This Is Cancer and The Progressive Polygamists make for a hilarious double bill
This Is Cancer
By Bruce Horak and Rebecca Northan. Directed by Rebecca Northan.
The Progressive Polygamists
Written and directed by Emmelia Gordon and Pippa Mackie. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, June 22. Continues on June 29 and 30
Do you want to see what confidence looks like on-stage? Then check out this hilarious double bill. The performers are so skilled and assured—and they take such risks—that watching their shows is like watching a pair of witty high-wire acts.
In This Is Cancer, Bruce Horak embodies the disease as an egomaniac in a gold lamé bodysuit. Yes, that suit is tumourously lumpy but, with his British accent and unstoppable vivacity—Cancer sings, he dances—the guy is a ghoulish charmer, convinced of his own popularity. “You don’t all believe in Jesus,” he crows, “but you all believe in me!”
The material, which Horak wrote with his director, Rebecca Northan, is best when it’s most transgressive. Looking through the book in which he records all of the people he has “loved”, Cancer comes across a name: “Terry Fox. Well, I helped him put Thunder Bay on the map, didn’t I?”
This Is Cancer is also compassionate and cathartic. A lot of this material works—including a section in which Cancer invites audience members to consider the three things they’d like to be remembered for.
The show loses its tension sometimes, however, especially when it’s less aggressive and when audience participation is slow to come. (On opening night, a rogue viewer made other folks cautious, I think, but Horak dealt with that person deftly.) Still, Horak is so vivacious and charismatic that, when things lag, he can get them back up to speed in seconds.
Young performers Emmelia Gordon and Pippa Mackie also dazzle. In The Progressive Polygamists, they play sister-wives from a community that looks a lot like Bountiful.
Dressed in frilly, virginally white frocks, they advise, “Keep sweet. Always keep sweet.” Human responses such as jealousy and female sexual desire are forbidden. “I bet you all think thunderstorms come from science,” Mackie’s character Mercy Eve says mockingly. “Well they don’t. They come from angry wives.” But this is a comedy, so chaotic appetites emerge. At one point, Gordon’s character, Eden-Grace, gets so caught up in repeating “Oh God! Oh God!” that Mercy Eve has to chastise her: “You just made midnight noises.”
The two actors, who also wrote the show, keep changing up the textures. The sister-wives do a little rap number, they enact their prophet-husband’s conversations with God, and they provide historical context that includes a character they call Bring’em Young.
As performers, Gordon and Mackie also handle audience participation effortlessly. Within a tightly cued show, they manage to be responsive.
They never put a foot wrong. And they’re having a good time. So you do too.