Blowing Whistles is a crowd-pleaser
By Matthew Todd. Directed by Morgan David Jones. Presented by Landmark Productions Vancouver at the PAL Theatre on July 26. Continues until August 4
Blowing Whistles is about gay culture and identity, but the script itself doesn’t know what it is.
The opening scenes play like a bitchy queer sitcom. To celebrate the 10th year of his love for Jamie, Nigel decides that they should have a three-way, so he invites over an Internet hook-up, the romantically named Cumboy17.
The funny exchanges—and there are a lot of them—are often fuelled by audacity. Defending his bisexual bona fides, Cumboy (aka Mark) declares, “I like cunt,” and Jamie spits back, “But you couldn’t eat a whole one, right?” And there’s plenty of camp absurdity. After the three have sex, Mark tells Jamie in a private tête-à-tête that, when Jamie kissed him, the passion caused electricity to shoot through his body. “No,” Jamie replies. “That was the duvet. It’s a polyester mix.”
Writer Matthew Todd, who is the editor of the U.K. gay magazine Attitude, should have known that he was on to a good thing. But, not satisfied with being funny, he strains for relevance and the script grinds uphill to become, in the language of its publicity, “a searing topical drama”.
Mark’s destabilizing presence opens the cracks in Nigel and Jamie’s relationship. They’re party boys and the sexually addicted Nigel wants to keep humping everything that hasn’t already been nailed down. Jamie wants them to grow up, which mostly means that he wants to be able to trust his partner. Once this conflict is established, the script’s arguments—including Mark’s endless refrain that gay men are incapable of fidelity—become numbingly repetitive. And the plot’s random twists emphasize the play’s shallowness.
Under Morgan David Jones’s direction, the generally strong performances are also a mixed stylistic bag. Shane Bingham, who plays Jamie, anchors the show because, within the character’s campiness, Bingham maintains impressive emotional credibility. As Nigel, Michael Lyons leans more heavily into the comedy but his performance, too, is solid. Jamie and Nigel are familiar characters, almost stereotypes, but playwright Todd is trying something more original with Mark and the results don’t jell. As written, Mark swings between seductiveness and rudeness, romanticism and cynicism. You’d have to be a genius to pull this off. Cameron Crosby’s interpretation of Mark is honest in a low-key way but his Mark also feels like he exists in a private stylistic world, a universe far removed from Jamie and Nigel’s entertaining dysfunction.
And, in the end, that’s what Blowing Whistles is really about: entertainment. The Pride-ready opening-night crowd ate it up. And I’ve got to admit that Blowing Whistles changed me. In this regionally adjusted version of the script, Jamie says of himself, “You can’t go putting a bolt through your penis if you live in Kits and you work in a bank.” I will now look at my Kitsilano bank tellers—and wonder. Thanks for that.