The Gay Heritage Project makes you laugh, cry, and maybe argue some historical points

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      By Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre production, presented by the Cultch. At the Cultch's Historic Theatre on Wednesday, March 2. Continues until March 19

      The Gay Heritage Project is funny, smart, and moving. Pretty much everything you could want in a show. But I'm going to treat this like a date and find fault, too.

      In this project from Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, three young, gay theatre artists-Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir-try to figure out what the heck gay heritage is. 

      Right out of the gate, they deconstruct the popular but faulty notion that gay identity has always existed. There have always been homosexual acts, but those acts haven't always been a primary determinant of the sense of self. In one of the funniest bits in the show, Dorothy and her companions from The Wizard of Oz visit the Emerald City in search of their gay heritage and are distressed to find that the man behind the curtain is Michel Foucault, the postmodern French philosopher who positioned gayness as a recent cultural artifact. 

      Atkins, who wrote the Oz piece, is a fantastic performer. Just wait till you hear his impersonations of Judy Garland and Bert Lahr, the actor who played the Cowardly Lion. And he starts the show with a hilarious bit in which he portrays himself as a little kid jumping around his living room, acting out all of skater Brian Orser's long program from the 1988 Winter Olympics. Now that's gay, no matter what Foucault says. 

      The show's creators all perform their own material, and many of Dunn's offerings present historical information that's often forgotten--the ongoing incarceration of gay prisoners after the liberation of all other survivors from the Nazi death camps, for instance. 

      These guys sing like queer angels: one mashup includes everything from an Edith Piaf impersonation to bits from Rent. And an ongoing bit called "Gay Canadian Action Figures" is clever and important. Movingly, the mention of Vancouverites Jim Deva and Janine Fuller, who won a censorship battle with Canada Customs, brought cheers from the opening-night audience. 

      Okay, downsides. The members of this all-white acting company spend a lot of time considering their racial responsibilities. It would have been a lot more efficient and interesting if they had simply invited some diverse artists to join them. 

      And I take issue with the Kushnir piece in which the character Gay Identity admits that he abandoned Gay Desire, Gay Drag, and Gay Camp to achieve acceptance. These characters all seem to be male, but since when have gay men given up lust? Or drag? Or camp? The argument that inclusion means dilution has always been popular in progressive circles, in which complaint is always cooler than celebration, but it doesn't hold water. 

      Speaking of complaint, I'll stop now. I laughed at this show. I cried. I'm very grateful.