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My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Thank You For Being A Friend: puppets and The Golden Girls is gay, comic delight. And cheesecake!


by Drew Rowsome -
Photos by


Thank You For Being A Friend runs until Sat, Sept 24 at the Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave. goldengirlstickets.com

Re-creating the iconic Golden Girls using puppets is a no-risk theatrical endeavour. After all it works with drag queens, cartoons and decades of re-runs. Even if the concept were to coast on nostalgia for the beloved characters, it would be entertaining. The audience was pumped, awed at the recreation of the set, envious of the cheesecake in the VIP seats, and burst into a spontaneous full-throated singalong as soon as the theme song began. If Thank You For Being A Friend had been a quarter as clever and funny as it is, it would have been a satisfying event worth the ticket price. Fortunately it is much more than that.

Writer Jonathan Rockefeller takes a handful of classic The Golden Girls episodes and jokes, mashes them together, stirs in some updated references (Blanche Devereaux and 50 Shades of Grey is a no-brainer but still funny), breaks the fourth wall sparingly, and creates a giant farcical The Golden Girls episode. Beside the great writing, The Golden Girls was such a hit because the actors were skilled pros who would have been hilarious in much weaker material. Wisely, Thank You For Being A Friend trades on expectations while also creating puppet solutions to arched eyebrows, double-takes and physical comedy. The line delivery and snappy patter, the puppeteer cast has down pat.

Old ladies and puppets being snarky and talking about sex is a sure-fire comic trope, combining them is akin to genius. The puppets may be caricatures of the characters, but a solid energetic cast gives them a life force that becomes something beyond acting and into alchemy. Seanna Kennedy, who has experience with puppets having directed, among many others including a stellar Rent, the Lower Ossington Theatre's Avenue Q and Little Shop of Horrors, incarnates Blanche as a sexy self-involved drama queen who can't stop fondling her breasts. Agalmatophiliacs and furries will appreciate her fine sassy work, the rest of us applaud it.

Kelly McAllister is a bubbly Rose Nylon with a bit of unexpected bite, and Liana Bdewi disappears into the wisecracking Sophia Petrillo, gleefully shouting "Slut!" and regaling with her trademark Silician tall tales. But it is Jeremy Crittenden who gets to scale the heights with Dorothy Zbornak. He/she gets a delayed entrance that pays off on first sight of the puppet, and the first one-liner where Crittenden, a handsome scene-stealer in his own right, fuses with the puppet and transcends gender and time to create a towering vulnerable Dorothy. He did on occasion seem on the verge of bursting into laughter at his own finesse, and it is a miracle that the show didn't stop several times for the cast to compose themselves. The audience never did.

Oscar Moreno, the sex symbol of Altar Boyz, is the only non-puppet and not only has multiple roles but fulfills his function of eye-candy with aplomb. His interactions with the puppets, never the actors, is surprisingly touching and gives a layer of reality to what is essentially surreal. His role is one of the places where the script breaks the fourth wall for comic effect and it works hilariously. Some of the other additions and gags fall flat but it is more because of the rapidity of the dialogue and the problem of timing. The Golden Girls benefitted not only from the writing and performances, but also sharp editing that stretched a joke or reaction for just the right amount of time to milk it fully. A few more performances and the cast of Thank You For Being A Friend will have their timing matched to the less-predictable reactions of a live audience.

The Golden Girls was a gay favourite (as was its clones Sex and the CityDesigning WomenLooking, etc) because of its themes of chosen family and fellowship amongst sexual outlaws. And yes the opening night audience was majorly gay. And all the better for it. Seeing four men gathered around a table eating cheesecake and discussing just who has the dubious honour of being the Blanche of the group, makes one's heart soar. And the script doesn't shy from the gay influence - the funniest of the many funny lines reference just how gay-positive The Golden Girls was. And it also affords the opportunity to meld two storylines into a single one with a gay twist that reminds us how groundbreaking The Golden Girls were. And how far we've come. 

We're used to director Bruce Dow in either musical-comedy or more intense intellectual pieces (PigSextetOf a Monstrous Child) but he keeps the action frothy, fast and as focussed as the multiple source text will allow. There is one powerful moment that is serious and intensely thought-provoking. Set changes are covered by the projection of old commercials that would have aired during the original run of The Golden Girls. They were an undeniable hit as the audience roared at now-campy ads for Juicy Fruit, Big Red, Sure deodorant, Diet Coke, Chia Pets and The Clapper. But an ad for now basically defunct TV Guide, trumpeting long departed TV stars, created an uneasy ripple that reminded that three out of the four Golden Girls are now gone and that death is an inevitable fate of us all. The characters had just finished a comic riff on all the taboos that The Golden Girls tackled, and the Michael Jackson Diet Pepsi ad, now tainted with pedophilia overtones, was a kick in the gut that Jackson too is long gone.

The subliminal sobering slap only adds a flavourful undertone to what is otherwise a fizzy cocktail. The fourth act is giddy with hilarity as the multiple plotlines are, mostly, resolved and the girls, of course, embrace in a cathartic and powerful salute to sisterhood. And we are all reminded to not take our friends for granted, to love while we can, and to be sure to say "Thank you for being a friend" as often as possible. In fact we all sang along, again, as the theme played and we wiped tears, mostly of laughter, from our eyes. Even the woman behind us, who, having apparently never seen a The Golden Girls episode (really?) but who had been dragged along with a collection of fag hags and complained at intermission that "I don't understand," was charmed and sang lustily. And I have no doubts that everyone in that audience is still singing, the earworm, reinforced by the joy of puppetry and fellowship, is still echoing in my head and sneaking out between my lips. And I'm craving cheesecake.

Thank You For Being A Friend runs until Sat, Sept 24 at the Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave. goldengirlstickets.com


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