The Saint John Theatre Company is playing host to Lethbridge Alberta’s Theatre Outre and their production of UNSEX’d under the direction of Richie Wilcox. Touring the production are actor Adam Beauchesne, actor/co-writer Jay Whitehead. The two-man comedy explores the lives of two gay actors working in Shakespeare’s theatre company, and the roles they inhabit as the apprentice supplants the master.
The story begins with Wilburn (Jay Whitehead), an aging queen coming to grips with his diminishing prospects as a leading lady. He casts a spell to bring him a young and malleable foil to serve as his apprentice in hopes that Shakespeare will cast the younger actor in the pretty girlish parts, while saving the juicier more developed roles for himself. The spirits respond favourably with the appearance of Humphrey (Adam Beauchense), the young and simple bread monger, whom the flamboyant Wilburn takes under his tutelage. After much gruelling study, having been drilled in both diction and frills, Humphrey lands a role in the newest Shakespeare production, and comes to usurp the role of Lady Macbeth from Wilburn. A jealous catty rage ensues, and then ultimately, as with all tragic Shakespearean heroes, death.
UNSEX’d is brilliant in its witty dialogue, and clever wordplay. It is impressive in its delivery of rapid-fire Elizabethan-esque tongue-twisters, and at its best, works hard to set the record for zingers per minute. While their bawdy humour never pulls a punch, the inside joke, however, seems to be on the audience, as the actors manage to find every opportunity to air their naked backsides to the crowd. At their worst, they retread jokes on the stature of William Shakespeare’s little Willy, and exhaust an entire catalogue of metaphors for anal sex.
The characters of Wilburn and Humphrey are an obvious nod to Mr. Wilberforce Humphries of ‘Are You Being Served?’, one of the great sexually ambiguous characters of British comedy, when taken in measure with a full cast. UNSEX’d, however, isolates and duplicates that character, each blending into the other as young Humphrey grows in stature and ego, practically becoming the flamboyant Wilburn. The result is 70 minutes of watching the same two characters bicker each other to death.
The production is paradoxically intelligent, crass, witty, and crude. It ambitiously compares the relative freedoms and norms of gay men, and cross-dressers, against modern and Elizabethan society, and questions the merits of beauty versus experience. Ultimately, it is a laugh-a-minute, and a definite crowd pleaser, but viewer beware, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.