James Ryan Gobuty
Queer Bathroom Stories is one of those plays that make a big impression from the moment you walk in the door. The entire theatre is bathed in a mauve light, making the audience look like they’re in some kind of alien-disco-waiting room, until your attention becomes captivated by the behemoth of a set before your eyes. Flanked on each side by white toilets over-flowing with toilet paper, the set’s most imposing features are the massive male and female “stick-figure” bathroom symbols, whose towering presence is made palpable by the content of the script itself.
Queer Bathroom Stories is the “labour of love” concocted by playwright and professor at York University, Sheila Cavanagh, drawing from her 2010 book Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality and the Hygienic Imagination and elaborating on the play’s successful run at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011. Queer Bathroom Stories is a verbatim theatre piece that uses real stories from LGBTT2QI persons all around the US and Canada to examine the complications that gender and sexuality can add to a space as sacred as the bathroom. Sometimes the stories are violent and sometimes they are sexy, but the play’s greatest strength is upholding the myriad ways that this kind of space can be used and abused.
The play is helmed by 3 actors –Hallie Burt, Tyson James, and Chy Ryan Spain– all wearing the same, all-white costumes. These actors have to weave in and out of dozens of characters as they bring these real world experiences to life on stage. It must have been a great challenge for these actors to not only rapidly change character but also to convey changes in gender identity and race without any costume or makeup changes. Though some depictions seemed a little too stereotypical, the actors evoke the wonder, whimsy, and hardship that the bathroom represents for so many people.
Queer Bathroom Stories is an important example of how theatre can open up dark and hidden corners of our world. By exploring the nuances of bathroom life, despite the taboo, the play opens up a dialogue about the ways that assumedly innocuous spaces are anything but, and reveals the joy, fear, pleasure, and pain that comes part and parcel with bathroom life.
Queer Bathroom Stories is playing until June 15 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto, Ontario. Tickets can be purchased online at buddiesinbadtimes.com, by phone at 416-975-8555 or at the box office. Tickets are $20 Tuesday-Thursday, $25 Friday and Saturday, and PWYC on Sundays.
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz