhaps another tweak of the nose?

Comment. The God That Comes certainly arrives at the Tarragon Theatre with a great pedigree. It’s performed by the much awarded singer-songwriter, Hawksley Workman who also co-wrote the show. It’s directed by the gifted Christian Barry. It’s won awards in Canada, and played across the country, in the US, and Europe. Me, I hated it.

Why tell the story initially then go back and do it again in song, if the songs don’t actually tell the same story? Barry says that The God That Comes is a celebration of sex, ecstasy and frenzied behaviour in our humanity. Seems a stretch to me.

While Workman is a true showman and his singing is impressive I couldn’t help but get the impression this is a self-indulgent wank with a wink and the occasional finger to the audience.

Tarragon Theatre presents the 2b theatre company production.

Opened: June 3, 2014
Closes: June 29, 2014
Cast: 1 man
Running Time: 75 minutes.

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1 Kate Barris June 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm

My take on it: Hawksley Workman is fascinating … but not endlessly fascinating. And unfortunately, too much of it seemed endless.

However, the harmonica image was brilliant and will stay with me for a long time, and will probably always affect my appreciation of that instrument.