"You smell like fire, pies and something I long for," is a line from Christopher's just-deceased father's morality play. In honour of his father's memory, Christopher is producing/directing the play and hopes to take it on a tour of churches - there is, according to Genesis & Other Stories: A Play-Within-A-Play-Within-A-Church, a lucrative and artistically satisfying theatrical career to be had on this circuit. As the play-within-a-play's star performer boasts, "I've played cathedrals. I've played Jesus 11 times."
Genesis & Other Stories was birthed and baptised in another circuit, the feisty congregation of the Fringe Festivals. A genial and frequently uproarious farce, Genesis & Other Stories was sold out at the Fringe and is now being offered for those who were unable to get tickets. Red Sandcastle Theatre is a hole in the wall space in the heart of Leslieville but what they lack in amenities, they make up for in energy. Production values are low but then a satire of struggling theatre artists can, and this one does, turn that into a virtue.
Virtue and morality are lampooned in Genesis & Other Stories - the saintly father's script contains a puzzling passage that shows more than a slight fascination with lesbianism and bondage, which none of the troupe can reference to the actual Bible - and actor's egos and theatrical pomposity are punctured with aplomb. There is also a sweet little coming out story tucked into the zaniness and it has the most emotional payoff. But playwright Rosamund Small is more interested in laughs and Genesis & Other Stories delivers. As everything in the play-within-a-play goes wrong, as the farce escalates, the satire is delivered via the vehicle of hilarity.
The characters in Genesis & Other Stories are all driven to act and the cast of Genesis & Other Stories relish the opportunity to overact. Hilary Scott, as the devil and bisexual temptress, is the worst/best offender as she slinks with burlesque-style sensuality across the stage and delivers manic Shakespearean diatribes. Wesley J Colford has a sonorous voice and a yummy bear-like presence that projects forcefully making his downfall and slapstick moments all the more delicious. That his revealed posterior gets one of the evening's biggest laughs is no reflection on his more dramatic/comic moments or the appeal of his frequent state of undress. Llyandra Jones, who is as close to a moral centre as Genesis & Other Stories offers, is sweet and innocent, making her befuddlement over her gay boyfriend, and the play-within-a-play's convolutions, uproarious.
Cameron Laurie as the hapless director, daddy's boy, bible-thumper and closet case, is suitably weak-willed and his horror as the production collapses around him is subtly rendered. And the immoral centre of the show, the heartbroken Jared Bishop who has been dragged into this mess by love not religious fervour, glides through his role with a twinkling eye and roué-like charm. His delight in stepping up to attempt to salvage the rapidly disintegrating play-within-a-play is a more religious experience than the salvation promised by resisting temptation. The advice given by the veteran and supposedly successful actor, "Don't think about it. Act it," rings true as the quintet of performers submit themselves to being ridiculous in service of the play and, in the process, become heroic and hilarious.
Genesis & Other Stories may not be the next The Drowsy Chaperone but it has transcended - been resurrected from? - its Fringe roots and gained a life of its own. And, unlike most morality plays, it does have a sweetly happy ending that doesn't undercut any of the hilarity or satire that came before. Perhaps a subversive tour of the church circuit is in order?
Genesis & Other Stories continues until Sat, Feb 15 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St E. redsandcastletheatre.com