Review: OUT

by Lynn on April 26, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Greg Campbell

Directed by Clinton Walker

Sound by Steven Lafond

Projection design by Adam Barrett

An energetic performance by Greg Campbell as he takes us through an important year in his life, but the piece could use more biographical information for context.

 OUT is the journey, story, of Greg Campbell in 1977 when he came out as gay.

The times were heady, wild and out there, and he took full advantage of it. He had two good friends, also gay, Dmitri and Mario. They went to gay bars together. They went to New York to check out the gay scene there and Campbell again experienced all of it with vigor.

From the perspective of 2019 what he shows us of how he lived that year would cause concern. In fact even in 1977 when Campbell wanted to go off with a man he met on the street in New York, his friends tried to dissuade him, but he went anyway.

The production starts with Greg Campbell assuming the identity of Mary Poppins from the film of Mary Poppins which Greg Campbell saw with his mother and brother when he was a kid. One arm is raised (one assumes Mary Poppins is holding her umbrella) as Greg Campbell assumes the wispy voice of Mary Poppins and the two children she is taking care of. Campbell does all the dialogue flitting from one character to another.

At the end of the movie he cried when Mary Poppins left the Banks family because her job was done. He cried on the way home in the car. His angry father chided him for crying. That made Campbell cry more.   That was something his father—often drunk—would do, that is be insulting and belittling.

Fast forward, there were scenes when Campbell was in university or with his friends, but not much in the way of biographical details that connects it all.  I don’t know from the play if he was born in Ireland or Montreal.  I find that in the program—born in Northern Ireland and they moved to Montreal. Shouldn’t the play tell me this stuff?

While Greg Campbell does say he is focusing on that one year, 1977 when he came out, I think the lack of so much information that would tell us about his life etc. is a problem. I appreciate his sense of freedom and coming out gay to his friends. It’s harder with his father who shows him contempt but his mother supports him. The thing that struck me was how confident Greg Campbell was about his gayness. He is unapologetic and talks back to his father when his father is insulting about his disclosure about his gayness. That’s gutsy.  In a sense Campbell seems to have had it easy because he was so confident.  But I do find the lack of information diminishes the story.

On the New Year’s Eve of 1977 Campbell’s father makes a radical change in attitude towards him we need a bit more info to support that. Also, on that New Year’s Eve his father asks Campbell what he’s working on as an actor. It’s startling that that is the first we’ve heard he was an actor at the time because his father says it.

I know that as an actor Campbell had done a lot of work with VideoCabaret in their History of the Village of the Small Huts which examines the history of Canada in the wildest way you can imagine. Greg Campbell usually plays shady politicians in those shows and he’s wonderful. He’s equally at home with goofy pantomime. But it would have been so helpful and informative is that background information could have been woven into the show.

That said, the production is terrific.  It’s directed with attention and sensitivity by Clinton Walker. He guides Greg Campbell to be the best he can be. Campbell is inventive, graceful almost like a dancer and very animated as he tells his stories. He plays the many characters in his life and each one is distinct and clear, complete with body language, fluctuating voices and nuance at every turn. The section dealing with the self-righteous Anita Bryant and her anti-gay attitudes is particularly funny and cutting.

More context please. Still I’m glad I saw it.

A Big Bappis Production in association with VideoCabaret and the Dorothy Project Inc.

Opened: April 25, 2019.

Closes: May 24, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes.


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