The links between a zombie apocalypse and a nasty gay dinner party are patently obvious to anyone who has experienced one or the other. Whether that was the metaphor that Brain Food was aimingg for when it linked Fail Safe and We Say Such Terrible Things together as an evening of entertainment, is unknown. The evening opens with a brain without a body pulsating in liquid sealed under glass, and ends with a witty queen passed out in a chair after imbibing too many glasses of liquids - it is the circle of life made manifest.
The disembodied brain that holds centrestage in Fail Safe is the best part of the first act. It emits an electronic noise once for "yes," twice for "no," and a feedback loop when it grows confused or aroused. It has the best dialogue and is the one onstage who emotes best. To be fair, the cast seemed to be having trouble with their lines - there is a lot of technical jargon mixed with melodramatic outbursts - and if it all ran smoothly it might attain coherence.
There are at least three interesting plays lurking within Fail Safe but none of them are developed to their potential. Trapping the audience in an enclosed dark space while an epidemic rages outside is a great horror plot (and very achievable in the confines of the Red Sandcastle Theatre with the zombie hordes of Leslieville wandering aimlessly just outside). A parody of B-movie sci-fi could be fun. An examination of guilt after infecting the world could be lacerating (especially when the debate is with a ghost). And the self-sacrificing brain basting in a virtual reality could reveal a myriad of fascinating philosophical ideas. The gay romance and its conundrum - is true love more important than saving the human race? - gets lost in the shuffle, and the truly fascinating love story between Dr Elizabeth Benson and the brain also limps to a conclusion that is meant to be heartbreaking (or extremely comical).
After an intermission, where the audience is encouraged to drink at the neighbouring watering holes, we return to We Say Such Terrible Things, a dinner party with an agenda. The very gay and self-consciously arty hosts include Bil Antoniou, the author and the lead, who has a way with gay argot creating a Boys in the Band-lite. The central dilemma is beside the point and the dinner degenerates wonderfully amidst a blizzard of bitchiness. It is very, very funny and frequently very cruel.
Antoniou has able foils in the pseudo-innocent Jack Everett who plays a realistic sex object (his shirt comes off to reveal actual appeal rather than the expected unattainable stereotypical abs), and Daniel Krolik who gets off the nastiest line of the night. That particular joke is so dead on, in such bad taste, so expertly delivered and so hilarious, that the audience gasps while Everett executes a flawless and justified spit take. A few more lines like that, and a bit of work on the timing, and We Say Such Terrible Things would be in the league of the explicitly referenced Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The men in We Say Such Terrible Things discuss their mothers and divas endlessly and with awe, while mocking the daddy/son relationship in their midst. The father figure in Fail Safe is a mute, literally castrated, brain in a jar. Both visions are bleak and seem to posit that relationships are fraught with peril and that settling and sacrifice just might be the only solution. But the second act will make you laugh in that particularly resilient way gay men, since the time when the first cocktail was poured, have been celebrating the end of the world.
Brain Food: Two Short Plays, Fail Safe and We Say Such Terrible Things, runs until Sat, March 14 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St E. redsandcastletheatre.com