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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: Poly Queer Love Ballad is a musical treat

Slam poetry musical is a beautiful tribute to the complexities of love and relationships

Poly Queer Love Ballad is back after its successful run at the Vancouver Fringe Festival last fall. Winner of the Playwrights Theatre Centre’s Fringe New Play Prize, it retains its magic as a musical treat, serving raw emotions and an honest story of a complex relationship.

Performed inside East Vancouver’s Sum Gallery, the set-up for Poly Queer Love Ballad has the stage set cabaret style for an open mic night. In slam poetry, competitions start with a “sacrificial poet”, a poet who is not competing who goes up onstage to get the ball rolling. Poly Queer Love Ballad takes this tradition and invites a new, previously chosen, audience member every night to start the show with one of their poems. This particular night the poet read a raw and honest poem about their sexuality. The show continues on this note.

Following the “sacrificial poet” on stage is the awkward Nina, who takes the mic and the love story between the her and Gabby begins in what becomes a slam poetry musical following their relationship.

It is a complex relationship as they struggle through different definitions of love, and of what the boundaries of their relationship should be. Nina is polyamorous and bi-sexual, whereas Gabby is monogamous and gay (but “the straightest gay you’ll know”).

The conflict through the play builds slowly and sometimes feels one-note. We understand where both of the characters are coming from, but their love seems doomed from the start. Maybe that’s the point. We watch as Gabby falls deeper into a hole, and it is not until her breakdown song, using repetition and screaming, where the pain feels palpable.

It is the music which holds Poly Queer Love Ballad together and, as Gabby, Sara Vickruck is a total powerhouse. What starts with a folksy voice and tongue-in-cheek lyrics soon turns into much more, as Vickruck effortlessly loops to create a cool and beautiful soundtrack underscoring the important moments of their relationship. Vickruck’s voice is strong, beautiful, and filled with emotion, with her breakdown song both powerful and affecting. An effortless performer, it is evident she is having fun onstage, and her moments as she breaks down feel honest.

As Nina, Anais West speaks in a rhythmic way that is both gorgeous and occasionally off-putting. Her use of language is smooth and we hang on her words, as she speaks about love and what it means to love freely, unbound by expectations. There were moments though when the poetic language seemed jarring and unnatural and could have been woven more naturally into the show. A more challenging character to get on board with, it felt as if she did not have as much struggle in their relationship as Gabby.

In this reworked version, Poly Queer Love Ballad is directed by Julie McIsaac, who works hard to ensure the love story rings true. An intimate show, McIsaac strikes a fine balance between the electric and intimate moments of connection between Nina and Gabby, and an invitation to let the audience in on the ride.

Poly Queer Love Ballad is a beautiful tribute to the complexities of love and relationships. At times it feels simple and lacking in conflict, but it is the rhythms of these two characters’ love story that make everything feel honest and raw.

Come for the intimate story and honest dialogue. Stay for the music.

Poly Queer Love Ballad, created by Anais West & Sara Vickruck. Directed by Julie McIsaac. Co-Presented by the Queer Arts Festival’s Sum Gallery, Zee Zee Theatre, and Frank Theatre Company. On stage at the Sum Gallery (425-268 Keefer St, Vancouver) until March 10. Visit for tickets and information.

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