My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

2016 Rhubarb Festival

by Drew Rowsome -

An unusually mild February is about to get scorching hot as Buddies' annual Rhubarb Festival kicks off for two weeks of astounding, confounding, arousing, wacky and mind-blowing theatre. Each piece is under 20 minutes and you never know which one will be the adventure of the evening. (Plus, there are some of the most outrageous celebration parties of the year.)

A quick glance at the schedule reveals several pieces that jump out to my particular tastes:
Bind: "A meeting of glamour and demons in a female powered contemporary circus dance rock show"
Still Boys: The Feast Of Jaad: "An epic boy-band rock opera that bridges heavy metal, romantic funk ballads, and puppets."
Wendy's Revenge: "An armoured space pirate, is informed by her naturopath that in order to exorcize her abdominal pain, she has to find her ex-boyfriend and kill him."
Bug: "An Indigenous girl struggles to cope with her addictive personality as a giant bug named Manidoons creeps ever closer."
The winter d├ębut of summer music festival darlings Phantasm, composed of rock legend Patricia Wilson and operatic diva extraordinaire Helene Ducharme.
And hunky Ted Witzel of The Red Light District theatre company (The Marquise of O) dons minimal leather and a red wig for Lulu v.4: but you are not a dead woman.

Playwright/director Bruce Gibbons Fell (Paradise RedPrince Shame) has the play Alabama in the first week of Rhubarb and he has the dilemma common to all festival-goers, "I want to see everything, but there are a few I won't miss, and one I sadly will: The Cunning Linguist, with the lovely Monica Garrido; Still Boys: The Feast Of Jaad, which after hearing about I'm obsessed; Chew, Chew, Swallow, Spit by Clayton Lee and a lot of food; and A Kitchen Sink Drama, by Elephants Collective (which I will have to miss because we're on at the same time)." 

Fell is nervous but excited about his first participation in the magnificent madness that is Rhubarb, "At the first meeting with all the artists we all introduced our projects, and most of the time my mind was like 'holy shit that sounds fucking amazing' and 'our piece better be fucking amazing too.' So that's the guiding light."

What he and his collaborators have come up with should fit right into Rhubarb. "Alabama is a bit more absurd and 1980s-Dolly-Parton-infused than I'd imagine southern Gothic to be, but my heightened melodrama/dirty-secrets-as-a-motor-to-the-play tendencies are something I will never be able to shake off, no matter how hard I try to shimmy it away. The piece is based on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that I saw (dubbed to Spanish, in Chile) as a kid. The episode is about this church that exploded in Nebraska in the 1950s because of a gas leak, but nobody died."

But Fell being Fell, there had to be some sacrilegious erotica injected, "I also had an idea of a therapy-group play where churchgoers secretly discussed their sexual confusions to their even more confused Pastor, and the ideas kind of blended. We've got hot actors talking about some very specific religious-crisis-related kinks. We have some surprises (and gum chewing and lots of talk about masturbation) and there will be baked goods for the audience! President Ronald Reagan himself will hand them out."

A longer version of this preview is at

The Rhubarb Festival runs Wed, Feb 17 to Sun, Feb 28 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St.