In 2002 Vancity Credit Union received both kudos and much grief for its marketing campaign targeted to the gay and lesbian community in Vancouver. The gay community was, for the most part, pleased to see mainstream advertising directed at us (don’t get us wrong though – we still knew it was advertising), while the Catholic Church severed ties with Vancity over the very same campaign for promoting a gay “lifestyle”.
It is against this piece of local history that local Playwright, Michele Riml has created her latest work, Poster Boys, for the Arts Club and is enjoying another run after her successful Sexy Laundry in 2004.
Poster Boys recounts this time in Vancouver history by not only giving us the fictionalized account of two of the men that may have participated in a Vancity type campaign but also uses it to tell the story of Caroline (Lois Anderson), a 40-something high-powered executive who was dumped at the altar and still has to come to terms with who she is and ultimately accept herself.
It is actually this theme of acceptance which permeates through Riml’s play and we not only see Caroline’s acceptance of herself, we also see the two gay characters Carson (Daniel Arnold) and Jack (Scott Bellis) accepting themselves. Fortunately though it is the acceptance of other parts of their lives that helps make Riml’s story into more than just a play about a couple of gay guys finally accepting themselves as being gay.
Layered on top of the marketing campaign is also the fact that Caroline has had a previously relationship with one of the “poster boys” (we won’t spoil what the relationship is though it doesn’t take much to figure it out early in the show). It isn’t until one of the more delicious scenes towards the end of the show where Caroline wants to take the marketing campaign to its next level complete with wedding, a large pink and yellow cake in the Pride parade, that this “secret” is finally revealed.
There are stereotypes here but Riml manages to temper these with a sense of humour. When Carson makes his first appearance the audience collectively cringed and wondered why did they have to make him so gay? Fortunately, Riml had the sense to give the next line to his partner Jack who asks him that very same question.
Interestingly enough the night we saw the show there was a decided lack of queer folk in the house and as a result some of Riml’s very clever “jokes-that-only-a-gay-man-would-get” simply went over the heads of most of the audience while a few of us laughed out loud.
And indeed Riml does have a knack for some very funny dialogue. When Carson is asked what his favourite gay television show is his answer (at least for us gays in the audience) was laugh-out-loud funny.
All of the cast does a good job with what they have been given although Daniel Arnold does stand-out doing double-duty as both Carson, the gay Catholic (an oxymoron for sure), and as Caroline’s conscience in drag.
In a recent interview in Playbill, playwright Riml was asked what she hoped audiences would take away from Poster Boys. First and foremost she hopes the audience is entertained. She succeeded. But she also succeeded in reminding us of a small but significant time in Vancouver’s queer history and that is important too.