Poly Queer Love Ballad at SkirtsAfire: negotiating romance in a complicated world

Sara Vickruck and Anais West in Poly Queer Love Ballad. Photo by Emily Cooper.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Last night at SkirtsAfire, I caught a charming and  intricate new two-hander musical that explores, in an original way, how to tell a contemporary, perpetually-in-progress love story.

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The eighth and (at 10 days) biggest-ever edition of E-town’s annual celebration of women artists, has acquired a hit from  last summer’s Vancouver Fringe and beyond. Slam poetry hooks up with folk-pop songwriting in unexpected and playful ways in Poly Queer Love Ballad by Sara Vickruck and Anais West. Love, like theatrical storytelling, is complicated, right?

Gaby and Nina meet at an open-mic night; their mutual attraction is instant and powerful. But in the classic rom-com infrastructure of relationship obstacles, here’s a challenging one: Gaby (Vickruck) is a monogamous lesbian singer-songwriter, an old-school romantic and “the straightest gay you’ll ever know.” Nina (West) is a polyamorous bisexual poet of the experimental stripe, a quester whose mantra is “no gender or genre unread.”

It’s “I’m in it for the long haul” from the songwriter versus “wanna be my primary partner?” from the poet. It’s “I need something that’s just ours” vs. “jealousy is a learned behavior.”

In Vickruck’s cleverly cheeky, rhymed songs and West’s unsettling erotic poetry, as well as funny jagged conversational fragments and juxtapositions, Poly Queer Love Ballad chronicles their fortunes in love and their search for a viable elasticized relationship. “You’re so genuine you startle my metaphors,” says the self-possessed Nina, rattled out of her composure.

Which might sound like heavy going, I realize. It isn’t, though. A puckish self-deprecating sense of humour is woven into the fabric of the piece. And performances by the creators, two likeable actors, are so appealing and self-aware you’ll fall a little in love with both of them.

As Gaby, the charismatic Vickruck plays guitar and sings, and uses loop pedals and the mic in amusingly inventive ways (her sly Tinder cellphone sound effect song is a hoot). West’s Nina, kitted out in a nerdy denim skirt and fanny pack, trots across the stage to deliver her poems — like “Is My Love Doomed?” complete with histrionic gestures. 

It’s fun, wistful, and genuinely experimental, in ways that are never pretentious.

As a bonus I got to see the last performance of Statue, a silent show in which a nude torso comes to life, in music and an expert kind of full-body puppetry by Quebec’s Kristina Troske and Céline Chévrier. A neutral vessel tests out male and female incarnations, in body language (and footwear), and rises above. Enchanting.

Poly Queer Love Ballad continues at SkirtsAfire Saturday and Sunday at the festival’s cabaret theatre, Alberta Avenue Community League (9210 118 Ave.). Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca).  The full schedule of festival events is at skirtsafire.com.   

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