My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

The Rhubarb Festival 2015: anything can, and will, happen

These follies are within you and shine through you like the water in an urinal
-William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona

Who wouldn't want to follow the ever-droll duo of Paul Bellini and David Bateman, in the company of the lasciviously luscious Donnarama, into a particularly cruisy washroom? As sexual fantasies go, it is magnificently perverse, as a theatrical adventure: irresistible.

The annual Rhubarb Festival at Buddies specializes in these collisions of art, sex, hilarity, high camp and pretension. Spread over two weeks there is a smorgasbord of short plays, performance art, dance, clowns and, frequently, nudity. Over the course of an evening one is guaranteed to experience one life-changing performance, one that entertains, one that baffles and probably yet another that exasperates. Each is kept to approximately 30 minutes so there is just enough time to savour while not enough time to be forced to digest anything distasteful.

Best of all, there is never-ending sensation of discovery and potential: anything can, and will, happen. Rhubarb's mandate is to allow artists to,

Venture into uncharted territory . . . experiment together - to try new things and test their boundaries

 Bateman has had work in many a Rhubarb with People Are Horrible Wherever You Go created for one of the very first Rhubarbs and just recently revived. Bellini and Donnarama need no introduction to anyone who has intersected with the artistic or sexual nightlife of our city, and the triumvirate have teamed up for Hamlet in a Hot Tub which is being presented in Buddies', also an intersection of the artistic and the sexual, restrooms. Bellini himself wrote about the genesis of this Shakespearean adaption in his column at "Hamlet at the Tubs, Shakespearean Baths and Thus Spake Baloneyous."

As well as that must-see, there are several shows that intrigue. Three I will not miss - I can't resist drag, opera or puppets - are, in no particular order:

Aarthi & Akash– Part One : Ether
Live music and puppetry come together to create a fantastical choose-your-own-adventure performance.

Cocktales with Maria
A gay sex drag opera featuring eight original songs drawn from direct transcripts of real life sexual experiences.

The Femmetopian Adventures: Episodes 2 & 3
A high-femme drag-extravaganza set amongst intergalactic unrest in the brave new queer future.

Buddies' artists in residence, cabaret division, have all been put to work in this year's Rhubarb. Sharron Matthews continues her quest to meld her wildly successful Sharron's Big Gay Party with the glorious anguish of Puddles Pity Party, by presenting a new and much workshopped version of Full Dark

The always mesmerizing Bruce Dow (PigOf a Monstrous ChildSextet) presents a cast of acolytes in a workshop of "Ohio" & Tadeu,

A new opera about the romanticization of suffering and depression in LGBTQ youth.

On the less serious side of things, and Rhubarb is a place for the dark and scary to be explored (though usually in erotic and ingenious ways), artist in residence Ryan G Hinds (Bent) is presenting a salute to Donna Summer with MacArthur Park: A Disco Ballet. Hinds, like many cabaret practitioners, is an acquired taste who always manages to brazen his way to success with doses of high camp, a blizzard of sequins and endless bravado.

There are also performance artists and clowns (notably Morro and Jasp) wandering the corridors and cubbyholes of Buddies making sure that the momentum never flags. Or one can visit several offsite performances including Ocean Carving performed in a pool at swingers' club Oasis Aqualounge, hunky Vivek Shraya at Videofag, and an entire series of events occurring at, and themed to, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Besides thought-provoking art Buddies offers two of the best parties of any season with the Kick Off Bashes that open each week. And if it all becomes too much, Patricia Wilson is behind the bar and a shot of Jack will perform its restorative function and set one off for whatever adventure lies ahead. 

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet (not the hot tub version)

The Rhubarb Festival runs in two installments (but with variations every night) from Wed, Feb 11 to Sun, Feb 15 and Wed, Feb 18 to Sun, Feb 22.