The designation "cantata" conjures aural visions of serious spiritual music and high art; the website Craigslist is known for teetering on the edge of sleaziness and disrepute. Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata
exists in a wonderful space somewhere between the two extremes -- and has the added advantage of being side-splittingly funny. The musical -- because it is far beyond a "cantata," with clever, intricate choreography and a lively score that pilfers from every genre of popular music -- begins with riffs on unintentionally hilarious Craigslist ads. Whether declaimed as monologues or set to music, the ads are strung together or deftly explored for maximum humour. Yet the laughs, like the very best laughs, are tinged with recognition; all the characters are human, with deep desires and definite needs. Yes, they induce laughter at their oddity, but there is something heartbreakingly familiar in their quirks.
Do You Want What I Have Got?
is not content just to mock hapless Craigslist posters. The songs and script posit questions about why people post, the lack of connection on the internet and the disconnect in our daily lives. Detours into biblical imagery, coulrophilia, flatulence and the nomenclature of penguins somehow wind back, interweave and lead to a gorgeous song, "Did Someone See Me Today?" that fuses Craigslist's "missed connections" section with the emotional state of the world. Even a take on the horrors of spelling, punctuation and grammar on Craigslist manages to be funny, witty and fast enough not to wear out its welcome. Do You Want What I Have Got?
is extraordinarily clever -- its mocking of Sondheim must be an in-joke -- but so eager to entertain, and so successful at entertaining, that the deep thoughts don't surface until the lights come up, the laughter subsides and audience members are startled to find tears in their eyes.
The cast as a whole is astounding. The scenes arrive quickly and relentlessly, yet each character is given a touch of humanity to raise them above caricature or objects of derision. It is a strange luxury to be able to laugh with characters that could have been easily mocked for quick and plentiful laughs. Each of the four main performers get several moments that would stop a lesser show in its tracks, yet they work seamlessly together and without apparent ego. Selina Martin has huge expressive eyes and the vocal quality of a Macy Gray with half the rasp, so most of the more disturbing or sexual characters fall to her. Whether playing a saw while describing a child-size guillotine or offering a ghost in a bottle, she is unnerving, sexy and utterly mesmerizing. Bree Greig has vocal chops to spare and incredibly limber limbs: her quest for a roomate begins as Fosse-esque and devolves into sheer demented shtick. Dimitry Chepovetsky unleashes a gamut of accents and sexual quirks that keep threatening to derail his casual everyman demeanour. A well-timed wink or hip swivel let the audience in on the joke, and all collectively develop a crush on characters who are utterly misguided but oddly sexually appealing and lovable. Darren A Herbert gets the big songs -- his gospel-inflected rumination on a closeted man's need for love is a powerhouse -- and has a voice that can, apparently, do anything. He also projects an irresistible heat that is undercut or amplified seemingly at will. All four are wonderful to watch and hear and make a staging and choreography that is complicated and physical seem deceptively simple and straightforward.
Drummer Barry Mirochnick is part of the action and has a deadpan delivery that contrasts nicely with the rapid-fire action filling the stage. And pianist, and composer and
musical director, Veda Hille is a presence all her own. Somehow she creates a persona that I can only feebly try to explain as a non-bitter Randy Newman crossed with Dame Edna Everage. She sings an unaffected version of an ad for sponges that is deliciously disturbing and completely uproarious. Any other show would be stopped in its tracks; Do You Want What I Have Got?
just rises to greater heights.
The book, music and lyrics appear random and simple but are artfully constructed to create a mood that lingers rather than a straightforward theme or point of view. The only quibble would be that the wealth of material in the "men seeking men" section of Craigslist is glossed over; I heartily recommend this production but would be even more excited by a version that served up the gay.
There will be no unwanted tickets for Do You Want What I Have Got?
available on Craigslist, but I have no doubt that once the word of mouth starts to spread, there will be ads from people desperate to find tickets. "Wanted: Two tickets for a rollicking good time with a tuneful heart of gold. Willing to pay or do anything. Serious responses only, please."
Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata continues till Sun, March 3 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca, actingupstage.com
photos by Joanna Akyol