“… The triumph of communication is the death of communication: where communication forms a total environment, there is nothing to be communicated.”
—Northrop Frye, The Modern Century, City of the End of Things, 1967
I have a pretty good eye for talent. Last winter, I met a young man named Jesse LaVercombe. He popped up, a new actor in town, introducing himself at a monthly reading put on by the Howland Company. Sitting around a long table, I noticed he was good-looking and good at reading. There was something else. Only in his early 20s, his eyes were too knowing. His eyes weren’t young at all, and it gave him away. I suspected he had all the makings of a brilliant artist. Was I right? Was I deluded? I had to know.
With all this in mind, I went to see his first full-length venture on the Toronto stage, Love You Forever, Billy H. Tender. LaVercombe wrote and performs it. Produced in the small VideoFag space, just off Dundas West, near Spadina, I arrived early, took a seat close to the stage. I was afraid I’d feel let down. Maybe this guy wasn’t as talented as I thought. But when the lights came up, I was soon mesmerized by LaVercombe’s tour de force.
The dark comedy has hardly any set. The actor stands on a low small stage, surrounded by audience, in jeans and a white tee-shirt. There’s a large white wall that acts as a screen. Amid a bouncy soundscape of voices and music video, LaVercombe plays all three main characters. Hal, Billy H. Tender’s younger brother; Billy H. Tender, a famous rock star; and Stella, their mother, a theatre academic. Two of them are experiencing a day in the future, January 31st, 2021 and one of them is trying to remember that day.
Hal reveals what happens the day in Toronto when Billy appears on stage, renounces his past hits, and insists on singing his new material, a raft of folk songs. Billy’s fans are confused, feel betrayed; get ugly. The new folk songs are awful and lyrics are absolutely hilarious.
At times, it was hard for me to differentiate the character’s voices, and it’s also not exactly clear why events happen in the future. But somehow, as the performance gets underway, one becomes less concerned with the plot or the logic of the piece. Instead, one falls into a weird fascination, as if one’s looking in on a world that’s falling to bits. You feel as if you’re both observing and participating in a society lost in frenzy; running on empty.
Mostly, we listen to the character of Hal, talking about his celebrity brother Billy, and the infamous concert where the star “re-invents” himself as a folk singer. The Internet lights up with outrage. Hal lives online, monitoring the situation, monitoring the chat on Facebook that’s so typically mindless, you can’t stop laughing.
But for all the humor, the work’s texture is unnerving.
The play envelopes us with the new reality. This is today. Conversations appear continuous, but aren’t. iPhone calls are interrupted while commuting, while shopping. Around a table, eyes don’t connect as people stare down at tiny screens, reading incoming torrents of text messages. Talk is fragmented, concentration broken into shards. Technology connects us to each others, round the clock, but there’s no true contact, no real physical presence, even during online sex. We’re rushing to answer the phone, or log online; constantly saying “hello” inside of one long and terrifying goodbye.
The audience, especially the young, understand this show implicitly. They understand the loneliness, the sense of isolation, the feeling of sleeplessness that haunts you even when you’re awake.
I’d like to go out on a limb, here. I hope reps from all the independent theatres make a real effort to see Jesse LaVercombe in Love You Forever, Billy H. Tender. You need to see this actor. He keeps this show rocking, no slack.
There are lots of shows on right now, but I’m telling you, this is one special actor. And I have a feeling, a lot of people are going to want to know this guy. Also, I’d like to celebrate the heroic efforts of the team that put this show on and promoted it. VideoFag should be proud of this one.
Written and Performed: Jesse LaVercombe
- Director: Adam Lazarus
- Dramaturge: Guillermo Verdecchia
- Music and Sound: Adrian Shepherd
- Designers: Kelly Anderson and Shannon Lea Doyle
- Stage Manager: Alexa Polenz
- Choreographer: Neeky Dalir
- Producer: Curtis te Brinke