BWW Review: Song and Spoken Word Make POLY QUEER LOVE BALLAD a Touching Tale of Love and Romance
What happens when a monogamous lesbian songwriter and a polyamorous bisexual poet fall in love? Boundaries are set, broken, upheld, muddled, and re-established over and over again in a story that reflects the complications of modern dating and romantic relationships.
POLY QUEER LOVE BALLAD makes its Toronto premiere after a successful run at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and under director Julie McIsaac, this simple and human story proves that a show can be successful regardless of where its staged so long as it has something at its core. In the case of PQLB, there's a metaphorical beating heart behind everything said and done onstage - and that heartbeat literally backs the music of the production on more than one occasion.
As the sole characters to appear onstage, musician Gabbie (Sara Vickruck) and poet Nina (Anais West) struggle to figure out how best to navigate their relationship. It's a classic meet-cute; the pair are performing at the same open mic night during Pride and are instantly drawn to one another. It seems like a perfect match until the inevitable dropping of the other shoe - Nina is polyamorous and cannot change to suit Gabbie's need for a monogamous relationship. Despite their differing beliefs, the two decide to undertake the challenge their relationship presents, and it's the challenge that fulfills the role of antagonist.
Both actors are stellar; as co-creators, they've not only been able to live as the characters, but they've had a hand in forming them. The dialogue, at times stunted at one-to-two word exchanges during pivotal moments in their relationship, later swells into long, poetic monologues or catchy musical numbers, letting Gabbie and Nina express themselves in a way that makes sense for the characters. West shapes Nina as a wide-eyed writer and passionate lover of literature, while Vickruck's Gabbie is an open book who carries the comedic elements of the show with ease.
What's most impressive in the world-building of QUEER POLY LOVE BALLAD are the little details both actors have inserted into the show. In a moment of openness and sincerity, West's hands shake in fear and sincerity. Vickruck portrays a queer character who has not lost touch with her Christian roots and openly embraces them - something that doesn't happen often in LGBTQ+ media, which is completely fair because many people have traumatic experiences involving religion. Nonetheless, hearing bible passages in relation to the romantic love between two women worked incredibly well in this context, and opened up opportunities to inflict a gospel-tone throughout Gabbie's songs that really elevated the musical elements in the story.
What's especially important in this production is its depiction of love between two queer women. There is no objectification of either character; they dress as they want, they speak openly, and they are willing to fight for their beliefs - compromise is one thing, and there's plenty of discussion around both monogamy and polyamory, but neither is championed over the other as being "correct." Vickruck and West have created beautiful characters who are by no means perfect; but they feel real, and that's what makes POLY QUEER LOVE BALLAD work so well.
Theatre Passe Muraille presents POLY QUEER LOVE BALLAD, which runs through December 1 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://polyqueerloveballad.com/
Photo credit: Emily Cooper Photography