My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

An Evening in July is a sunny hag horror party

by Drew Rowsome

A lovely summer evening, a beautiful garden next to a sitting room prepared for a party, a bar . . . Add elements of hag horror - Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Sunset Boulevard and Grey Gardens specifically - and An Evening in July is an invitation not to be refused.

Two sisters, June (Gwynne Phillips) and May (Briana Templeton), drift through the environment, bickering, battling and dispensing one-liners. They are planning a birthday party but it is complicated by the fact that one of the sisters appears to be dead. The suspense is minimal but the laughs are continual. An Evening in July is not really tightly scripted - partly from the improvisational audience participation element and partly from the desire to not throw away a joke whether it fits or not - but the loose ends are gleefully discarded or ignored. The fourth wall is not just obliterated, it is shattered quip by quip. Even when the final shocking reveal failed to launch on the night I attended, everyone in the audience had a great time despite the limp catharsis.

We are invited in by the man servant Robert (Thom Stoneman) who is the puppetmaster behind the scenes, the love interest of at least one of the sisters, sardonic in short shorts, and possibly dead himself. He gives the audience instructions, the bar opens, and everyone scours the elaborate clever set for clues and gags. We watch, we laugh and we become part of the action. Audience participation is de rigueur but the humour is gentle and I found myself, as the rest of the audience seemed to, joining in far beyond my usual level of comfort. It is very silly and very entertaining.

The duo, Phillips and Templeton aka the comedy troupe The Templeton Philharmonic, are warm and vivacious, even when playing psychopaths and corpses, and their energy smooths out any unevenness in the scenario. And of course Robert is always lurking to make sure we stay in line. I hope David-Benjamin Thomlinson, as Joan from that other SummerWorks hag horror classic Gash, accepts the invitation for a summit of the horrifically hilarious hags. Crawford, Davis and Swanson would approve.

An Evening in July continues until Sun, Aug 6 at St George the Martyr Anglican Church, 197 John St as part of the SummerWorks festival.