Maev Beaty & Erin Shields; the two perform in all different states of deshabille in "Montparnasse", Week 1 at Rhubarb
Last month’s Next Stage Festival was pointed at by many folks as a sterling example that Toronto’s arts patrons don’t hibernate over the winter; the festival posted a 15% gain over last year’s attendance. But, although Next Stage is the hot new kid on the block, there’s plenty of other festivals of new works to take in over the winter months, and the still frisky and relevant Rhubarb, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is one of the best.
Rhubarb started out, quite naturally, as an extension of the work being done by queer theatre artists through the mandate of Canada’s first gay and lesbian theatre company, Buddies in Bad Times. Over the years, both Buddies and Rhubarb’s mandate has grown to include alternative and innovative theatre from artists of all sorts of orientations; in fact, one of the most promising shows I’ve seen so far, Groundwater Production’s “Montparnasse“, is the work of three women married to men (writer/director Andrea Donaldson, and writers/ performers Erin Shields & Maev Beaty). Above all, Rhubarb requires its submitted works, and its audience, to come to the theatre with an open mind, and a willingness to take risks.
Taylor Mac in concert @ the Howl Festival in NYC's East Village.
Of course, though, Buddies being what it is, there’s a fierce streak of Pride throughout the program, and Rhubarb has landed a real heavyweight for its first week, booking performance artist and drag queen Taylor Mac for four late night slots in Week 1. Mac, who’s performed at hundreds of festivals round the world, is a revelation; he’s like some marvelous hybrid of Spalding Grey, RuPaul, and Sean Cullen (I mention said homegrown comic due to this week’s update - but getting back on track…). Mac wraps the audience around his little finger, and gets under your skin with his charming and occasionally very sobering songs, his sparkling wit, and his fascinating stories. A consummate entertainer, he had the crowd on their feet by the end of his set, and he’d accomplished this with just a ukelele, a stretched sheet, and a bag full of “finery”. Yes, I even learned something; a drag queen’s clothes are not her “costumes”, they’re her finery.
Taylor Mac wraps up this weekend, but Rhubarb continues for another two weeks, with all new performance pieces, workshopped plays, and spontaneous happenings each week in the Chamber and Cabaret from 7pm onwards, Wednesday to Saturday, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Taylor Mac (9:45pm), “”Montparnasse” (9:10pm), and the rest of the Week 1 Rhubarb festival acts are at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from Wed. Feb. 4th – Sat. Feb. 8th, 7pm onwards; Week 2 begins Wed. Feb. 11th.