Review: THE GIG

by Lynn on March 14, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont. Playing until March 25, 2023.

Written by Mark Crawford

Directed by Morris Panych

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Neil Barclay

Philippa Domville

Steven Gallagher

Natascha Girgis

Jamie “Lucinda Miu” Lujan

Jim Mezon

A cheeky, witty often moving play about fitting in, belonging, prickly families and a perfect ‘drag name’ doesn’t hurt.

NOTE: The Gig was commissioned and developed by Alberta Theatre Projects. Because of the pandemic the theatre could not perform the play live, so it streamed performances last year where I saw it. The Theatre Aquarius production is The Gig’s world premiere.

The Story. Terry Tucker is a drag artist and booker of drag gigs.  He has been asked to organize a drag show as a fundraiser. For this gig, besides himself, he books Fonda De Behrs and Ms. XXXBox. Each has their issues. Fonda has not worked in five years because of a substance issue and needs the job. Ms. XXXBox is young with attitude problems. Terry never asked Karyn Sloane, the person booked him, who was sponsoring the fundraiser. He’s mortified when he finds out from Karyn—no spoiler alert—it’s his sister, Laura Nelson, who is running to represent the Conservative Party in Ottawa. We could be in Alberta or not.

Terry and his sister have never really gotten along. She’s straight-laced and he’s usually laced into something flimsy and suggestive for his gigs. Then there is the issue of what Terry and his colleagues consider the blinkered attitude of the Conservative Party towards anyone outside what they would consider, “normal behaviour.” Drag queens do not fit into the Party’s idea of family values. What to do? Plenty, as we come to learn.

The Production. Designer Jackie Chau has created a set that is initially back stage. There are three makeup tables, racks of colourful costumes, boas, glitter etc. On one table is a pink makeup case.

Terry Tucker (Steven Gallagher) is the first to arrive. He’s in jeans, a t-shirt and he wears a head covering, ready for a wig to put over it. Fonda De Behrs (Neil Barclay) is next, laidback but with a sharp sense of humour. And then the in-your-face Ms. XXX Box (Jaime “Lucinda Miu” Lujan), eye-makeup already, tight jeans and t-shirt and every time Ms. XXX Box introduces ‘herself’ she turns her back to the person, does a deep squat close to them, and says the name. It’s a performance full of attitude and brashness.

Karyn Sloane as played by Lisa Horner, is a bit too anxious to be friendly and accommodating to these drag queens. But she is no-nonsense when taking control of difficult situations. For example, Laura Nelson (Philippa Domville)  hopes to replace Jim Wright (Jim Mezon) in parliament. He is right-wing and Terry assumes Jim would not be a friend of the drag queens. Karyn knows first hand about Jim’s inappropriate comments. Karyn is trying to ‘contain’ Jim and his desperation to put in a good word, publicly for Laura. As Laura, Philippa Domville is all smiles, barely contained anxiety, and is desperate to make a change in government. Terry just wishes that his sister had been clear and transparent with him regarding the fundraiser. And he isn’t the only one. Fonda has previous knowledge of Jim Wright and he has an idea to put into the act that will take matters into their own hands and let all in attendance know how they feel.

Director Morris Panych is a master of comedy and the telling detail and he knows how to shine a light on every single joke, gag and gesture. He knows how to guide his cast to be flamboyant when they have to and contained when that is more effective.  He has a wonderful cast that goes for the gusto in this smart, thoughtful and occasionally over-the-top production, especially the second Act drag act. Each actor in the drag act is funny, accomplished and irreverent. Those used to the erudite humour of Neil Barclay at the Shaw Festival will be blown away at his performance as Fonda De Behrs—it is bold and fearless, and when you least expect it, so moving.

Playwright Mark Crawford is a gifted playwright who imbues his plays with quips, laugh-lines that are hilarious and situations that are both funny and serious. They are always about something serious but with humour to get the characters ‘through.’ In Bed and Breakfast a gay couple come to a small town to open a bed and breakfast and try to fit in. One can imagine what that couple has to go through to be accepted. The New Canadian Curling Club is about a group of new Canadians who come together to learn how to curl, and are taught by an irascible, irritable man who is not happy about it all. In Stag and Doe we learn about the quirks of marriage in rural Ontario when all people want to do is get married without the hassle and aggravation. Crawford writes about real situations with consequences and he does it with humour that is in his characters and the situations they get into. Even the part of Dani (Natascha Girgis) a harried stage hand has their own moments in all the mayhem.  

In The Gig there is a depth of situation that takes his writing to another level. Terry Tucker is a drag queen and good at it. He has always felt the judgmental eye of his sister Laura and this instance is no different. There is a reckoning; each challenges the other with their beliefs. Each has a strongly held point of view. Interestingly, there are no villains here. Even the right-wing Jim Wright (a strong performance by Jim Mezon) seems to have shifted in his thinking. Do we believe him? Does he need more refining and more development from Crawford? Each person in the audience will have an opinion.

What is not in question is that The Gig is a play with heart, great laughs and something important to say.   

Comment. Artistic Director Mary Francis Moore has changed Theatre Aquarius so that it is welcoming to all Hamiltonians, no matter the culture, ethnicity or sexual orientation. On this opening of the the 50th season of Theatre Aquarius, in which she also revealed the 2023-24 season, the lobby was buzzing with a cross-section of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic faces who had a plethora of pronoun choices. They all seemed delighted to be there, as it should be.

Theatre Aquarius presents:

Opened: March 10, 2023

Closes: March 25, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission).

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 maja ardal March 14, 2023 at 10:43 am

Yes Mary Francis is rescuing Theatre Aquarius from its dreadful mediocrity and lack of relevance. She is the right leader at the right time, and is an exceptionally gifted and visionary leader. I am a Big Fan. She has put a great team together under Morris’ direction, and I have my tickets to see The GIG.. Can’t wait.


2 Lynn March 14, 2023 at 2:24 pm

Totally agree!!!! Lynn