While en route to the opening night of Queer Bathroom Stories, we were almost run over by a woman rushing to get into Shoppers Drug Mart. A cascading mop of dyed blonde curls studded with bright red flowers capped a heavily painted face atop an androgynous gangly form. Her beaming smile was what made us notice, she looked good and knew it. I barely registered the almost instantaneous calculations that I made: Straight girl on her way to a party? Drag queen on her way to a gig? Trans? The attempting to slot was a reflex and, on the edge of the Village, a redundant one. All that mattered was that she looked great and made us smile in return.
It was not until partway through Queer Bathroom Stories that I bothered to think: where does she go to pee?
Queer Bathroom Stories consists of a serious of vignettes culled from the interviews that playwright Sheilagh Cavanagh conducted for her book Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination. It is an area that, as I had just discovered, most of us haven't given much thought. Everyone who sees Queer Bathroom Stories will never take the act of urination or defecation for granted again.
The cast - Hallie Burt, Tyson James and Chy Ryan Spain - inhabit dozens of different characters who tell their stories, switch roles, switch genders and gender identification, and move on to the next. Many of the fragments are fascinating - some are wildly comic, some heartbreaking - but they are fragments and as soon as the audience becomes involved with a character or dilemma, Queer Bathroom Stories introduces a new one. The cast is very committed and adopt a variety of accents, vocal inflections and mannerisms to differentiate the characters, but they aren't given enough to work with and the effect is Brechtian rather than a cast of thousands.
That the actors' genders are fluid is a clever illustration of Queer Bathroom Stories' main thrust of the need to respect gender variance, but it was disconcerting that stereotypical signifiers of male and female, and gay male, were used to indicate characters identities. I guess those reflexes are even more ingrained than I thought.
The design of Queer Bathroom Stories is quite spectacular and matches the very high standards that Buddies has set of late. Gleaming black tiles that turn transparent at the right moments create a sexually charged backdrop - how many gay porns take place in public restrooms? - but the looming stick figures are the dominant symbol: sex in public restrooms is touched on but Queer Bathroom Stories is more concerned with the exclusionary nature of gendered lavatories than with the erotic potential of washrooms in general.
Queer Bathroom Stories makes a convincing case for non-gendered restrooms, for not gender segregating or policing in general, and makes the audience contemplate the automatic assumptions and prejudices we all have. When Queer Bathroom Stories ends, the sound system explodes into action with a familiar tune by the English Beat,
Mirror in the bathroom please talk free
The door is locked just you and me
and the audience, bopping to the infectious beat, has looked in the mirror and will never look at whomever they share a lavatory with in the same way again.
Queer Bathroom Stories continues until Sun, June 15 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com