"I think it's time we talked about
your filthy rituals"
Photos by Lauren Vandenbrook
A circle jerk as a sexual act, is a private solitary act made public and participatory; Circle Jerk the play cycle is a public act by a group of rising Toronto playwrights who have no intention of being solitary. And this Circle Jerk deserves as big a group as possible.
The initial idea was to assign an opening and closing line to the playwrights from which they would create a short play. The lines were culled from submissions from the public at large and the four finalists are:
Subtlety is not your specialty
What's Bulgarian for slut?
I think it's time we talked about your filthy rituals
I fucking hate potatoes
The results are consistently entertaining and all contain an admirable desire to push at sexual boundaries.
The phrases were also given to four composers who created short modern classical pieces. They as well are consistently entertaining. A clarinetist gleefully upstages the rest of the quintet - keyboards, strings and flute - with dissonant flare and the first play begins.
Scott Dermody's Dust Peddling: Part II begins promisingly with a 50 Shades of Grey hook-up scenario that indicts and invites the audience in equal measure. The theatre space is small and somewhat cramped with a real "Let's put on a show" feel (it is a rehearsal space so the lights go either on, or off) and the actors are only inches away at all times. One of the legs of my seat was used as an anchor for one of the bondage ropes, it was impossible not to feel complicit. When the feisty dominatrix Lisa Hamalainen queries of individual audience members of their orgasmic potential and Scott Dermody, having stripped to his underwear in a one-note joke about yoga, demands, "Do you masturbate? How often?" it is squirmingly comedic. It is an audacious and titillating beginning that can be forgiven for devolving into flights of poetic speech and an intellectual exploration of power dynamics.
Wesley J Colford's Sex and This is a pitch black comedy that is packed with deliciously nasty one-liners that leave an aftertaste of self-recognition. It gleefully skewers hipsters, and the hipster in all of us, with vicious vitriol. It is extremely funny. Tiffany Deobald and Carys Lewis ably create the hipster girls from hell who are actually the average girls next door. This is the only segment that isn't directed by the writer and Jakob Ehman who is always a pleasure to watch (Cockfight,Firebrand, Donors) demonstrates that he is more than an enticing stage presence.
Brandon Crone's Maypole Rose is a giddy delight. A gay couple negotiate drug use, relationships, diet and sexual quirks, and the results are hilarity, but again with a serious undertone of self-recognition. Crone packs in a lot of ideas - how porn has affected our ways of interacting, how food has become porn, sexual limits and the tragic demise of Rolos - and each idea is comedic gold (Maypole Rose should really become a longer piece). The sex scene with the banana - referenced in the poster for Circle Jerk - makes, all on its own, the entire evening worth attending. Alexander Plouffe does a spectacular strip tease before erotically ravishing his partner, and G Kyle Shields bites into a monologue about cannibalism that reduced the entire audience to helpless uneasy laughter. As a bonus one learns more hilarious slang terms for anal sex than I ever thought possible.
All three of the above are worthy plays but all strain in the finale to fit the assigned format. If there was a grading for completing the assignment as required, Justin Haigh's The Session would get the gold star. It is a tightly written compelling two-hander that contains a startlingly clever "Aha" moment that pulls the concept, and the entire evening, together. Matt Pilipiak and Allan Michael Brunet pace and jab at each other as the plot gets weirder and the potential for violence escalates. And a bit of gratuitous nudity moves the piece out of Twilight Zone-episode material (that is a compliment) and into the world of Circle Jerk.
All of these playwrights and actors are corner stones of Toronto's thriving independent, and constantly struggling, theatre scene. If Circle Jerk is a chance for them to pleasure each other, play around a bit, and pleasure the audience, we shouldn't miss the chance to join in.