The Gay Heritage Project
Citadel Theatre, Club Stage
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Feb. 10 to 27, 2016
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, HIcksBiz.com
Even a cheerful cynic accepts that much good comes from watching shows like the Gay Heritage Project.
Presented cabaret-style in the Citadel Theatre's innovative Club space, The Gay Heritage Project is an insightful, informative and entertaining look into what it's actually like to be gay.
No matter how many gay friends or acquaintances one might have, very few straight folks know that much about what's behind the curtain. The old expression "walk a mile in my shoes" comes to mind.
Three gay actors, by necessity researchers, realized precious historical or even contemporary knowledge wasn't out there about their unique culture, their tribe.
Homosexuality has been part of mankind since the beginning of civilization, but from the fall of Rome to, finally, social acceptance in the 21st Century, little history has been recorded on the subject and most of that ... ain't exactly positive.
Even today in the popular culture, precious little addresses the many aspects of growing up gay, of living in a world where heterosexuality continues to be the expected norm, and homosexuality is, well dear, it's just ... different. Y'know?
Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir - Toronto-based actors who by happenstance either grew up or went to school in Edmonton - tackle the subject with great gusto and at all levels of artistic expression.
In this touring Fringe-style cabaret incorporating drama, dance and song, the scenes are quick and to the point. Each is authored by one of the three, featuring that actor in a recurring theme or character. The excellent collaboration between the three and director Ashlie Corcoran produces a cohesive whole.
Many of these themes could be intellectually and emotionally explored in greater depth: The rarely highlighted internment and mass murder of homosexuals by the Nazis in World War II; the still underground gay community in Eastern Europe, as Andrew Kushnir recounts in a tour of his ancestral home Ukraine; the tremendous loss of so many older friends, colleagues, mentors and role models to AIDs.
If there's any one take-away from The Gay Heritage Project, it's the complicated nature of being gay. These lads spend an inordinate amount of time second-guessing themselves and their place in society. Then again, so do the characters in most shows of this ilk, be they about the nature and experience of being aboriginal, being female, being disabled, being black and so on.
So important to this show is its cheerful, fun side. It's never goes off the rails into self-pity
What's missing, and it's due to so much being packed into one show, is a deep emotional response. Due to the style of the show - the staccato bif, boom, bang of the quick-moving scenes, the pebble skips along the surface without diving into the emotional universality of the theme.
What this show does, and it's full of potential, is open the door to more theatrical exploration of its dozens of themes from the perspective of this generation of gay actors. (Hopefully such shows will have more interesting titles than the awfully dry "Gay Heritage Project.")
Dozens of major theatrical productions have been about, or at least touched on, the gay experience. That's been a huge reason for the acceptance and equality of the gay lifestyle in North America and Western Europe. But those shows - Angels in America, As Is, Laramie Project, Torch Song Trilogy - are now decades old, written by an older generation about their struggles.
It's of emotional, intellectual and sociological importance to all of us that the contemporary themes of The Gay Heritage Project be developed into full artistic productions. It's about conclusively capturing the heart and the mind.