Toronto actor Breton Lalama has been preparing for their role in Pleasureville their whole life.
Lalama stars as Ash, who identifies as non-binary, in the new comedy by Ellen Denny on the Neptune Theatre Scotiabank Stage in Halifax through Oct. 20.
“I knew I had to audition for this part because it was the first time there had ever been a casting call where the role was specified as a trans non-binary person; that has never happened in mainstream ... Canadian theatre,” said Lalama, 24, in an interview at the theatre during a break in rehearsals.
“Just seeing that was happening was a really big deal to me. It’s obviously of personal importance to me, being a queer trans non-binary person because I didn’t grow up with anyone that looked like what I wanted to be.
“Getting to play the role is hugely exciting to me. It’s the first time I’m ever playing someone of the gender I am, which is a huge gift, and it’s also a big responsibility because I want to make sure I’m showing audiences a really honest depiction.”
Pleasureville is billed as a comedy that questions ideas around sex, age, success and feminist empowerment. The play follows down-on-her-luck Leah Bowman (Julia Topple), who has a master’s degree in human sexuality, as she starts fresh by opening a sex shop in the tiny town of Pleasureville.
“I had an interest in what it would be like to open a business like a sex shop in a place that had no anonymity, so that’s where the small-town setting came from,” said Denny during an interview.
“And it was also really a response to right now, to the policies and politics that we’re seeing, the conversations, especially since Trump’s presidency, the #MeToo movement, what is happening with feminism right now, conversations about gender identity; all of that was on my mind.”
Denny, 28, is originally from London, Ont., and is a 2012 Dalhousie University music and theatre graduate who frequently performs in Halifax.
"It’s a big moment,” she said.
“This is my professional debut as a playwright. It’s very, very exciting."
Premiering the piece at Neptune is significant for Denny.
“It’s also where I made my debut as an actor, so it means a lot.”
But place is irrelevant in the play, as she wanted it to be a modern comedy not burdened by a literal location.
“There’s no reference to a specific province. To me, it’s a Canadian story. Really, it’s about the divide between an urban and a rural community, and I think we see that reflected all across the country,” Denny said.
“Pleasureville is, I think, wherever the audience member imagines it to be.”
She said she’s been working on it for about a year and a half, and the play benefits from the relatively quick development process.
“I think this is a play for right now, so it wouldn’t be something that I’d necessarily want to wait five years for it to be on the stage,” said Denny.
“Certainly, it has a lot of the vernacular of my generation, so I hope young people come out and see it and hear themselves reflected. I think the language of how we speak right now and the contemporary slang was really fun to work with and easy for me to write.”
Lalama is appreciative of being represented in the work, and it marks a milestone in a life that hasn’t been uncomplicated.
“It didn’t ever feel good. It felt like acting all the time, my entire life – acting the part of female,” Lalama said.
“It was definitely a struggle. Not to play a different gender; I’ll play female. It’s just acting, right? I’ll play male. It’s just acting. But playing that every day in your real life is really exhausting.
So when you finally give yourself the permission to stop doing that, it’s super freeing.”
Pleasureville also features Sherry Smith as Rose. The creative team includes Annie Valentina (director), Wes Babcock (set designer), Andrea Richie (costume designer), Vicky Williams (lighting designer), June Zinck (sound designer), Hannah Burrows (stage manager) and Julia Schultz (mentorship participant).
If you go: Pleasureville runs through Oct. 20. Tickets can be purchased at neptunetheatre.com, by calling 902-429-7070 or 1-800-565-7345, or at the box office, 1593 Argyle St.