"Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
The dream that you wish will come true"
Cinderella's dreams came true when she acquired the handsome prince and lived, or so they say, happily ever after. The men of It's All Tru have dreams as well, but they are not solved by a handsome prince. Or a multitude of handsome princes.
Gilbert gets great comic mileage out of their cooking, their artistic careers and pretensions, and their age difference. And when a crack appears in their blissful existence, he adds depth and complications that elevate the form. While Kurt was at a conference, Travis had a sexual encounter that involved unsafe sex. And he hasn't been taking his PrEP. And the trick isn't going away easily.
There is an apt reference to "a comedy of manners," and It's All Tru functions hilariously on that level. But it is also an examination of the politics of AIDS, HIV, the criminalization of HIV, consent, PrEP, safe sex, unsafe sex and sex itself. Gilbert skilfully weaves the two threads together to make his points and trigger discussion, all while keeping the laughs on track. There are moments when the outrage is exaggerated, about to slip into polemic, but the reality is so deserving of outrage and Gilbert refuses to let the play become a rant.
It all climaxes in a remarkable speech by Kurt, delivered with extraordinarily precise passion by Tim Post (Gash!), that lays bare the PTSD that gay men who lived through the AIDS plague suffer. Not only did we have to survive but we had to watch while all the work we had to do to be accepted, to even accept ourselves and our sexuality, was turned against us.
It is a horrible and powerful speech and Post navigates the whiplash turns with gripping intensity. He is a villain and deluded, but we understand why. David Coomber (The Wizard of Oz, Fortune and Men's Eyes, Red) takes Travis the younger, arguably shallower, half of the couple to a place beyond his obvious sex appeal. He and Post have crack comic timing, like an established gay couple would, but Coomber also reveals the wheels turning behind his wide eyes. He may aspire to be Cinderella but there is real terror when faced with a moral dilemma.
Caleb Olivieri doesn't get the luxury of gay patter and also has to carry the weight of the not-so-subtle political jabs. Olivieri exudes a casual physical allure that merges well with the character Gideon's basic flakiness, getting him through a lovely loony explanation of sexuality. Though he is mainly a plot device, he makes an impression and does, during the marvellously melodramatic ending, make a heartrending point about the difference, the crucial difference, between HIV and AIDS.
There were minor glitches with the set design on opening night and the final coup de theatre, cribbed quite blatantly from the original production of Cabaret by way of Andy Warhol (couldn't get any more gleefully gay), didn't make the impression intended. But it didn't matter, It's All Tru is strong enough that the audience indictment was already made. We all laughed and were royally amused, but there were heated, and sotto voce muted, discussions going on between everyone filing out of the theatre. Gilbert and his cast have melded ideas and entertainment into an elegant comedy of manners with a refreshingly nasty afterbite.
It's All Tru continues until Sun, May 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com