The 38th Rhubarb Festival: Buddies goes from haunting to hardcore and beyond
by Drew Rowsome
Porn, drag, opera, knife throwing, dance, kink, cooking, an egg-laying rooster, a time machine treadmill and a haunted house, are merely a cursory sampling of the delights that Buddies' 38th Rhubarb Festival has in store. As in the 37th, 36th, 35th and 34th editions, Rhubarb is impossible to predict but even more impossible to resist. Anything can and will happen, and something, more likely somethings, will be illuminating, magical, horrifying and life-changing.
Spread over two hectic weeks, The Rhubarb Festival consists of a multitude of performances dedicated to exploration, adventure, and pushing boundaries and buttons. The queer component is off the charts with provocation and eroticism a given. And if something isn't to one's taste, or is too much to handle, each performance is short with something exciting happening either simultaneously in the next room or immediately afterwards.
The festival kicks off with its annual notorious/glorious launch party, this year themed as "The Rhubarb Haunted House." The ghosts lurking in this mansion are previous Rhubarb shows that were exceedingly memorable, controversial, or, like Of a Monstrous Child: a gaga musical, went on to become full-scale productions. Or was just so over-the-top delirious like the combination of the dry wit of David Bateman with the incandescent unearthly voice of Helene Ducharme, that a remount of What's It Like?, directed by Raymond Heilko, was inevitable. Or it could just be that the cast and creatives are still kicking around and available. And who could resist the chance to scritch with Fay Slift and the 3 Bears again?
Week two kicks off with Rhubarb Does Movie Night, a threeway with the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival and the Images Festival. The accent is on queercore, hardcore and the erotic, a fulfilling few hours in the dark. Visual artist/DJ Jeffrey Hinton then takes over to "transform the cabaret into a visual dream collage of intimate moments of play" with rare footage of icons including Leigh Bowery, Boy George, Divine, Christeen and Deee Lite.
The Emerging Creators Unit has early showcases that are just too meaty to be just appetizers. Trans sex workers, bathhouse hook-ups directed by Sunny Drake, a riff on Mozart's The Magic Flute, and a physical poem directed by Tawiah Ben Eben M'Carthy of Black Boys, are too enticing to be passed over or to wait for the inevitable graduation to the mainstage.
The list of participating artists is huge and, like MGM in its heyday, has more stars than there are in heaven. A scroll through the playbill at buddiesinbadtimes.com made me salivate. To list them all is redundant but I am particularly excited for M/F (Choose One). In their first collaboration since Gash!, director Elley-Ray Hennessy will guide David Benjamin Tomlinson (Blind Date, Dancing Queen) to what is sure to be a tour de force or a just plain fierce.
The 38th Rhubarb Festival runs Wed, Feb 15 to Sun, Feb 26 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com