Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trailer Park Tragedy: Hume Baugh's Crush

Crush, at the Factory Theatre Studio in Toronto from December 1-11.

As my theatre going consort predicted prior to our viewing of Hume Baugh’s Crush, “I’m prepared for dark, dark, dark.” Let's just say he was well-prepared. Originally debuted at Summerworks in 2008, the freshly revised “trailer park tragedy” about “love, loneliness, and the lies we tell ourselves” opened at the Factory Theatre on December 1st under the director Mark Cassidy. It is indeed dark. Until December 11th, theatre goers can be both frustrated and entertained by the self-inflicted sadness of three characters.

The play opens with Sandra – “Sandy” – played by Courtney Lyons, slumped on her couch in the middle of a trailer park. Sandra is an overweight, chain smoking, Budweiser guzzling, talk-show addict. If her life were not pathetic enough, Sandy also spends all this time talking to herself. She fantasizes that she is a famous guest on a tabloid talk show. Interesting, however, is how certain truisms seep out during Sandy’s fantasies. She also reveals during these moments of her lack of ambition, the sorry state of her career, her sexual desperation, and the fact that she is in love with her gay best friend. Moments later, the object of Sandy’s affection, Ronny (Ryan Kelly), bursts onto the scene dressed in his trailer park finest. Ronny exhibits all the charm and warmth of a hatchetfish. He begins boasting about his sexual promenades while simultaneously mooching cash and beer from Sandy. If the fact that Ronny was homosexual wasn't standing in the way of a relationship between the two, his philandering, narcissism, and childish nature certainly was. Ronny's turbulent personality makes a functional relationship impossible.

Courtney Lyons, Julian DeZotti, Ryan Kelly
Once Sandy is alone with her talk show, the third and final character arrives. Martin (Julian DeZotti), the clean cut, button down, polite in new kid on the block ...er... new kid in the park drops in to introduce himself. With Martin’s boyish good looks and timid propriety, one would expect him to be walking a golden lab in suburbia. It is soon revealed however that this odd-guy-out is sorting through a broken relationship and some financial set backs. Martin, just looking for a place to practice anonymity, quickly befriends Sandy and Ronny. As the play unfolds, so does a love triangle between the three characters. It weaves through the issues of betrayal, lies, homophobia, and gay panic defense. The social issues, however imperative, were more superficial to the point that Baugh seems to be making. The focus of self-denial and self-destructive fear are at the true heart of the script. “Can you imagine what it would sound like if everyone told the truth?” Ronny asks Martin one evening. His own answer is already prepared: “It would like music.” Though none of the characters, due to the shackles of their own fear and emotional immaturity, would ever be honestly truthful with themselves. While it was easy to sit and cast smug judgement on the characters, perhaps the issue was more universal. “People are afraid,” says Martin one evening. “Of what?” asks Ronny. “Of everything,” Martin replies. Fear, denial, and emotional immaturity that can keep people on their metaphorical couches in their trailer parks. These things that keep people alone, confused, and unable to be themselves.

Baugh does not allow their darkness to be limited to a simple sad existence. According to the Factory website, Crush is loosely based on a true saga of an incident that happened after a "Secret Admirer" episode of the Jenny Jones television show, a popular tabloid talk program from the Nineties. (Scott Amedure was a gay man who confessed on air to his best friend, Jonathan Schmitz, that he had a crush on him. While Schmitz took it in good humour during the show, three days after the taping, he became enraged and murdered Amedure.) This disturbing, yet delicious, bit of tabloid drama is also perfectly portrayed in a simple set viewed from an intimate seat.

The coziness of the Factory Theatre, also places the viewer inches from the actors, like you were in Sandy’s living room, inhaling her second-hand smoke and sipping a Bud while you watched endless smut on the tube. In addition to the comfortable ambiance and thought-provoking script, the acting was also first class. Characters so deplorable can only be successfully pulled off by actors who don't deplore the people they are playing. Which is why, Crush is sophisticated theatre disguised as trailer trash.

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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