THE GOD GAME

By Jeffrey Round
Dundurn
326 pages, $16.99 (paper)
ISBN: 9781459740105

Lambda Award-winning Toronto writer, Jeffrey Round, should be a household name in households that value gay detective fiction. The God Game, his new Dan Sharp mystery (the fifth in a series), is suspense-filled, has a vivid sense of place, and shows off Round’s special talent in the genre. Its plot concerns the missing husband of a gay Queen’s Park aide who seems to have run off to escape gambling debts, and gay detective Dan Sharp is hired to track him down. The nuts and bolts of detective fiction are in operation (a dead MPP; a mysterious figure who makes or breaks reputations of rising politicians; two sisters who trade identities; a political journalist who comes to a bad end; etc.), and the novel holds the reader’s attention throughout. But I, who am not a connoisseur of or an inveterate fan of detective fiction, don’t read Jeffrey Round merely for his tricks of suspense. I value him for his true literary motive: an exploration of human relationships within the circumscription of milieu, circumstance, and character—in other words, the exigencies of our lives, especially of gay lives, that (as Edmund White puts it) express the introspective advantages of the “outsider, of the foreigner and of the pioneer.” As a creator of gay fiction, Round performs meticulous research (on anything from gambling and local politics to gay art, LGBT issues, Weimar history, rap music, and funerary customs). He demonstrates a sensitive understanding of minority groups, and he habitually exercises an ability to reflect in fresh terms on themes of love, parenthood, friendship, disappointment, and survival in a changing world.

Every Jeffrey Round novel has a vivid sense of place, and this one is no exception. This is an instantly recognizable Toronto, with a crack-addicted mayor, gay MPP, and ethnic and stratified minorities, and its ambience is palpable, whether it issues from old-money, WASPish Rosedale, the working-class area of Bathurst and Dupont, or Queen’s Park. And Dan Sharp easily transcends clichés of the genre by the facts of his identity and unfolding existential complications. He is a gay father to an occasionally doubting son, a conflicted same sex partner, and the estranged lover of a man who provokes him into reflecting painfully on how one learns to love “through disappointment and doubt.” And Round’s flashes of wit (his chapter titles, his acidulous comment on gay status symbols, and his sketches of character) are signs of literary finesse—perhaps none so much as this phrase that crystallizes Dan’s ex-lover: “Narcissus crossed with a Botticelli angel.”

Advertisements

BLACK BOYS

By Saga Collectif
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
A Buddies in Bad Times Production, March 1-11, 2018

 

(L-R): Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Thomas Olajide, and Tawiah Ben M’Carthy

Having already been a smash hit in 2016 and completed a three-city tour to Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal, Black Boys is back for a brief run at Buddies. Offering itself (with tongue in cheek) as “a spiritual experience,” it is a 95-minute hybrid of dance, monologue, and discursive debate, circumscribed by the personal experiences of three black gay males in a predominantly white heterosexual world. The three are Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, a male with one black daddy and three white parents; Ghanaian-born Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy; and Thomas Olajide from Vancouver. The sparse décor (movable, gauzy sliding panels), restrained but effective lighting by Jareth Li, and strategic use of exotic costuming by Rachel Forbes later in the piece allow for greater sonic or vocal registers, and the two standout features are movement and monologue, especially with Virgilia Griffith’s dynamic choreography for solos and pas de deux (especially involving M’Carthy and Olajide).

Overall, it is fair to say that the piece is a spiritual experience, though clearly not in a religious sense. The church sequence is a hilarious parody of fundamentalist extremism and homophobia). In a well-wrought sequence about the history of “Amazing Grace,” the show hits a peak which is not, alas, held for long. Nevertheless, uneven though it is, what Black Boys manages to be a generally affecting subversive cross-genre entertainment—one that uses autobiography, sociology, politics, and sex as raw material with which to subvert the normal performative modes of gender, sexuality, and race. Anger is necessary fuel, and the black bodies become weapons of comment, protest, and attack. Sonic distortions (sound and video design by Stephen Surlin) conspire with gestural distortions to create an alluring complex, and there is ample comedy to balance the sombre, seedy, and troubling.

Jackman-Torkoff loves his own comedy, whether stripping totally early in the show, wearing a woman’s dress (rather badly), or parodying Brando’s cry for Stella from Streetcar. M’Carthy looks as appealing as black licorice, and has a voice and movement that are supple, sweet and sensuous. Olajide is sex and sin, racial pride and defiance rolled into one irresistible package. Trouble is that Black Boys over-extends itself, as some of the riffs go on with diminishing returns, and there are moments of hysteria as lean, loose-limbed Jackman-Torkoff is frequently self-indulgent in movement and vocal delivery to the point of grotesque exaggeration. However, he is not without merit, and he is more than balanced by M’Carthy’s incarnation of post-colonial African shame and, best of all, Olajide’s physical elegance and sensuality married to a potent vocal delivery that, in one stunning monologue about his black “frame” in a white “gallery,” that deploys well-wrought rhymes, crystallizes what this piece could have been as art rather than as interesting, provocative didacticism.