by Dorianne Emmerton
A keyboard stands in a corner manned by a dapper fellow in white face and a bowler hat. In the other corner is what appears to be an armchair covered by an old paint-spattered drop cloth. Seated in it from the minute you enter the theatre is a pre-set old man. This is Loving the Stranger or how to recognize an invert by Ecce Homo Theatre.
Having seen him you expect the old man to begin the show, to speak once the house lights fade. Instead the musician in the other corner starts playing and a white-faced blond woman in a Nazi outfit, playing a child, starts to sing before setting off on a pro-fascist rant.
Brecht would probably be very pleased at how Ecce Homo is keeping his mode of theatre alive and vibrant. As long as he didn’t mind a whole lot of gay male content, at least.
This is the third Ecce Homo play I’ve seen and I love their style: they really do have style. They have the Brechtian/German cabaret makeup and outfits; they have outstanding original music, which riffs on classics, and is both sung and played with impressive vocal and musical chops; they have gorgeous choreography, a fine appreciation of camp and kitsch and a whole lot of lovely exposed man-flesh.
However, this is my third Ecce Homo show and my least favourite. When I asked my companion what she did and didn’t like about the show she especially liked the choreography on one number depicting illicit gay love among Nazi military men, but what she didn’t like was the extent of dry recitation of legislation and other historical documents.
As the program says “every line of text in this piece is culled from actual historical documentary or archival sources.” This is not new for Ecce Homo and they are capable of doing it quite well: in this play there was one scene where the legislation was performed as a striptease. Other times, however, the actor was simply in a silly wig portraying an obscure German historical figure and that was not enough to make the recitation of dry documents interesting.
I probably would have liked it more if I hadn’t enjoyed the other Ecce Homo shows I’ve seen so much: one can’t help but compare and I think the difference here comes down to something very simple: in previous shows they have been satirizing a well known religious/political figure. In this they were canonizing an obscure artist.
The central figure in previous plays has been subject to a comedic critical analysis. In this the central figure was revered, so the satire was not focused. Instead of poking fun at a specific person, they had to make fun of Nazis in general, which has been done to death (pardon me if that is an inappropriate turn of phrase) by now.
If you like a good number of the following: music and singing, dancing, Brechtian theatre, historical content about Nazis, naked men, and satire – then do see this play. If you’re already an Ecce Homo fan, then do see this play but manage your expectations. Myself, I hope their next show goes back to targeting a well-known person who needs to be torn down a peg or two.
–Loving the Stranger or how to recognize an invert as part of Summerworks, at Factory Theatre Mainspace
– All individual Summerworks tickets are $10 at the door (cash only)
Advance tickets are $11 ($10+$1 convenience fee)
Tickets can be purchased:
-Online at artsboxoffice.ca
-by Phone at 416.504.7529
– in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille 16 Ryerson Avenue, One block North East of Bathurst & Queen)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see multiple shows