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Hello Again: sex and lust and song and dance- Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

Hello Again: sex and lust and song and dance
13 February 2018

by Drew Rowsome
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There are three compelling reasons to catch Hello Again in the few days remaining of its run. All of them have to do with nakedness.

Hello Again is a production by The Artillery Collective who are "dedicated to producing theatre that is provocative, unapologetic and challenges the status quo." Mission accomplished. Michael John LaChuisa's text and score is based on the famous play La Ronde that chronicles sexual encounters between characters in a relay fashion. La Ronde's conceit is that sex crosses over all social classes and LaChuisa ups the ante by placing the vignettes in different decades and adding sexual orientation to the taboos levelled.

The score is lyrical and haunting, allowing for the various forms of sexual desire - lust, financial, revenge, self-aggrandizing, etc - to be emotionally amplified in the way that only song and dance can express. The Artillery Collective has assembled a stellar cast with extraordinary voices. Most of them usually work on big stages, so it is a thrill to see and hear them in the intimate confines of the Artscape Sandbox. Unamplified but never less than crystal clear, the voices are starkly naked and uniquely thrilling: every breath, nuance of interpretation and drop of sweat is close enough to reach out and touch.

Perhaps because of the concept of collective, Hello Again has four different directors - Eric Morin, Marianne McIssac, Kyle Travis Young and Indrit Kasapi (House Guests) - who tackle a handful of scenes each. The results are seamless with each scene, concisely illustrated by ingenious projections, building on the previous, and each filled with tiny telling details that emphasize the comedy and lay the emotions bare. The double takes and minute expressions surface from that space between choreography, naturalistic acting and clown. And because the audience is so close, there is not a missed subtlety, or laugh, to be found. Hello Again moves so smoothly, surprisingly and quickly, that when it ended, I was wishing it was intermission.

Bare vocals and naked emotions are topped, or bottomed, by the third reason to see Hello Again. The show uses sex as a way to illustrate the human condition and relationships, and this production is not coy. There is abundant simulated sex and much near-nudity. The cast is all attractive and even more so when clad in a minimum of costuming. It is a powerful conceptual metaphor illustrating how the score, text and cast are stripping emotions naked. It is also creates a delightful evening of erotic eye candy. Voyeurism for a good cause.

The promotional trailer - used within the production in a clever and vivid manner - shows only one of the vignettes. A hilarious turned erotic turned tragic encounter between Eric Morin (FalsettosThe Wizard of Oz) and Allie MacDonald, proves definitively that two handsome men singing, dancing and fucking while clad only in tighty-whities makes for riveting theatre. Morin is a '70s wannabe filmmaker whose cluelessness and self-absorption contrast with his matinee idol looks. MacDonald has a way with withering one-liners and eye rolls that would be envied by a drag queen. And when their voices and bodies blend in flawless harmony, it is ecstatic.

There is not a weak link in the cast as they shift effortlessly from character to character, foreground to background, but there are memorable moments. Cynthia Jiminez-Hicks is all feigned innocence then slinky seductress taking what she wants from a hilariously hapless Richard Lam (Peter PanHeart of Steel). In turn he becomes an impotent sex object to Kira Guloien who has the funniest most heartbreaking catchphrase in Hello Again. Big-voiced and bubble-butted Ngabo Nabea is a solid match for a fiery Kaleigh Gorka who sets the circle of sexual roundelays in motion, and provides a symbolic connection that  ties it all together and allows it to grow to be more than a series of sketches.

LaChuisa's score, nicely interpreted by Queinton Naughton, borrows musical styles from each decade it touches on while using leitmotifs to bind it all together coherently. It is not a brash Broadway score with singalong choruses (though I did find myself unconsciously humming the melody to the hook "Hello Again" for hours afterwards) and as such the performers have to remain subtle and precise. Each of them gets a moment where the power of their voices are unleashed but one can't help but long for a moment where they were able to let it rip. Though the already mesmerizing David Lopez (A Christmas CarolAssassinsKinky Boots) might well have ripped the roof off the intimate theatre if he allowed himself to go full throttle.

Any production that can trump the sight of Eric Morin's breathtaking body clad in tiny tighty-whities by exposing the naked power of his voice and the raw sentiments of the play's thesis, is a production that deserves being seen.

Hello Again continues until Sat, Feb 17 at Artscape Sandbox, 301 Adelaide St W. artillerycollective.com

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