Big Love a big challenge at Toronto Fringe

Big Love

When you first walk into the Randolph Centre for the Performing Arts’ Annex Theatre, you are struck by a musty darkness. One deep breath and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d mistakenly walked into a derelict used-book store.

Tonight was a little different though. Although the smell was still there, the stage was not barren. Rather, it was populated by a half-naked DJ, pumping the jams in high heels and a gold lame mask, ready to celebrate Big Love. And that’s when the party started.

Big Love tells the story of 50 reluctant brides, who escape to Italy to avoid marriage to 50 cousins. As they try to talk their way into an estate, the cousins arrive to claim their women. The battle of wills–both within and between the camps–has begun.

As someone who likes a lot of story in my drama, this very much felt like a 20-minute play stretched out over 70 minutes. The other 50 minutes? Long-winded soliloquies about sex, gender and conflicting agendas for the hard-of-thinking.

50 brides for 50 cousins

50 brides for 50 cousins

There was a moment, however, when I thought the playwright (Charles L. Mee) might reach for something more than a steroidal rendition of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A couple times, the speeches floated to the plight of refugees and women pushed to the edge, abandoned by their families, communities and countries.

For that fleeting moment, I wondered if the mass marriage was a metaphor for a larger message about slavery and subjugation. I walked away disappointed in this regard.

That being said, the actors’ performances were generally quite good. In particular, I tip my fedora to Matt Lacas (Piero) who I felt did a wonderful job as the perpetual salesman and host, stuck between the warring camps and knowing no one could ever be happy.

I also greatly enjoyed Rosie Callaghan (Olympia) who I felt gave a scintillating performance as a young woman struggling with a personal civil war of self-identification versus the need to be loved.

The choreography feels like a work in progress, however, the many numbers feeling slightly or grossly out of step. And although the women seemed to move smoothly enough, I saw little synchrony in the men’s numbers.

And then the unexplained flinging of bodies to the ground completely baffled me. I can only hope it was a metaphor for something, but goodness knows.

What I thought the actors lacked in coordination, however, I felt they more than made up for in vocal skills. Each of the handful of songs felt like a masterpiece in harmonies, most sung acapella. For me, these were the magical moments in the performance and left me wishing the entire play had been set to music.

Had Big Love been even a third shorter, I might have enjoyed it. But I didn’t feel my dissatisfaction was for lack of effort on the parts of the performers. This fell squarely on the shoulders of the playwright and director.

Case in point was the play’s ending, which felt like a complete cop-out.

Big disappointment

Big disappointment

[Adapted from a review that originally appeared in Mooney on Theatre.]

Hot Girls Wanted documentary (a review)

Hot_Girls_Wanted

Watched Rashida Jones‘ documentary Hot Girls Wanted about the amateur porn industry and can honestly say I have no idea what I think of it.

Part of the challenge is I have no idea what the point of it was other than to document the experiences of several young women (18-25 y) as they approach and experience the lifestyle. We can argue day and night about whether the lack of an overt agenda or POV is a good thing, but to my mind, it presented the women as neither victims nor empowered…simply as women who made a choice.

To be blunt: These women chose to go to Fuck Camp to make money and escape home.

It is interesting to watch the impact of their decisions on their lives and particularly their relationships with families and boyfriends. And I had to laugh at the irony of one woman who was clear in her rationale about her decision until it came to talking to her father about it.

And I must admit that I was surprised at how cavalier (my biased standards, not theirs) the women were about what they were doing, the potential hazards of the situations they found themselves in, and any thoughts as to how this might impact future life decisions beyond the 3-6 months they made money (not a typo…a woman’s “marketability” typically only lasts 3-6 months).

One of the few images I'm willing to show

One of the few images I’m willing to show

Over its 82-minute span, the documentary drags a little in places and often covers the same ground, no doubt to reinforce some of the more graphic elements. And it is graphic, stopping short of showing the actual sexual acts, but giving you enough of the rest (e.g., nudity, bondage, choking, vomiting) to bring across the essence of what these women are doing.

And in the end, the take-away is whatever you take away from this story.

No matter what your opinion going in, this will only reinforce that opinion. It doesn’t seem to be aimed at making you change your mind about the merits or evils of this industry. The same woman who feels exploited in one scene expresses a sense of empowerment in the next, and in some cases, about the same act.

Adult women making adult decisions about the adult industry. Good or bad is for you to decide for yourself.

An actress and a producer discuss the documentary

An actress and a producer discuss the documentary

It (tediously) Follows – A review

It Follows

We all remember the dire warnings from health class or worried parents: If you have unprotected sex, you run the risk of coming down with an STD.

Well, for the kids in the movie It Follows, the itch of crabs or the need for antibiotics would be a welcomed distraction from the STW they risk by having sex with the wrong partner.

Choose your partners wisely

Choose your partners wisely

STW? Sexually transmitted wraith.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a sexually active late-teen who finally succumbs to the charms of her newest beau Hugh, only to learn that not only did she accept his penis, but she also accepted a curse that involves a plodding ghost trying to kill her.

As long as Jay stays alive, the ghost leaves Hugh alone. The best advice, he suggests, is for Jay to pass the curse onto someone else as soon as possible, hooking up like he did with her. If the wraith gets Jay, it then comes after Hugh and then continues up the line of transmission.

Complicating life is the fact that only the cursed can see the wraith, which can transform from a urinating half-naked mutilated woman to a senior citizen to someone you know. Thus, even when Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her, they are largely useless other than as a source of comfort and uncontrolled screaming and running.

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Now, I don’t like horror movies. I am a jumpy person by nature, and so sudden surprises bother me. Thus, when my horror-loving friends suggested we see It Follows, I was reluctant. But I am trying to expand my genre repertoire and so joined in.

As it worked out, there was no reason to worry.

(HEREAFTER THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.)

Throughout the entire 100 minutes of the movie, I jumped only once, and as it turned out, at nothing that had anything to do with the story.

None of the appearances of the wraith (okay, maybe one) were particularly startling or unexpected. And aside from the musical cues to the audience to become anxious—music that would not have been out of place in any classic 80s horror—the movie offered little suspense. And after more than a few musical feints, even that ceased to make me uneasy.

Aggravating the lack of tension was an excruciatingly plodding pace to the story, which triggered more yawns in me than shudders. The only thing slower than the pace was the plodding approach of the wraith.

My friends—the horror aficionados—suggested that this gave the demon (and the movie) a relentless feel…the wraith was often shown slowly approaching from a distance in wide-angle shots. But to me, the movie was relentless in the way a train travelling at one mile per hour is unrelenting.

It will crush you…eventually…once it reaches you…assuming you don’t simply step off the tracks.

What I will admit was relentless was that truthfully the story could only end one way. (I am trying not to tell you how the movie ends.)

Because the wraith will always move up the chain of transmission, Jay is fated to die. Even if she passes the curse onto another. She will die. It is simply a matter of when.

Not taking the news well

Not taking the news well

The writer and/or director essentially painted themselves into a corner from the outset.

This is not to say that the kids only run away, but they also had no information to help stop the wraith…if possible. And no one seemed interested in determining what is was or why it was.

This is yet another reason why I could not engage in the movie. It gave me nothing to do but wait, and watch the kids attempt roughly the same actions time and again.

Maika Monroe

Maika Monroe as Jay

Given the nature of the beast—horror movies, that is—the performances were solid. The acting was quite good—Maika Monroe as Jay was quite effective—and the relationships between the characters felt real. Aside from a few subtextual set-ups that had no payoff, most of the character interactions satisfied.

Sadly, the actors were completely let down by the writer and/or director.

With the wraith largely incapable of harming her sister or friends (it only wants the cursed), all of Jay’s (our hero’s) actions were self-serving. Simply put, Jay did everything not to die.

And while this is understandable and even compelling early on—again, Maika Monroe is very likeable—it eventually lacks nobility. There were no other stakes, and how do you raise the stakes from gonna die? After a very short period, I was ready for Jay to die simply so my friends and I could get to the pub.

I appreciate that I am in the minority here (and at the pub).

It Follows will inexorably spawn a sequel—no doubt entitled It Still Follows—and possibly a third (Yep, Still Following) and fourth (Hunh, Where’d It Go? Oh, Jesus, There It Is) chapter.

For me, however, I’ll just go back and watch Poltergeist (the original, thank you) and have nightmares about clown dolls.

Now THAT is scary

Now THAT is scary

Now, if you want a good (and shorter) counterpoint to my antipathy for It Follows, check out a post written by another friend Danny F Santos, which can be found here.

Reading carefully: Tantrum Sex

So, it would appear that I misread the poster at the community center a couple of weeks ago.

Where I thought I was going attend a couples retreat on Eastern philosophies and practices, I had actually signed up for a weekend workshop on:

Introduction to Tantrum Sex

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Itinerary

09:00 – 10:00:             Blow your own stack!

10:15 – 11:15:             Snappy come backs and other hard-to-reach stains

11:15 – 12:30:             Spermicidal foaming at the mouth

12:30 – 02:00:             Lunch (everybody eats out)

02:00 – 03:00:             Tears as a lubricant…for pretty much everything

03:00 – 04:15:             Tearing a strip off while riding a brass pole

04:30 – 05:30:             Fits…and what to do if it doesn’t

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission…does that make you angry?)

The subway ride

I don’t actually know what the following is, other than: the beginning.

subway-1

The subway was crowded that morning. It was always crowded when it rained.

It was like no matter how far people had to travel, they were terrified of getting wet. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that most of them had lost several umbrellas in the windy corridors created by the city’s office towers. And yet, to a person, every man and woman carried a neatly folded umbrella, their multiple layers showing nary a single bead of dampness.

By the second station on my route to work, I had lapsed into my typical fog of who cares. At this stage in my life, work was just something I had to do to make money. I had long ago given up on any hope of finding fulfillment or happiness on the job, if only because the company had a strict no-dating policy. Without interoffice sex, my desk was just another place to sort papers.

It didn’t take long before the fog in my head was matched by a fog on the windows of the subway car. The body heat of the mingled strangers turned damp coats and hats into instant humidifiers, rain water mingling with sweat and post-shower damp to coat the walls and windows of the subway with rivulets of diluted deodorant, cologne and perfume. All we needed were a few handprints on the window and the subway car would have looked like the back seat of a sedan parked at a drive-in where the kids inside were doing everything but watching the movie.

I had managed to grab a seat that morning, an unexpected bonus for getting up a little earlier. Even living at the end of the line was no guarantee of finding any comfort in local transit. Too often, I spent my time staring down the tops of flat-chested teens too self-absorbed to give up a seat or leather-skinned grandmothers so desiccated they made your tear ducts hurt. That morning, however, I had managed a forward-facing seat. So people could look down my top and I got to stare right into their crotches.

It was a rough ride into town that morning. The constant start and stop of the train as it waited for the guy up ahead to get his shit together, and the tropical humidity that was slowly growing in my shorts made the decorated plywood seat under my ass that much more uncomfortable. Within 20 minutes, I found myself chafing like a newborn in a day-old diaper.

Tugging at my trouser legs to try and unbunch the material from my crotch, I felt something soft and dry against the back of my left hand. Looking over, I realized it was a leg.

A gorgeous leg. A leg that begged to be touched, but could just as easily crush your balls with the slightest twitch. A leg that worked out regularly, but had never seen a gym in its life. And standing right next to it was another leg, which also shimmered in the grey opalescence of flawless stockings.

Recognizing my transgression and not wanting to be rude, I moved up from the legs. Past the immaculate tweed skirt, the crisp peach blouse, the mottled brown scarf and up to the reddest smile I have ever seen in my life.

This red, I was certain, existed nowhere else in the world. This was a red created for one woman and set aside, the formula for this colour being instantly destroyed as it would appear flawed on anyone else.

I smiled at that red, those lips, and nodded slightly. It was an apology for the unintended intimacy. Words seemed out of place for some reason. The slight rise of her right cheek told me I had been forgiven.

Summoning everything I had in me, I tore my eyes away from that mouth and back to the zoo I called my ride into work.

The fog had definitely lifted from my morning, but it had been replaced with an equally numbing intoxication that I couldn’t handle. Although numbing probably wasn’t the right word, because there was damned little I wasn’t feeling at this moment.

I don’t know if it was 10 seconds or 10 minutes later when the subway jostled around a bend, but what I do know is that the leg found my hand this time. And as the curve of the tracks lingered, so too did the leg, sliding its silken fibers up and down the back of my hand until it began to pull the hairs out one by one.

As the train pulled back onto a straighter course, however, the leg stayed exactly where it had landed, determined to either erase every hair off the back of my hand or gain my attention. It was about to complete the first, but it was mission accomplished on the second.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission but a lot of inner dialogue.)