With a city as culturally diverse as Vancouver, colour-blind casting, where actors of colour are cast in roles that may have traditionally been played by white actors, is becoming more of a necessity. For The Priory director Kevin Bennett though, his own colour-blind casting is complimented by sexuality-blind casting with a straight man playing one of the show’s key gay roles and a gay actor playing it straight.
“In casting a show it doesn’t matter to me whether an actor is gay or straight,” said Bennett. “As a director I’m looking for those certain qualities that an actor can bring to a role, not their sexual orientation.”
In Michael Wynne’s booze and cocaine fueled New Year’s dark comedy, The Priory sees a group of 30-something friends reunited for New Year’s in the English countryside. Among the guests is gay architect Daniel played by straight actor James Elston, who not only mysteriously leaves his British accent at home but gets a surprise booty call visit from Adam (Christopher Cook), a young man he recently met on the internet. Cook’s appearance as Adam is so fleeting it felt as if it could have been left as conversational fodder as Daniel re-evaluates his search for human connection in a digital world built on instant gratification.
With relationships at the core of the show, Bennett says that casting has as much to do with how the actors relate to each other as much as anything else. For the role of Carl it was all about how the actor would be able to relate to Caitlin Clugston who would play his wife. Bennett ultimately tapped Gui Fontanezzi, the second of the two gay actors in the cast, and while Clugston and he manage a certain vitriolic tone to their roles, at times it tended to a monotone of shouting.
Among the other cast it was Genevieve Fleming as the loopy “I-love-the-gays” Laura that steals much of the show and as she heads into her own dark downward spiral, helps put the rest of the character’s issues into perspective.
Gui Fontanezzi, Christopher David Gauthier, James Elston, Christopher Cook & Kevin Bennett of United Players The Priory.
While Bennett, Elston and Fontanezzi prove that who they sleep with has little bearing on one’s ability to play a role, the four gay members of this cast and crew wish they had more visible role models to draw inspiration. “I think those formative years when you’re a teenager, when you’re aspiring to figure out what you want to do, that’s when they are essential,” said Cook.
For Bennett it is important for him to see any role model, whether in theatre or any other line of work, happy in what they do. Costume designer Christopher David Gauthier, desperate for some reflection of himself growing up, thought the world a frightening place until he found them himself.
As to any moral responsibility to come out publicly, the foursome appears to be split. “Everyone has the right to do whatever they want. It is not my position to tell anyone what they should or should not do. For sure if they do it would be for the greater good, but I don’t think people are free to do what they want,” said Fontanezzi. Bennett echoes this comment, saying that the whole notion of coming out publicly can be a bit tricky.
Gauthier takes a more pragmatic approach, wondering out loud how abilities have anything to do with where one puts their penis. Cook agrees: “People need to be more honest about their sexuality. It shouldn’t be a ‘thing’ anymore.”
While playwright Wynne attempts to expose our world with our collective moral compasses off course, he does so with little surprise. Having to be reminded of the true direction by a bunch of self-absorbed wankers shouldn’t be a ‘thing’ either. Thankfully these members of The Priory’s company are doing a decent enough job of it in real life.
(A version of this article first appeared in the November 17, 2011 edition of Xtra! and on Xtra.ca.)
By Michael Wynne. Directed by Kevin Bennett. A United Players of Vancouver production. On stage at the Jericho Arts Centre through December 4, 2011. Visit http://www.unitedplayers.com for tickets and information.