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Pansexual absinthe café culture, circa 1888

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Pansexual absinthe café culture, circa 1888

COVER STORY / Bohemians let loose in Fringe offering

Jessica Ruano / Capital Xtra / Wednesday, June 04, 2008

 

Straight people get drunk and experiment with gay sex — it's good fodder for advice columns. Was the open bar at the wedding really your reason for kissing that gorgeous bridesmaid?

 

I have always been amused reading sexual advice columns containing letters from straights alarmed by their first (accidental?) gay encounter. Their continued claim to heterosexuality usually involves an excuse about being drunk when the incident occurred.

 

Getting hammered can pardon those who cannot yet fully embrace their desires. Drugs and booze are a free pass to cheat on our spouses and pursue members of the same sex; they allow us to become whores, to seem intelligent, to appear charming, and most of all to be artists.

 

Local theatre company Mutatis Mutandis takes a look at the sheer power given to a certain mysterious drink, the infamous Green Fairy. As part of this year's Ottawa and Montreal fringe festivals, the company presents A Leave of Absinthe — a collection of scenes that revolve around the absinthe culture of France, 1888.

 

During the late 19th century, absinthe was popular in bars and cafés among the wealthy bourgeois and Bohemian artists. In fact, it was reported that certain French prostitutes, having not eaten in three days, would provide sexual favours in exchange for shots of absinthe. If you believe the literature of the time, the drink was behind every debauchery and licentious activity that occurred in these cafés.

 

"Absinthe has been blamed rightly or wrongly — usually wrongly — for a great deal of radical and scandalous behaviour. Not least of this 'blame' was directed at scandalous behaviour by women, the drink supposedly prompting them to abandon their traditional roles and responsibilities, showing instead degrees of independence, free thought and eschewing a subservient role to men — and yes, even 'turning' lesbian," explains director David Whiteley.

 

Whiteley is gaining a reputation for writing gender-bending adaptations of classic plays. In the fall, he adapted and directed Othella, swapping a female Moor into Shakespeare's tragedy. For last year's Fringe, Whiteley wrote and performed in What Goes Around..., a translation of Arthur Schnitzler's play consisting of 10 love scenes. Same sex love stole the show, thanks to steamy lesbian eroticism from actress Margo MacDonald.

 

In this new production, MacDonald plays one of the scandalous women whose intake of the green drink causes her to reveal her desire for other women, expressed through the seduction of a young doll.

 

"Why should I care what men think? I have a lover, too; she's a dancer. Absinthe will free you. One more sip and you could kiss me," MacDonald recites lines from the script that the actors have been workshopping.

 

Teri Rata Loretto (director of Toto Too's Theatrelife last August) plays Charlotte the Harlot, as well as a nurse describing the scientific process of testing absinthe on guinea pigs. As the collective has discovered, most of the results were a little contrived and highly exaggerated.

 

"This comes directly from the lab notes: 'you see in its eyes, the impulse to kill,'" dramatizes Loretto, amused by these descriptions of murderous rodents under the influence.

 

Rounding out the cast are our cover models, actors David Hersh as café host Salis, and Richard Gélinas playing the satirical writer Allais.

 

Enthused by several doses of absinthe, they take on the role of two further historical figures —the poets Paul Verlaine and a 17-year-old Arthur Rimbaud. Their infamous affair was said to revolve around art and absinthe.

 

"No one today — or no one of credibility or consequence, at least — could take seriously the idea that this drink perverted French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine to become homosexual lovers, or that women changed their sexual orientation as a result of drinking Absinthe. But the fact that a drink could be responsible for such transformations was fascinating for us, and we're confident it will likewise captivate our audiences," says Whiteley. spacer.gif The Ottawa Fringe Festival runs Jun 19-29. Most shows are $10, and festival passes are available ($40-70.) A Leave of Absinthe opens Jun 22. spacer.gif www.ottawafringe.com

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It sounds like a fun play.

Alcohol has always been an excuse for one or more to lose their inhibitions, among other things.

GoooooooTeam! ;)

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The six-pack rule?

 

When I first saw it, I cringed. But after I started reading I realized it sounded kind of fun.

 

The play, that is.

 

 

Thank you for clarifying.

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Being the southern homophobic that I am, I could not get far enough through the story to find out that it was a play. That's definitely not a play that I will be going to see.

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Sounds fun!

 

I have no issue with homosexual themes in art as long as it fits the work and doesn't come off as part of someone's preachy agenda, and in this case I must say they've got it by the short hairs. There's no denying the strange stew of sexuality in Paris at that time, so good for them for dramatizing it. :cheers:

 

The only part that worries me is the line about women (at that time) trading sexual favors for shots of Absinthe... Any chance we can get in touch with these folks and make sure they're not doing flaming shots on stage??

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After Rocky Horror, pansexual sounds down right demur.

The Fringe absolutely rocks. Even their failures are cutting edge experiments with more cojones than the GRA. I'd love to catch this show.

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"No one today — or no one of credibility or consequence, at least — could take seriously the idea that this drink perverted French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine to become homosexual lovers, or that women changed their sexual orientation as a result of drinking Absinthe. But the fact that a drink could be responsible for such transformations was fascinating for us, and we're confident it will likewise captivate our audiences," says Whiteley.

 

So, basically what Whitely is saying here is that he is a person of neither credibility, nor consequence. B)

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I had the same thought.

 

Being the southern homophobic that I am, I could not get far enough through the story to find out that it was a play. That's definitely not a play that I will be going to see.

You won't need to see the play, because absinthe is turning everyone on this forum into a lesbian, including you, Wilson. If only you'd given up absinthe after a glass or two! Now it's too late.

 

I have no issue with homosexual themes in art as long as it fits the work and doesn't come off as part of someone's preachy agenda.

Hmm. That's large of you, and thanks for clarifying. :dry:

 

I love this:

 

MacDonald plays one of the scandalous women whose intake of the green drink causes her to reveal her desire for other women, expressed through the seduction of a young doll.

The seduction of a young doll! I'm tempted to take up acting again, just so I can audition with that scene.

.

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Your restraint is admirable and wit wry, Brooks. As always, the consummate gentleman.

 

I have visions of my students engaging in graphic auditions with Barbies, now. Eeeek.

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They might surprise you with their inventiveness. Seduction needn't be overtly sexual, after all. I can imagine one of your students holding Barbie at arm's length and saying: "Hey....wanna go bowling?"

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Hey Brooks, I'm afraid my statement came out wrong. I didn't mean to imply that there should be restrictions on art, just that I find agendas boring and stereotypes offensive. Give me fleshed out characters over cardboard caricatures any day. This play sounds promising and I only meant to point out the wealth of real-world detail they could draw from.

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The play, that is.

 

Thank you for clarifying.

Crossing the tracks sounds fun, too. Somehow...

 

beef.jpg

 

"No one today — or no one of credibility or consequence, at least — could take seriously the idea that this drink perverted French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine to become homosexual lovers, or that women changed their sexual orientation as a result of drinking Absinthe. But the fact that a drink could be responsible for such transformations was fascinating for us, and we're confident it will likewise captivate our audiences," says Whiteley.

 

So, basically what Whitely is saying here is that he is a person of neither credibility, nor consequence. B)

Taken in context with the rest of his statements, I believe that Whiteley meant "the fact that a drink could be [thought] responsible for such transformations was fascinating."

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I didn't mean to imply that there should be restrictions on art...

Nah, I didn't take it that way.

 

It raises my hackles when I see the words "agenda" and "homosexual" in the same sentence. The notion of a "gay agenda" — which people use, out of fear and ignorance, to justify homophobia — would be hilarious if it weren't so wrongheaded and damaging.

 

People are gay, straight, bisexual, or asexual. Sexual orientation is a fact. Like an eyebrow. There's no "agenda" on earth that can make a person something they're not.

 

Only absinthe can do that. We, the 1,320 lesbians of the Wormwood Society, are living proof that absinthe makes all things possible. ;)

 

This play sounds promising

I'm not defending this play. It sounds funny, but who knows? Might be a DAWG!

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That's funny Brooks, I was actually thinking of anti gay agendas as much as pro gay ones. Must be 'cause I got turned into a Lesbian by this here Absinthe...

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That review struck me as lighthearted, overall. Tolerant, even, as revealed in such lines as:

 

Same sex love stole the show, thanks to steamy lesbian eroticism from actress Margo MacDonald.

HA! And isn't it funny that the most virulent, hateful, anti-gay good 'ol boys somehow find a soft spot in their hearts for steamy lesbian eroticism?

 

I'm less crazy about the use of the word "perverted" in this line:

 

No one today......could take seriously the idea that this drink perverted French poets Rimbaud and Verlaine to become homosexual lovers.

According to one dictionary:

 

PERVERTED

1. Pathology. Changed to or being of an unnatural kind.

2. Turned from what is right; wicked; misguided; distorted.

3. To cause to turn away from what is right, proper, or good; corrupt.

4. To bring to a bad or worse condition; debased.

 

In this context, I take exception to connotations of "pathology" (homosexuality isn't a disease), "unnatural" (gay people, a stable minority, have comprised "X" percent of the population since the dawn of time), and "wicked," "misguided," "corrupt," "debased" (no more so than the general population).

 

Must be 'cause I got turned into a Lesbian by this here Absinthe...

Oh, right.....blame everything on your lesbianism!

.

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HA! And isn't it funny that the most virulent, hateful, anti-gay good 'ol boys somehow find a soft spot in their hearts for steamy lesbian eroticism?!

.

Not iffen they look like Pat™

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HA! And isn't it funny that the most virulent, hateful, anti-gay good 'ol boys somehow find a soft spot in their hearts for steamy lesbian eroticism?!

.

 

I believe this is because it represents the perfection of homophobic heterosexual desire: two of what they want to see (i.e. naked barbie doll women) and none of what they fear they might look at too long (i.e. some other guys schlong).

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I believe this is because it represents the perfection of homophobic heterosexual desire: two of what they want to see (i.e. naked barbie doll women) and none of what they fear they might look at too long (i.e. some other guys schlong).

 

I don't know if that's necessarily homophobic. For most guys, dicks are like farts. If it's not their own, they want no part of it.

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I dunno. I'm *not interested* in other guy's dicks, but I can say there's some people whose farts I find mortally terrifying.

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I am drinking the first glass of Kübler I have had in a few weeks, and I guess I am feeling a little like a lesbian. Maybe there is something to your theory after all Brooks. I am not ready to get oily yet. I should go back to the scotch before I get too luscious.

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I'm telling you it's too late. Your fate is sealed.

 

Take this quick test: Feel your pectorals. Are they slightly softer than they were, say, five years ago? Right. Those are budding lesbian knockers. Next stage: Oil and a training bra.

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