by Lynn on June 8, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Diane Flacks and Geordie Johnson photo by Jeremy Mimnagh Diane Flacks and Geordie Johnson

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

Written by Nick Green
Directed by Alisa Palmer
Set by Scott Penner
Costumes by Joannu Lu
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Music and sound by Richard Feren
Cast: Cole Alvis
Aldrin Bundoc
Diane Flack
Geordie Johnson
Craig Pike
Jonathan Seinen

Note: The Stratford openings got in the way of my seeing Body Politic any earlier than June 5. I’m slotting this review in before it closes June 12.

A moving play about the Toronto gay newspaper, “The Body Politic”, what it stood for and the personalities behind its impressive existence.

The Story. “The Body Politic” was Toronto’s first gay newspaper. It was created in 1971 by a group of like-minded friends (several men and one woman). It was a monthly newspaper that published articles, think-pieces, poetry and cultural stories written by and for the gay and lesbian community in Toronto. It had a clear perspective on gay issues that the mainstream media did not have.

Nick Green has written Body Politic from the point of view of Philip, one of the original organizers of “The Body Politic.” Philip is reminded of his past with the publication when he has a date in the present with Josh, his young local barista.

We get a sense of the heady times for “The Body Politic” in the 1970s and onwards as the paper grew in stature covering stories that changed the lives of gays not only in Toronto but also in Canada. Nick Green includes the police raids on four bathhouses in Toronto as a seminal moment. It’s when the gay community bonded together to protest and made their voices heard about how they were perceived and treated by the mainstream and by the police. There is reference to the early days of AIDS and its effects on the gay community. All of this is seen through the weary eyes of Philip as he lives in the present but remembers the past.

The Production. There is such care taken in director Alisa Palmer’s production to tell the story as clearly and simply as possible and to bring out its humanity. Scott Penner has designed the simplest of sets and props that is at once Philip’s apartment today and evokes the memory of the past. The walls of the apartment are solid in some of Michelle Ramsay’s lighting, but when referencing the past (in Philip’s memory) the walls become transparent. We see characters from the past through the walls and in the distance in doorways. It’s a beautiful, haunting effect.

Philip is the link to both time periods. At the beginning of the production Geordie Johnson as Philip looks into the distance, anxious, wistful, thoughtful. Johnson captures Philip’s isolation. He has always been secretive about his sexual orientation and was never as open as his other “Body Politic” colleagues. While he was committed to the cause, he was never as vocal and passionate. In the present, as an older man on a date with a younger man Philip is still tentative about this date, reticent. Philip is certainly more mature and more knowing, but there is that hint of being unsure. Geordie Johnson gives such a sensitive performance as Philip, realizing all the conflicts Philip still experiences.

On the other hand Aldrin Bundoc as Josh is coy, confident, totally at ease and comfortable in his skin. In a way everything that Philip went through in the past was hard-won so Josh could live so free and open in the present. This does not mean that both understand the other. Initially there is a certain resentment between the mature man who has experienced a lot of pain and the younger man who seems to be carefree. Josh also has his hidden hurts and secrets and let’s Philip know what they are. Both men gain a new and compassionate understanding of the other. It’s not a generational difference anymore

Nick Green nicely illuminates the rivalries and prejudices of the gay men towards lesbians, namely in the person of Deb (Diane Flacks). At every turn Flacks is intelligent and controlled when dealing with her colleagues’ attitudes towards lesbians, but when she lets loose with all her pent-up rage and disappointment at Philip, it’s explosive. Philip has disappointed her in the past and she lets him know it in no uncertain terms. Lovely performances throughout.

Comment. Nick Green has written a thoughtful play about “The Body Politic.” He has captured the passionate commitment of the collective who created that publication and their single-mindedness in keeping it going for as long as it did. These were people of conviction and character and it shines through in his writing. They wrangled, argued, compromised, and bonded over issues that changed the face of Toronto. Green’s writing shows the great cost to those people who protested against the police for the bathhouse raids; who dealt with AIDS, who suffered and endured. It changed the gay community and made Toronto notice and change its attitudes. Alisa Palmer’s production is well worth a visit.

Presented by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Lemon Tree Creations present:

First performance: May 21, 2016.
Closes: June 12, 2016.
Cast: 6; 5 men, 1 woman
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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