By Bryden MacDonald. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre production. At the PAL Theatre on Friday, February 13. Continues until February 22
The characters in Whale Riding Weather remind me of those Catholic pictures of Christ opening his chest to show us his sacred heart—except that this time Christ's gay, he's in his underwear, and he's really, really drunk. Whale Riding Weather is a great, gaping—and messy—wound of a play. That's the beauty of it.
In Bryden MacDonald's 1994 script, a moribund, agoraphobic old queen named Lyle is holed up in a slum apartment with his much younger protégé Auto. Lyle admits that he drinks “enough for a small farming community”, and he's so out of touch with reality that it's hard to figure out what's true in his self-dramatizing stories about Vienna and his lost son. Auto suffers panic attacks and was so fucked up when Lyle found him drying his rain-soaked socks in a Montreal bar that he feels he can't leave—until he picks up a trick named Jude and this guy named for the patron saint of lost causes makes him wonder.
Poetry is one of the great strengths, and sometimes weaknesses, of MacDonald's script. Lyle hemorrhages lyricism—one of his long soliloquies opens the play—and these wordy flights don't always advance the plot. But it's easy to forgive MacDonald, because, when his language scores, it knocks you off your feet. Wooing his frightened new beau, Jude describes a premonition in which he dreamed of Auto emerging from a lilac-bedecked locomotive. Auto finally takes his pants off. I would too.
Playing Auto, Jeff Gladstone delivers a performance that defines a new high-water mark in his career. His work feels so deeply internal that it's like his character is imploding. And when Auto tries to emerge from psychic hiding to respond to Jude's touch, it obviously hurts so much that you can't help but be moved.
Jon Lachlan Stewart is winningly openhearted as Jude. He feels like hope in a pair of tight jeans, and the appeal increases as his character gets more complex.
In the beginning especially, Allan Morgan's Lyle is more comically eccentric than agonized or dying. Morgan does settle down, though, and delivers a nuanced and resourceful portrait.
Marina Szijarto's excellent set makes it look as if Liberace has just exploded somewhere in the vicinity.
A lot of theatre is boring because it's emotionally timid. MacDonald's script and director Cameron Mackenzie's production aren't afraid to ooze bodily fluids.