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Review: Queer Bathroom Stories

June 10th, 2014     by RJ Vandrish     Comments

Photo courtesy of Queer Bathroom Stories

Queer Bathroom Stories Director: Megan Watson Written by: Sheila Cavanagh runs at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until June 15

It’s difficult enough to find a place to pee in Toronto without having to buy something first. If you’re queer or trans, when you do eventually find your way to a public washroom, you still have to navigate the heavily gendered politics of the “male” and “female” divide. In Queer Bathroom Stories, playwright Sheila Cavanagh brings such a necessary issue of queer and trans experiences from the washroom to the stage.

With an eye for a story, Cavanagh created the play, which drew from the 100 interviews she conducted with LGBTQ and two-spirit folks for her book Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygenic Imagination. The play, which was originally mounted under the name Queer Bathroom Monologues at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2011, won the Patron’s Pick Award and has since been remounted at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. And it was okay.

With 72 characters performed by three actors (Hallie Burt, Chy Ryan Spain, Tyson James), Queer Bathroom Stories tells a multitude of real queer stories. It was refreshing to see the experiences of those not often represented on the stage: tales of gay sex and disabled queer sexuality in the bathroom, of trans passing problems and lack of facilities for gender non-binary queers, of two-spirit experiences and female masculinity in the loo. With so many characters to portray, Burt, Spain and James all shone in some, but they were also stuck with a script that made it difficult to truly connect with the audience on an emotional level.

In slight excess of an hour, QBS felt pretty short. It certainly would have benefitted from an extra 20 minutes to elaborate on the rawest and most dramatic of the stories. The best of the actors’ monologues seemed too short and unexplored, while the rest (read: the majority) felt like filler with a sprinkling of witty quips.

Ultimately, the strength of QBS depends on its audience. To a straight, cisgender crowd, this piece is revolutionary, bringing forth a topic not often discussed in the mainstream. To a freshly out queer or trans person, the play is affirming and justifies all the complex situations they experience in public restrooms. But to a veteran of the ongoing battle to pee in binarist, gender-segregated washrooms, Queer Bathroom Stories simply elicits a been there, done that reaction. It’s surprising that the show made it to the main stage at Buddies, a company known for staging daring and alternative productions that not only challenge mainstream sexual and cultural norms, but queer ones as well. While it cannot be said that Queer Bathroom Stories greatly challenges the latter, it undoubtedly succeeds at deconstructing the former.

RJ Vandrish is a theatre artist (stage name: Rory Jade Grey) and a regular Shameless contributor.

Queer Bathroom Stories from Sheila Cavanagh on Vimeo.

Tags: art, gender

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