The Man That Got Away (A Special Appearance) by Martin Julien
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
An absorbing performance of a gutsy, complex individual who has lived life the way he wants in all its glory, its warts, and its divineness.
This is my first time seeing Martin Julien in a live performance.
Why have I waited this long?
According to a release I received, ‘The Man That Got Away’ was developed in the Buddies Residency Program. It’s a “genre-subverting piece deconstructing the cabaret and confessional forms, delving into Julien’s queer upbringing as the child of a lesbian and gay man in mid-twentieth century Toronto, as well as the loss of his father to HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s.”
There’s a great deal going on just in this description alone. Suffice it to say Julien took me on a deeply personal journey with him through a Toronto I remember reading about it in the papers and seeing the various stories on the news. As a young teacher at that time, I remember the tremendous heartache, the fear of the unknown and the personal suspicions about those deemed different which irreparably destroyed lives. Martin ably and heartfully captured these emotional highs and lows with respectful class and dignity.
‘The Man that Got Away’ took on a completely different meaning for me in hearing it from an individual who was there, who lost loved ones, and who will forever be changed by what he saw, heard, and encountered during the AIDS crisis.
And as a member of this opening night audience, I was richer for listening to Julien share and sing his fascinating story about his family supported by two fine artists, Tat Austrie and Ben Page. Austrie played a vocally astounding Judy Garland while Page ably accompanied on the keyboard (and provided the odd voices from Julien’s past).
‘The Man that Got Away’ is not simply a cabaret piece. In his Playwright’s Notes from 2020, Martin writes he wanted both “to use and subvert the tropes of cabaret/nightclub/concert hall performance.”
For me, the show is more than just that. It becomes a call to action to truly hear and listen to not only this story but all stories that are not like our own.
Director Peter Hinton-Davis subtly directs with intimacy and compassion as he moulds and shapes Julien at various stages of his life that are sometimes moving, sometimes heartbreaking but most often always credibly real. Stephen Woodjetts’ musical arrangements are soundly placed at crucial points in Julien’s life as the song lyrics led me further into going deeper in understanding this complex individual. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Judy Garland sing ‘The Man That Got Away’ from the 1954 film ‘A Star is Born’. Here, I found this rendition mesmerizingly haunting and permeated the auditorium walls and remained with me long after I got home.
Sean Mulcahy’s starkly simple set design gripped my attention immediately. A lone spotlight hazily reveals a chair centre stage. It reminded me of those tv talk shows from the mid–late 1950s where the host smoked a cigarette and interviewed his guests. Bonnie Beecher’s full-on cabaret style of lighting at one point sets the stage fiery ablaze as Julien sings in a style that reminded me of Liza Minnelli’s rendition of ‘Cabaret’ in the Fosse film. HAUI’s striking video designs referenced, when necessary, the time frame or Julien’s state of mind at various points in his life.
The press release also states, “while the play is deeply personal, the production grapples with broader questions of queer identity, struggle and history exploring the liminal spaces between the unobserved and the public, the closet and the stage, escape and encounter.” Once again, a great deal to ponder from my audience’s perspective on how I am to look at the subject material with an open mind, eye, and heart. The odd bits of humour especially in how Martin and his father used Broadway show tunes in their personal lives did make me smile and utter a low chuckle behind my mask as it did, according to Hinton-Davis’s programme note “described a time, distant and unrecognizable to another generation…we challenge and teach each other in the exchange.”
Final Comments: An engaging performance, ‘The Man That Got Away’s’ success remains incumbent on us to listen to other voices, to hear their stories, to digest and to think really about what is most important in life.
For Martin Julien, he’s lived life the way he wants in all its glory, its warts and its divineness.
I respect that truly.
Running Time: approximately two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
‘The Man That Got Away’ (A Special Appearance) runs until December 18 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit buddiesinbadtimes.com or call the Box Office at (416) 975-8555.
‘The Man That Got Away’ (A Special Appearance) by Martin Julien
A Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Production
Director: Peter Hinton-Davies
Musical Arrangements and consultation: Stephen Woodjetts
Assistant Director and Dramaturge: Monice Peter
Stage Manager: Fiona Jones
Set and Costume Design: Sean Mulcahy
Lighting Designer: Bonnie Beecher
Video Design: HAUI
Sound Design: Wayne Hawthorne
Performers: Martin Julien, Tat Austrie and Ben Page