By Mike Drach
Entering Tim Sims Playhouse to see a midnight performance of Co-ed Prison Sluts, about 20 minutes late, I was greeted by a chorus of voices singing “suck my dick.”
“You’ve come just in time,” said the doorkeeper, smiling wryly at my shocked expression. The offending words, soon followed by a deluge of other provocative and often hilarious phrases, formed the final verse of a “peppy little ditty in which 90 per cent of the lyrics are profane.”
This is according to the press release distributed by Manic Inc., a new company headed by Ryerson journalism student Dana Gornitzki, that is publicizing the uproarious musical comedy’s first Toronto showing.
Gornitzki’s release says the show “takes societal icons of goodness and tradition and present them in the most unwholesome manner imaginable.”
Co-ed Prison Sluts, which first appeared in Chicago in 1989 courtesy of The Annoyance Theatre, is perhaps the only musical in history to treat the harsh realities of prison life with the same derisive sense of humour that a Grade 10 drama class might exhibit, given a helpless substitute teacher. It plays like Oz on nitrous oxide.
It became the longest-running musical comedy in Chicago’s history, and has flourished in San Fransisco and New York.
Now the director, Mark Sutton, has begun to make his grimy mark on Toronto. He oversaw the first few performances in early November, but has since left the show in the hands of the talented young cast and crew.
Among the freaks, perverts and social outcasts played on stage is Jessica Holmes, a recent graduate of Ryerson’s radio and television arts (RTA) program.
“The cast is incredible,” said Holmes. “They’re all willing to try new things every night.”
There isn’t much more Holmes could try on stage without getting arrested in real life. Her character — the virginal Alice, complete with pig-tails and stereotypical girl-next-door cuteness — is, in her words, “gang-banged up the wazoo” by a host of creepy, carrot-wielding couch cases.
This is Holmes’ first venture into the darker side of alternative comedy. After eight years of doing improve, she recently began appearing in comedy clubs around town and was featured on WTN’s She’s So Funny.
After reading the script for Prison Sluts, she said to herself, “I can’t not do it.”
Although most RTA students find themselves behind the camera, Holmes believes the connections and skills she acquired at Ryerson helped put her in the spotlight. Most of the cast members studied improve at Second City, the club that also houses the Tim Sims Playhouse at 56 Blue Jays Way.
The late Tim Sims, better known as “circle researcher Rory Tate,” was a writer and comedian who devoted the Playhouse to showcase up-and-coming, fledgling artists.
Gornitzki said even fledgling artists can draw a crowd. The show has been doing well, attracting an average audience of 60 to 70 people a night. They’re mostly university students who come for good laughs, a little controversy, the cheap $10 admission and beers for just two bucks.
If you decide to see it (and you should), you’ve been warned. For a play that has been around for a while, it takes some touchy subjects pretty far. For instance, the puzzling perverted character Slick ‘throat my hoagie’ Loveshaft at one point breaks into a rousing sing-along about child molestation.
As Gorzintzki points out, the play is clever in that it challenges your assumptions about the limits of humour and taste.
“Everyone interprets it differently,” she said. “it makes you laugh at things you didn’t know you could laugh at.”
Jessica Holmes assured me that most audiences walk away laughing too hard to realize the show has been mocking some of society’s most unsavoury elements.
They’ve had nothing but positive response, but in all honesty, Holmes said she is “surprised that more people aren’t offended.”