My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Metropolitan Operas: a full gamut of soaring emotions in a New York minute

by Drew Rowsome

Photos by Shaun Benson

The "Metropolitan" section of the title refers to New York, the "Operas" to the passionate duets that each of these short plays consist of. The New York references ground the plays in a place and time, though the universality of the emotions and situations make the game attempts at accents irrelevant. The duets begin in full flight and never let up, the performers excel at full throttle fever pitch and rarely let the energy, the tension or the comedy, pause. Witchboy Theatre has selected eight of the 27 short plays that comprise playwright Joe Pintauro's complete Metropolitan Operas cycle, I wish they had the ability, the resources and space to gift us with all 27. The eight plays speed with a Manhattan energy and the 90 minutes feels half as long, a marathon of 27 would be a sprint through Central Park.

Each play begins mid-story, mid-action, and the exposition happens while the audience is still figuring out what is happening and who the characters are. It is a tricky format to handle but in these hands it becomes exhilarating and involving. Aside from a few poetic sidetracks that I assume Pintauro just couldn't resist, each play feels like a full play, a complete emotional experience, with all the boring parts cut out and the action distilled to a potent brew. 

The plays are all linked by bird imagery and a pattern of Pintauro's obsessions - fame, theatricality, faith, sex, sex work, gay sex, and the places where all of those intersect - surface in different forms. That the genre of each play varies so extremely should make for an unbalanced evening but the stylistic energy flows in an unbroken thread all while struggling to maintain a balance between naturalism and arch theatricality.
Debra Lynne McCabe in Seymour in the Very Heart of Winter is a Modigliani-esque actress playing every doomed melodramatic Tennessee Williams heroine. She is attempting to attract, or maybe repel, her suitably studly but stunned paramour David Lafontaine and she shatters exquisitely. Two priests, Mark Paci and Adam Driscoll, deal with the ominous omen of a bird in the house except that, when it is Birds in Church and the birds are flamboyantly beautiful, it may be a miracle or a sign from God. A dangerously handsome priest, Craig Henderson, is forced to hear a confession that he should be making and Clara Altimas makes him reconsider God's Rules of Love. Two actress divas, Joanne Sarazen and a wonderfully catty Ferelith Young, battle and bitch over Ten Dollar Drinks. Paci returns as a Soft Dude trick who has a heart full of love, and a roasted chicken, for hard-hearted but broken harlot Breanna Dillon. If only the besotted and befuddled man could get it up.

The trick with all these plays is, credit to director Trevor Hayes who also manages to play a heartbreaking mute, to maintain the soaring, the operatic, tone of the words while revealing the heart of the characters and keeping them grounded. "Rex," a comic riff on death, vegetarianism, hipsterism and class between couple Christopher Hayes and Dillon is hilarious satire that could have been written yesterday. It nicely balances Hayes' return as a suicidal hairdresser with AIDS who is visited by Danka Scepanovic's Virgin Mary in the guise of Charo. "Fiat" is the one piece that dives all the way into the surreal, and the only one that tastes of its '80s origins. But then opera has always played fast and loose with history, location and verisimilitude: what matters is the emotional impact. 

Pintauro's divas are New Yorkers, and these Metropolitan Operas are a powerful collection of gut emotions given song. 

Metropolitan Operas continues until Sat, Dec 29 at The Theatre Machine, 376 Dufferin St.