I saw A Nice Day in the Park, a new one-act play written, directed & starring Sky Gilbert, from Lunch-on-the-run productions presented at Chez BonBon. There’s another performance Saturday before they “take it on the road”, wherever that might be.
After the show I chatted briefly with Sky, and must say here what I forgot to tell him, namely “wow what an interesting play”, and “thank you Sky.”
But I did tell him that I felt I was learning a whole lot, watching a kind of interaction that isn’t usual in my world, between a gay man and a trans person. And as usual, I did my impersonation of Mime, the dwarf in Wagner’s opera Siegfried. He’s the one who missed his chance to find out what he needs, because he is so busy showing off. So yeah, I was busy shooting my mouth off. I get a little star-struck sometimes around artists who impress me, and Sky is one of those impressive people. Believable dialogue seems to come out of him without any effort, given how quickly he writes and how perfectly he nails nuances & situational power dynamics, given how prolific he has been.
So yes I was showing off, in observing that in a straight romantic comedy, a Feydeau or a Shaw or a Neil Simon will draw things out by means of lies and miscommunication. A character will avoid saying what they feel, or may not even be clear what they feel. And that can help fill the two or even three hours of a show, gradually leading to the moment when they truthfully declare their love and consummate things, or at least seem sufficiently on the verge of doing so to excite all the voyeurs in the audience. But Sky had no choice really because if you add in the usual lies & deception of romantic comedy: there would be no story, given the factoid at the heart of this story concerning a trans person. We’re in a realm of brutal truths, because of course if we stayed in the realm of lies, the story wouldn’t just be dragging on for 2 or 3 hours, it might never get anywhere.
But Sky gave us a very truthful dialogue between SAM and TESTEr. Sky was playing SAM who is an older gay male, while Harrison Browne played TESTEr, a person who tells us that they are trans even though they appear to be a cute male. And while both are working in what might normally be a very safe tolerant atmosphere for two gay males—a fund-raising organization for HIV & AIDS—there’s more than meets the eye in the dynamics between the two of them. I’m tempted to talk about it at length yet I also don’t want to give out any spoilers.
I asked Sky if that truthfulness was typical of his world (and perhaps I took for granted that we both knew what that meant), and he said yes. It’s a different world from what you see in manners comedy or chick-flicks, where miscommunication & lies are a necessary part of the toolkit. It’s a troubling realization, that the key plot elements from my culture won’t work in such an authentic realm.
This is a very realistic presentation except for one intriguing stylization, one that makes a whole lot more sense to me since I interviewed Sky last year. I never suspected that he likes opera, that is until we were talking about the opera libretto he created, Shakespeare’s Criminal. And so in A Nice Day in the Park we’re listening to a performance of Donizetti’s overture to Semiramide: or at least that’s what the program says although I could have sworn that the opera is by Rossini
(but never mind…).
This overture sits right on the boundary between hysterical comedy & tragedy, a bit of a cartoon not unlike that Bugs Bunny opus inspired by the Barber of Seville overture. And so throughout the show we’re watching histrionics that become extra funny due to the music’s heightened atmosphere, sometimes campy and over the top with horror, sometimes completely ridiculous because the fast music turns them into robots or puppets.
I wanted to be cautious decoding the show, given those ambiguities. But in fact there was lots of laughter throughout. Full disclosure: I had read a piece that was at least partially about the author that had me thinking about “wokeness” (her wonderful word), about discourse and the changes in our society.
I find myself thinking about the meaning of gender, and indeed the future of gender. I wonder if this piece anticipates what we’ll eventually see from Hollywood, & the mainstream film world.
It’s on again Saturday night at Chez Bonbon, 234 Queen Street East (just east of Sherbourne). Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 by making a reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://anicedayinthepark.bpt.me