The Toronto Theatre Review: Body So Fluorescent
“I’m just looking for the trigger. The trigger– The moment when– I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just..”
Those are the words first spoken, by a singular soul who has entered the space, tentatively, looking distraught and upset. With make-up running down their cheeks, the character is epically sad; desperate to know, and so are we, what happened last night on that dance floor. It’s a captivatingly strong entry into the blazingly strong Body So Fluorescent, the one-person show brought to spectacular life by the theatre companies, Madonnanera, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and B Current Performing Arts. Holding court on the main stage at the Buddies space in downtown Toronto, this magnificently tantalizing two-part examination of friendship, race, and cultural appropriation shifts and flips forward, as strong and fierce as the complex alter-ego we meet soon after.
Co-written and performed to perfection by Amanda Cordner (YPT’s Snow White; HBOMax’s “Sort Of“) as directed with sharpness by co-writer David Di Giovanni (Wring the Roses), Body So Fluorescent astonishes, partly because of the layers upon layers it unpacks about gay men and their privileged blind cultural appropriation with a sharp complex insight inside that resonates, and also from the exceptionally smart script that digs into the loyal opposing force field that is performed with a bravery that is unparalleled.
This is one of those theatrical experiences that the less you know walking in, the better position you are in to experience its brilliance (so I’m going to do my best to not let the sharp gyrations out of the proverbial bag). Written with a super-strong connection to the material and to one another, Cordner and Di Giovanni elevate and twist the scenarios forward into our laps for examination. It pulsates with a dynamic duality of character that expands the experience and unearths the complex creation at its core. It is a heart-expanding deep dive into that unbalanced friendship that exists between a troubled young gay man named Gary and his support system that is embodied by a straight Black woman named Desiree. But with a flip of a switch, thanks to the shockingly brilliant set and lighting design by Rebecca Vandevelde (Tarragon’s My Sister’s Rage) alongside the essential composition and sound design by Steven Bowa (“BSF“), a transfixing shift in body, voice, and manner comes gyrating out of the impish darkness going by the name of Shenice. Shenice is no pushover, telling you upfront and aggressively that she “ain’t no basic bitch” and will not be messed with. At first, we don’t quite see the full picture, but little by little that trigger and snap that is being searched for becomes very apparent, and the illumination on that dark dance floor will explode with power and light inside our collective heads.
With both frames projecting emotional truths and heartbreak that are as authentic as they are surprising, Body So Fluorescent digs in deep to the pulsating co-dependent heart of this intimate piece, pulling and pushing through the grabbing and touching that brought about such tension and despair. Costumed impeccably by Madonnanera (with Rachel Forbes), the two-part approach unleashes as much anger and frustration as it does heartfelt pain and aloneness between those two friends. Cordner, celebrated for her work on the HBO Max series “Sort Of” and “The Baroness von Sketch Show“, brings a heightened level of brittle brutal honesty to this bare stage, daring us to look away with full knowledge that we just can’t. Utterly brilliant and oh-so-talents, the energy and depth of all that they unpack is awe-inspiring, wishing in my head that this production continues to have a huge life ahead of it. I even fantasized that it would or could make its way to New York, possibly the Soho Playhouse stage or something similar, just so I could tell all my theatre buddies there to go. Cause it really does need to be seen.
The only part that I didn’t quite get was the inclusion of the drag performers, Sanjina Dabish Queen and Kenya Rami,, who were fun and talented, one of which opened the show and also performed a number in the middle of this piece. The energy felt different and not complimentary, but that might have had something to do with the ‘relaxed performance’ I attended (which I have to say that Buddies handled that ever-so brilliantly!). But that middle break did give Cordner a moment to catch their breath before returning to the stage. And when she does, Cordner throws us for a turbulent loop, taking us down a whole different dark passageway through a crowd of inappropriate actions, dynamically used plastic, and a sea of grabbing hands. Mindblowingly smart and well executed. When we finally do get our bearings and tune in to this brilliantly crafted moment of confrontation, all we can do is lean in more, feeding on the undercurrents that their powerful orchestration has brought forth to the stage. Don’t you dare miss the smart sharp production, Body So Fluorescent at BuddiesTO, because that trigger needs to be found, unpacked, and delivered forth into our collective consciousness.
This is a brilliantly written review, Ross. You really captured the essence of the play with your words. After reading about how Body So Fluorescent examines friendship, race, and cultural appropriation, I’m left wondering how the playwrights address these issues and the impact it has on the audience. Did you notice any particular reactions or discussions among the crowd after the show?
So much was discussed after this performance that it’s difficult to play out, but the play really does make you want to pull apart so much about all things this play examines, especially friendship, race, and cultural appropriation, and how it plays out in our support systems.