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{ The wild youth, the drag queen, the career criminal, and the grieving lover on a road trip }
(L to R) Jason Jazrawy, Brian Sexsmith,
David Macniven, Terrence Bryant
Burying Michael
Written by Ken Brand
Directed by David Oiye
Produced for The Ladies' Auxillary Theatricals by Gordon MacKeracher
Starring Terrence Bryant, Jason Jazrawy, David Macniven, Brian Sexsmith
Presented by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, January 16-28, 2001
Review by Michael Cottrell

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's artistic director, David, Oiye, begins to wind down his first season with the staging of Winnipeg's gay writer Ken Brand's Burying Michael. It was with some reservation that I was heading off to the opeing of the play. It was bitterly cold... and dark. Why is it each year I forget how dark and cold Toronto winters can be? Maybe if I did remember, I would get myself to some sun-soaked beach instead of hailing down a cab just to get to the theatre.

To get to the theatre, to see a play about a person who died from AIDS, Michael. It is not that I want to live in denial, but queer theatre that consitantly deals with the AIDS crisis can become taxing, especially on a cold winter's night. I have seen Angels in America, part one and part two, Rent... three times, Love, Valour, Compassion, and all the arts and culture pieces that this city had to offer over the years and, denial or not, I want to move on or maybe just escape for a moment. If I can't be on the beach, wherever that beach might be, let me just escape into pleasant fantasies.

I was also hesitant because I had seen the workshopped piece, Burying Michael, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Pride 1998. My experience with workshopped pieces is that they may be good in that venue but far too often the writers take what might be a an acceptable "piece" and make into an anguishing production.

Terrence Bryant, who also performed in Brand's The Bathhouse Suite, sets the mood of the play.Closing the casket, he drags the limp dead body of his lover, Michael, offstage. This is no macabre act -- Max is taking his deceased loved one on a road trip, and what a trip it is.

Max leaves his best friend, Albert, the "career drag queen" played by Brian Sexsmith, out of the loop regarding his plans. Albert discovers at the funeral that not only is Max not present, neither is the body. Hasting the sad goodbye and the boo hoos, Albert hightails it off in hot pursuit of Max.

Brand's writing lends to great comedy. At 45, Bryant has commented that there are so few parts for middle-aged queer actors and he appears to relish playing 44-year old Max as he takes the character and makes him humourously believable.

Adding to the cast is Jason Jazrawy as Frank. Amongst the "mature" actors it is nice to have a little "eye candy". Frank helps Max on the road trip by seducing his way across borders and statelines by offering "favours" to various characters: trucker Dave, a State Trooper, and finally Billy, all played by David Macniven.

OK, maybe the premise of the play is a little hokey. How can you transport a dead body across country and over a border? Then again, wasn't there some guy a few years back that brought his dead father all the way up from down south in the back of his camper? I knew a lady once who wanted to put her dead husband in a car and transport him back to the city, but that was only a two-hour trip and she was not only in a state of grief, but also cheap.

Burying Michael is not meant to be a complicated production. It is a play where the cause of death is less important then the adventurous romp that follows. For a few brief moments I was able to escape reality, and isn't that what good theatre is all about, escaping?

Ken Brand does not disappoint his audience. Burying Michael is a full and worthy production. The workshopped piece is so completely blended into this new work that I could not even remember seeing any of the previous. Then again, I can't remember one cold miserable winter from the next.

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