Canstage opened its new season at the Bluma Appel with a much-ballyhooed production of Of Mice and Men (scooping Stratford’s 2007 season), which resulted in Torontoist’s inbox becoming full of e-mails requesting that we audition our dogs for the show (we declined). Things recommenced rather more innocuously at the Berkeley Street Theatre with the world premiere of The Story of My Life, a self-labelled “small musical.” The two-hander is all about friendship and death. Or something.
The theatrespace has been transformed into something resembling the interior of a snowglobe – an indication of the sentimental, Christmas after-school special tone of the piece. Thomas and Alvin were best friends as children, but they grew apart through the years and now, as the play opens, Alvin has just killed himself in a sort of homage to It’s a Wonderful Life (seriously) and Thomas is left with the task of writing his eulogy – through song! It’s strange to see Canadian theatrical legend Brent Carver, who plays Thomas, in such a dud, although the last time he collaborated with Neil Bartram, who wrote the music and lyrics, the result was the disappointing musical version of Carol Shields‘ Larry’s Party.
This production capably achieves the level of professionalism of performance and stagecraft Toronto has come to expect from CanStage. But the story just isn’t there and the songs aren’t memorable. The entire piece also suffers from a sort of physical and emotional castration – it is clear from several scenes in the play that the two men are in love with each other, but the subject is never even remotely addressed. Brokeback: The Musical, this is not. When Carver’s character sincerely asks Alvin’s character why he kissed him, it’s hard not to wonder how you can put on a musical in Toronto about two men in love with each other and act as though homosexuality was a completely alien concept. It’s a valient effort, but the show cannot help but turn into a display of clueless sincerity and mawkish sentimentality.