Green Thumb Theatre

Steel Kiss by Robin Fulford

Dates and Venues 14 – 24 February 2008 @ 8pm | Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Director Patrick McDonald Assistant Director Courtenay Dobbie Stage Manager Lisa Russell Composer and Sound Corbie Fieldwalker Sets and Costumes Art Penson Lighting Ereca Hassell Fight Consultant David Bloom

Reviewer J H Stape

In a town where lotsa singin' and dancin', outright pablum, and Shakespeare SuperLite are the much loved fodder of theatregoers, allergic to thought and ever-eager for mind-numbing fluff, Green Thumb Theatre takes a stand and hopes to make a difference.

Green Thumb Theatre's mandate -- to produce plays "that explore social issues relevant to the lives of children, youth, and young adults" -- is amply fulfilled in mounting this play dealing with homophobia, male desire (of various kinds), and brutality towards Others (of various kinds). But this superbly directed and well acted high energy production deserves a wide and diverse audience, and certainly got one on its opening night, where it ranged from a lady nonagenarian to the relatively youthful..

Inspired by the murder of a gay man by a gang of youths in Toronto High Park in the 1980s, Robin Fulford's Steel Kiss is a call to action -- at least to the action of thought. But for all its sincerity and its skillfully interwoven narrative, the play says nothing new (granted, difficult) and, because of its highly fluid structure, nothing very deep about the hatred of minorities and the violence consequent upon it.

A soliloquy or two, although this would have meant a radically altered tempo, might have assisted in deepening sympathies or eliciting emotional engagement. As it is, we mainly watch, not especially involved, nor especially horrified.

The hour-long evening, without intermission, is, despite some of the flaws in Fulford's writing, a complete success because of the four young actors, who take on multiple roles in a quick succession of scenes, and the strong and sure directorial hand of Patrick McDonald.

The actors play homophobic toughs with dangerously high testosterone levels, mothers and fathers, judge, jury, murderers, the investigating police, a prostitute, a go-go girl, boys coming out, rough trade, a high school teacher, dudes -- you name it. The emphasis falls on thorough-going ensemble work to the extent that, although the programme gives names to the four major characters, these don't matter, and, indeed, hardly register,

In this finely balanced cast Charlie Gallant as "Tony" and Michael Eisner as "Billy" make strong and effective contributions, their timing split-second, and their actions never less than convincing.

Mike Wasko as "Neil," however, sometimes strikes an artificial note, not always inhabiting his role. (Granted, that's a mighty hard task given that some of these last only a few minutes.) Kyle Jespersen, "Jack," shines in his comic moments -- the beer-swilling belcher, the class hearty (one of those guys that made high school the hell it was), and the go-go girl with the big ones.

The stylized set, at once a park for anonymous sex and brutal murder, intimacy and fear and desire, but also everywhere from living-room to gym to go-go bar proves versatile, and frames an action that has its ritual elements, while the lighting is never less than effective. (Some of the bigger theatres in town would do well to catch this Granville Island production.)

Go see it: you likely won't come away enlightened, but then as adults we've already responded to the world, forgotten how we found our niches in it, and even can't remember how we forged the compromises required to survive and thrive.

As theatre directed specifically for young people, this should prove dynamite stuff, and the four young men on stage are to be congratulated both on the evident sense of commitment and their real accomplishment in bringing a vivid and intelligent directorial dream to life.

The only downside was the hyper-real cigarettes: I left the theatre smelling like a kipper and was reduced to coughing more than once. MIght these be stylized too please!

© 2008 J H Stape