Volume 91, Issue 75

Wednesday, February 11, 1998



Come out and play, or just come out

By Brad Lister
Gazette Staff

Just a kiss, just a kiss, I have lived just for this.

So the line begins from the k.d. lang song "Miss Chatelaine," which inspired and is the name of the current one-man show at the McManus Theatre in the basement of The Grand Theatre.

The touching show written by Alberta native Damien Atkins tells the tale of George, a young gay man of 20 who is quickly preparing for his first blind date with a boy. Atkins, a 22-year-old actor, wrote the show when he was 19 and has been touring for about two and a half years.

McManus is the perfect venue for the intimate, intensely personal and very funny story Atkins has created. In all, Atkins plays a multitude of characters in the play, ranging from George's mother, to his grandmother, to the teachers in the gay school portion of the show.

The bulk of the situations come out of deeply personal experiences for Atkins. "I wanted to explore so many ideas and themes with 'Miss Chatelaine'," he says. Many issues are explored in the show, from the idea of 'coming out,' which is compared to a debutante ball to the idea of gay-dar.

However, the story does open with innocent George falling out of the closet and the ideas of 'coming out' are explored heavily throughout. In the playbill, Atkins says he hopes everyone will come away with something. The show, he says, is about the 'coming out' process that all young gay people go through. He says gays and lesbians have a very specific kind of coming out.

Every night Atkins brings to life 46 characters – slipping effortlessly between them all. "When I've been away from it, it takes a long time to become second nature again to get back into the characters," Atkins says. He adds there are certain touchstones he finds with each character that helps him get into them.

There is also another rhythm he has to find – getting used to where the audience will be laughing. As an actor, Atkins knows he needs to take the time to not comment on the action. "As a character, I know I need to do this – but as an actor, I know I need to let the audience catch up."

With a very strongly gay-themed play, Atkins knows he's drawing two separate audiences. You can pick them out of the crowd, he says. "I find the most typical positive gay reaction is that they feel affirmed, while the straight audience is pretty emotional and quiet and thoughtful." He adds that a lot of the humour is self-indulging and the audience may not laugh, but it helps everyone to understand George's trauma.

Connecting to George is fairly easy for Atkins because George is a lot like Atkins was when he was younger. Being 22, Atkins feels he's grown and gotten away from an Edmonton mentality and gotten into a Toronto state of mind – the city he says has a friendlier gay atmosphere and where he's been living for the last two years.

George is very naive in some respects and smart in others and Atkins feels that's typical of the character. Naivety is an evil word though, he says, that people tend to throw around. He says "Miss Chatelaine" comes from a very youthful and optimistic point of view and people equate that with naivety. "I resent that because 'naive' infers that you don't know something and you really should."

The play itself took a while to pull together and Atkins and director and dramaturge Stephen Heatley started to group the scenes and draw ideas together during initial rehearsals. We tried to find ways to link the play together, says Atkins. Each section of the play is successfully intertwined by a bit called 'letters to famous homosexuals,' which successfully pulls the ideas of each section into a tidy structure.

That structure Atkins will not take full credit for. Heatley really helped Atkins pull together the scenes he had written into the show. "He left the phrasing up to me," says Atkins, but he was concerned about the ideas. He wanted the audience to get the ideas.

Not simply just the inspiration for the title but the entire show, "Miss Chatelaine" helped Atkins pull his vision together. This theme song by k.d. lang, as described by Atkins, would actually sum up the play – all George really wants is to be loved and to have the proverbial kiss. He says that before he even knew what would fill the rest of the show, he knew he wanted to journey from "Miss Chatelaine" to "Little Bird" by Annie Lennox, which would close the show.

Even though k.d. lang has inspired the whole show and even though she hasn't seen it, Atkins says, "I don't want to stalk her, but I would love for her to see it."

Paging k.d. lang to the McManus then – Miss Chatelaine is something to see.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998