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Brainy Sex: Multiple Levels of Gay Sexual Tension are Revealed with a Flourish in Lillies

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You may not know what’s happening in the first 20 minutes or so of Lilies, or the Revival of a Romantic Drama now at convergence continuum .. Maybe even longer. But stay with it, because this richly textured script by Michel Marc Bouchard contains theatrical and thematic multitudes.

As a play within a play within a play, Bouchard’s piece, as translated from the French by Linda Gaboriau, is at times difficult to figure out. But thanks to skillful and sensitive direction by Tyson Douglas Rand, audience attentiveness is ultimately rewarded with a story that resonates on multiple levels.

Set in a Canadian prison in 1952, Bishop Bilodeau has been invited to visit the slammer by his childhood friend and longtime convict Simon. Led to a confessional, the Bishop expects to hear Simon’s confession. Instead, the prisoners hold him hostage to present a play that enacts the story of a tragedy that happened some 40 years before in Robeval, a cushy coastal town.

Back then three teenagers--Simon, Bilodeau and Vallier de Tilly—were classmates in a Catholic all-boys school, with Simon and Vallier experiencing the first pangs of adolescent homosexual attraction.

This is portrayed in a school play the boys are acting in titled “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian,” directed by the fey Father St. Michael (a most amusing Robert Branch). When he directs Vallier to fall limply onto the trussed body of Simon, playing Sebastian, we have the barely repressed gay yearnings of all three people intersecting in fascinating and complex ways.

Meanwhile, mamma’s boy Bilodeau parrots the tut-tuts he overhears from his mother and her cosseted friends, while secretly lusting after Simon himself.

Soon we meet Villier’s mother, the Countess, who adores love in all its forms, and Lydie-Anne de Rozier, whom Simon marries to become socially acceptable. Kissing chastely in public, this “romantic drama” between Simon and Lydie-Anne that occurred years before is now revived in a most scandalous way, especially in the Canada of the 1950s.

You see, since this is a male prison, the men’s and women’s parts are all acted by men (mirroring the boys school) and this is where Rand’s fine directorial touch is much in evidence. The performances are overdone without being campy, and amateurish (as would happen with inmates) while retaining a lovely charm and honesty. It is a delicate and remarkable balancing act that almost always works.

As the doomed Vallier, Jack Matuszewski is transfixed by his adoration of Simon, and Bobby Coyne captures the conflicted nature of the young Simon. Their scenes, while not exactly crackling with sexual chemistry, come close enough. The older Simon is played solidly by Michael Regnier, who doubles as Timothy, the footman of Vallier’s family.

Lydie-Anne is played with graceful panache by a fairly willowy Joe Dunn. But the most charming performance is turned in by Clyde Simon as the Countess. His overwrought hand gestures combine with a genteel voice and expressive eyes to find the perfect blend for this rough guy playing a refined lady. It is a performance to treasure.

The older Bilodeau (Dennis Sullivan) has little to do until the powerful and dramatic conclusion. As the young Bilodeau, Eric Sever wears out his poor little puppy dog expressions of dismay and never reveals the hard edge behind this young man’s vengefulness,

There are many themes in such profusion here: Bouchard interweaves the hypocrisy of the church with carnal desires, and shows how the artificial nature of theater can be used to reveal profound truths. Then there is the symbolism of earth, fire and water that repeatedly appear at crucial moments.

Lilies is a continually intriguing play that doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience, a seemingly rare commodity these days. And if it requires you to do a little heavy lifting with your cranium, well, there are worse experiences to be had in a theater.

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