Toronto-based performer Rob Salerno has quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the International Fringe circuit, having created his own unique brand of Queer theatre shows, including the hit show Fucking Stephen Harper, which he proudly and boldly takes to the Calgary Fringe Festival next month. Currently, Salerno is in Halifax at the Queer Acts Festival performing his show Big In Germany, which Toronto audiences saw during the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival.
This production has a new cast, a tighter script and also has Salerno switch roles from playing Bruce, the more diffident and practical bass guitarist to Alex, the gutsy, girl crazy front man. The essence of the story, however, remains the same. Alex and Bruce become friends in Junior High School and share grandiose dreams of following in the footsteps of Our Lady Peace and Broken Social Scene proving that one can become a world famous, internationally celebrated musician despite being born and raised in Toronto. Eventually, however, fame and fortune finds them multi- platinum in Germany, but this luck and their star power disappears once they return to North America.
As reality hits Alex and Bruce they come face to face with another obstacle beyond sorting out day jobs (in the porn industry no less) and being forced to compromise on their rock star fantasies. The power dynamic for the boys changes as Bruce comes out of the closet and his sexualized feelings for his best friend become apparent to both of them.
Salerno, as you might imagine from the playwright of a play entitled Fucking Stephen Harper, is especially gifted at writing sardonic and witty quips, often at the expense of someone (or something) famous as well as a talent for the double entendre. His humour can be caustic and it can be raunchy, but within the context of the playfulness of his characters, it becomes boyish and even at times charming. A lot of his jokes are very Toronto-specific, taking aim at things like Downsview Station, Olivia Chow and The Danforth, but I think that, in general, Halifax theatre audiences tend to have an intimate enough knowledge of Toronto that these jokes should land well regardless. Big In Germany does not try to delve deep. It is a comedy built on clever lines and endearing characters that indulges just enough into the seediness of the porn industry to breed a little bit of absurdity and to feel just a little bit naughty.
Yet, this play still manages to conjure up some interesting issues that lie at the heart of this friendship and that are certainly not unique to the theatre. Where is the line between friendship and intimacy, between intimacy and love and between love and sex? How does society condition us to manoeuvre around these matters of the heart? The play also, of course, satirically raises the question of why it is so difficult to make your dreams come true in a place like Ontario, which is also, I think, a legitimate and pertinent question we should be considering.
The three actors in the play all give solid performances. Eric Miinch plays Bruce as introspective and submissive, sweet and quite grounded. He has especially good chemistry with Phil, the straight-shooting Porn Producer, played by Daniel Pagett. Salerno gives Alex great, whirlwind gusto to go along with his heightened sense of reality and the sense that he still embodies the world view of a restless 8th grader. One challenge in Salerno’s performance is that Alex reads almost as sexually ambiguous as Bruce. This, of course, can be a fascinating character choice since we know that boxing characters, gay or straight, into their gender stereotypes is more often than not both dangerous and boring, but it can be confusing for an audience trying to assess the dichotomy between Alex and Bruce if it is unclear whether one or both of them is harbouring homoerotic feelings. Beyond that and a little superfluous arm movements, Salerno gives Alex some really strong emotional moments, sharp comic timing and manages to make Alex a complete numbskull, but one that audiences can really care about, which I think is the most important.
Big In Germany is a great show to see if you want a night of fun-loving comedy, cute boys and just a smidgen of Julia Roberts, and really, who among us doesn’t want that?
Big In Germany plays at the Queer Acts Theatre Festival, at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) at the following times:
July 20- 6:30pm
July 21- 9:30pm
July 22- 9:30pm