An urgently relevant queer history by Minmar Gaslight Productions
Factory Theatre Mainspace, July 8th BY MILES FORRESTER
The Factory Theatre is nestled in the intersection of Adelaide and Bathurst, behind a line of trees which insulate its garden bar and box office from the heat and noise of the bustling block. Internet and phones are out all over Canada, so everyone is out in full force. It's the type of summer day that we wait all year for in Toronto: almost too hot to do anything, so everything must be done. But inside the theatre proper, after the garden and modern glass extension, Toronto becomes cool, dark, and carpeted.
Writer Steven Elliott Jackson's portrait of silent film star Alla Nazimova (Rebecca Perry) draws the narrative around Nazimova's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's symbolist tragedy, Salomé. Self-produced and never distributed, all the audience sees of Salomé is represented by an emerald robe with orchid petal sleeves made for Alla by her designer and lover, Natacha Rambova (Neta J. Rose). Shawn Lall plays Charles Bryant, who occasionally directs for Alla and plays her husband for appearances. These three artists set out to make something incredible despite the looming reign of the religious lobbyist William B. Hays threatening the possibility of these three queer artists ever working again.
Though their doomed production was a famously dreamlike art film, Garden of Alla is a decided realist end-of-an-era drama set in Alla's sprawling Hollywood estate. Director Andrew Lamb uses the whole stage and some dynamite antique pieces to make the minimal Fringe set seem palatial, with ferns in bamboo planters acting as synecdoches for the titular garden. Bottle green lighting gives an air of decadence, and its eventual absence subtly implies decline.
Jackson's script delights in showing his erudition; many names are dropped. Still, they all work well at building the argument that this is an era with precarious freedoms for LGBTQUIA2S+ people, and it's especially relevant now. It helps that it's delivered so well by the performers, an early scene between Perry and Rose blends exposition and seduction wonderfully. The charming Shawn Lall injects anxiety into the threesome as the bearer of bad news, pointing out how a recent murder in Hollywood will bring undue attention to them as repressive forces take every opportunity to conflate queerness with the violence that also can exist on the periphery. He also points out that adapting Salomé is dangerous, with Wilde, 30 years dead, being willed into a memory hole by the straight world surrounding them.
Being the tragic heroine, Alla chooses to pursue art and love against all odds, and Perry is excellent at playing her. Bridging delusion and courageousness, Perry uses Alla's mannerisms for great comedic effect while keeping her desire and tenderness at the centre of her performance. Withstanding an ongoing history and personal betrayal without contradiction, Perry's Alla loves prismatically and without contradiction.
The players took the opportunity to recommend three shows also playing at Fringe, which I feel compelled to share with anyone else who's attending Fringe:
Correction: Andrew Jackson, here correctly credited as the writer, was misidentified as the Director of The Garden of Alla; this error has now been rectified and we apologize for any confusion it may have caused. | 12/07/2022 – 2:19pm