The story of small-town gays leaving home for the brighter lights and safer havens of the big city streets is a well known one. Gays have been escaping the tyranny of close-minded homophobic home towns for so long, it’s a well worn trope. Growing up in the 80s, Bronski Beat‘s Small Town Boy became an anthem for thousands upon thousands of young gays stuck in horrible nightmare existences, fending off bullies at school and homophobic parents at home. The battle was never-ending. The song informed some of a way out, as it reminded others of the way they escaped.
Mark Crawford’s play, BED & BREAKFAST, turns this escape from small-town oppression ass over teakettle. He brings the gays back into town. Brett and Drew are a gay couple who inherit a family home when Brett’s beloved Aunt Maggie passes on. While they struggle with the chaos of their careers in the big city of Toronto, they slowly imagine themselves chucking it all in and retreating to the quieter existence and the more down to earth affordability of the small town in which their newly acquired home is located. Against the better judgement of their ridiculously flamboyant real estate agent friend, they eventually succumb to the notion and leave the city lights behind.
I want to say hilarity ensues. In fact, if I did I would be hitting the nail on the head. Because HILARITY ENSUES. I actually can’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a play. If Bed & Breakfast were a kid on the playground at recess, it would probably share its snack with NOISES OFF. It’s that kind of high-jinx funny. It’s so intelligent and witty and fast-paced. The same kind of high-camp that brought tears to my eyes while watching the bedlam and madness of NOISES OFF. Bed & Breakfast is gorgeously hilarious. I had a hard time choosing which of the two actors I adored more. They each play a bevy of different characters and the way they transform from one character to another is often as funny as the characters themselves. Both Paolo Santalucia and Gregory Prest were flawless. Just spectacular. If you go, keep your eye out for those first appearances of Santalucia’s earrings and Prest’s hoodie going up. Absolutely delightful.
I think the greatest achievement the two actors pull off is the absoluteness of the character transformations. At times the switches from character to character are so instantaneous and frequent, there’s the equivalent of a crowd on stage…and it is only the two of them, each juggling characters with such accurate perfection the audience never loses track of who’s appearing. How they kept the balls in the air, I’ll never know.
Now for the reason I hesitated in saying hilarity ensues. This play was extremely hard-hitting. As much as I laughed, I also cried. That’s because Mark Crawford nailed small town bigotry in a few brief instances that really took my breath away. This playwright has a powerful way of drawing in the audience with laughter, making them feel comfortable about what it is they are there for…a few great laughs. When he pulls the rug out from under you with the hard-hitting truth that not everything in the gay world is kikis and Cher and rainbows and glitter, you’re unprepared…but you also somehow know it was coming. It’s built into the premise of the play. Problems were bound to arise. The gays dared to return to the small town they escaped.
If BED & BREAKFAST is not yet on your radar, it should be. It’s a heart-wrenching, heart-warming story told with great comedic timing and soul. The depiction of what it’s like to be gay and facing homophobia and bigotry, as well as its opposite when the stakes are raised and support and love flood in, is so spot on it will break your heart if you’ve experienced it yourself in the past. If you haven’t, you’ll see it played out accurately on the Soulpepper stage. Without giving away too much, there’s a scene with a man in his 80s–a neighbour to the gay couple who opened their bed and breakfast–that will tear at your heartstrings. It’s the rub, perhaps of the story itself. When the ugliness of the world shows itself, there’s only one way to tamp it down. LOVE.
GO. SEE. BED & BREAKFAST. As they say, “you will laugh, you will cry.” It will definitely move you.