Sex Religion other Hang-ups

Humiliation leads to hilarity in Sex, Religion & Other Hang-Ups

With a tag line like "James Gangl is looking for a girlfriend," it would be easy to lump Sex, Religion, & Other Hang-Ups in bed with big-screen comedies that examine the so-called man-child syndrome. Gangl is a thirty-something actor with an overactive imagination who spends 70 minutes recounting the courting of a commercial snow bunny. A timeless plot it ain't.

But Gangl's play delves deeper than the on-paper synopsis. While set before the background of a Coors Light commercial, don't let the setting fool you — this is a thoughtful and poignant comedy with an honest reflection on the intersection between sex and religion. Gangl infuses his retelling with a very personal relationship with Catholicism, a voice not often given breath on stage.

Gangl develops a rapport with his audience in the play's early moments when he introduces the diary entries that serve as the play's inspiration. What follows is a retelling of how Gangl achieved true intimacy for the first time in his life...with the aforementioned snow bunny on the set of a beer commercial. He traces the relationship from its early days on the slopes of Tremblant to the dates that follow, and ultimately to the anticlimax of their night in the bedroom.

It's here where Gangl, in more a moment of panic rather than insanity, blurts out that he's a virgin and plans to have sex when "they" are married. While he plays up the irony of the location of their next date (and unfortunate denouement of their dalliance) at the Virgin Music Festival, the bedroom outburst is the tipping-point in the well-developed debate between sex and religion that Gangl develops throughout.

In positioning "just how Catholic" he is, from years of devote service to the Church, in opposition to just how much we wants to get laid, Gangl articulates a very real crossroads. The feat that the playwright/performer achieves (and it isn't an easy one) is making the debate earnest. Religion doesn't help land a punch line; it's his voice of moral consciousness. What makes an impact is not an umbrella pronouncement about the role of religion in our lives (Gangl never comes close to claiming he has all the answers), but rather an honest portrait of a personal struggle through a moment uncertainty.

He arrives at his realization with the help of stripped-down vulnerability and moments of self-humiliation. It's a selfless performance essential to endowing the very macho beer and bunny setting with true weight. With a number of improv credits under his belt, Gangl manages to talk genuinely with the audience as himself, something a lot of performers have difficulty doing.

The one convention that doesn't pan out is positioning the play as Gangl's search for a new girlfriend. It may provide a frame for the retelling of the story, but ultimately is a gimmick that doesn't serve the play. That said, director Chris Gibbs brings out the funny in the actor and playwright. He stages with an economy that lets the story unfold, seemlessly incorporating the scenes from Gangl's youth. With a number of break-away bottles and a well placed video clip (which I had intended to google as soon as I arrived home), Gibbs and Gangl create moments of true surprise.

Sex, Religion, & Other Hang-Ups is a thoughtful dialogue between sex and religion delivered in the guise of a frat boy comedy. Gangl is memorable as our hero, who, instead of achieving what we might think, guides us through a personal moment of reconciliation between his upbringing and his adult sensibilities.

Sex, Religion, & Other Hang-Ups, written and performed by James Gangl, runs at the Theatre Passe Muraille from October 4 - October 22. Tickets are $20-$25.

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