Friday, September 27, 2013


Pictured: Louise Pitre
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
27 SEPT 2013
R: 4/5

There are, as any performer will tell you, so very many ways to get naked on stage -- and in ON THE ROCKS, Louise Pitre flirts with many of them. But lest you think the great grande dame of Toronto musical theatre has chosen to take up burlesque in her 50s, a few explanations might be in order.

For openers, for much of her new show, la Pitre is dressed ever-so demurely -- strutting a stylish and stylishly tailored tuxedo that, nonetheless, does little to hide her celebrated curves, setting it all off with a pert and pretty pixie cut that suits her silver tresses to a tee. And while she opens the show (which premiered in very limited run Wednesday at Theatre Passe Muraille) with fond reminiscences of frequent topless appearances, those occasions were, it should be added, all pre-1964, when she was but a free-spirited pre-pubescent in Montreal.

From there, Pitre takes us first on a tour of childhood memories, often using them to illuminate the present -- ON THE ROCKS, is in fact, illustrated by her own childhood drawings, and even her Barbie doll makes a special guest appearance.
But, finally, it is the more recent past that is the focus of her show and that's a good thing. For, much as we love her, we only really know her as the hugely talented performer who stole our hearts and often broke them in everything from Les Misérables to her Tony-nominated turn in Mamma Mia!

ON THE ROCKS changes all that, for after she's dealt with her teen years in Welland, Pitre launches us on a voyage through not only her professional triumphs, and her failures too, both personal and professional. All of it is interspersed with a bouquet of highly personal songs, some written and composed by her alone, some in which she shares credits with husband W. Joseph Matheson, with whom she is clearly still most happily smitten.

But if you're looking for a show in which the names of friends and colleagues, both famous and infamous, drop like anvils, this isn't. In ON THE ROCKS, Pitre opts to focus on herself and not her famous friends, talking candidly and movingly about her chaotic love life, pre-Matheson -- a failed marriage and numerous failed relationships, taking credit where she feels it is due and shouldering her share of the blame where she feels its appropriate. She shares not only her dreams but her nightmares too -- the death of her father and her beloved mother's approaching end, both now lost to her in the cruelest of ways. And she talks about her own decision to sacrifice motherhood for her career.

In short, she talks about herself, stripping herself emotionally bare, as if to say not only: "This is me," but "These are songs from my heart," as well. And when she sings, she pours that heart into everything with often deeply moving effect, just like she always has, and though one might finally wish she and her director/ pianist, Diane Leah, had chosen to explore a musically more varied emotional palette, she ties it all together and makes it work. ON THE ROCKS is Pitre, straight up, and certainly, as usual, with a twist.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
22 SEPT 2013
R: 4/5

With the runaway success of E.L. James' 50 Shades of Grey, sexual adventurers may be tempted to check out British playwright Tim Luscombe's PIG, which premiered on the Buddies In Bad Times' mainstage Thursday, launching the company's 35th season. But despite the fact that both the novels and the play explore some of the same themes — the erotic world of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sado/masochism — the two have about as much in common as bike riding and bull riding. In PIG, the very heterosexual 50 Shades of Grey is transformed into a queer 500 shades of black and blue with, at least for the more imaginative in the audience, a bit of blood and other best un-named bodily fluids thrown in for good measure.

Under the tight and often fearless direction of Brendan Healy, who also serves as artistic director at Buddies, PIG tells parallel stories of two same-sex couples, both of whom have hooked up on line. There are certainly similarities between them, not the least of which is the fact that they both have a strong interest in the world of BDSM. In both cases there is also the same age difference, with the elders, Knife and Stevie (both played by Blair Williams) taking the dominant roles and Pig and Joe (both played by Paul Dunn) taking the submissive.

Interweaving their stories with such complete and expert intimacy that it is often (intentionally, one suspects) all but impossible to separate them, Luscombe creates a story that is both a twisted celebration of alternate sexuality and a warning, as his foursome spirals out of control in their descent into shared obsession.

And finally, control is what PIG is all about, for all that it aspires to be a story about love, obsession and "the quest for deeper levels of intimacy," as the press notes suggest. In the face of this, Healy's direction is immaculate, often beautifully constrained, in a production where both violence and nudity are refreshingly underplayed, considering the storyline. Still, despite all of the playwright's considerable skills, not to mention the utter fearlessness of the three-member cast (Bruce Dow joins a sometimes over-whelmed Dunn and Williams in a number of memorable, often incredibly creepy roles) PIG still feels too much like voyeurism — or worse.

For ultimately, one must recognize that, despite PIG's queer pretensions, with  a bit of gender-shifting, it would be just another horrific and banal tale of spousal abuse, a same-sex coda to Life With Billy or The Burning Bed. What's more, in a story marked with a longing for the good old days when gay men were sexual and social outlaws, we come face to face once again with a community of characters apparently not only filled with the same self-loathing that marked the era, but still paralyzed by it as well. It's brave stuff, to be sure, and skillfully done on every level, but in the end, apparently that's just not enough to turn this PIG's ear into a silk purse.