by Richard Burnett
For audiences outside Toronto, the hometown of Canada’s most celebrated transsexual Nina Arsenault, the thrill of seeing Nina step onstage for the first time is pure voyeurism. This thrill cannot be duplicated with mere videos or photographs. Observing Nina’s body and what she has done to it is a voyeuristic sensation completely rooted in the real. And by god, with her eye-popping 36D-26-40 figure, Nina Arsenault could pose in Penthouse.
But Nina’s 120-minute one-transwoman shown is not so much about a boy becoming a girl as it is about beauty. Nina’s self-perceived transition from ugly duckling to plastic Barbie doll is at the heart of The Silicone Diaries, though it is evident her sensibilities are clearly informed by gay and drag culture, much like the sashaying work of Mae West.
For the most part, Arsenault’s narrative propels us forward with telling tales about the trans sisterhood, mind-blowing plastic surgery clinics in Mexico and, of course, the sex work Arsenault (also a university theatre graduate who wrote this script) did to pay for $200,000 worth of surgeries and procedures (61 in all).
The monologue climaxes at the 90-minute mark with a drawn-out and narcissistic recreation of Nina’s infamous “Crying Game-style collision” with Pamela Anderson’s ex-hubby, rocker Tommy Lee, in Toronto’s hipster Ultra club back in 2006. But Arsenault pulls all the strings together to deliver a knock-out punch that underscores the narrative.
Which means the final 30 minutes are something of an anticlimax, and could have been condensed and edited down to 10 or even 5 minutes. Still, while the play was overlong and Arsenault really needs to project her voice more, throughout the show the rapt audience sat on her every word. And they couldn’t take their eyes off that body, proving that deep down inside we are all voyeurs.
The Silicone Diaries at Théâtre La Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique) until Dec. 18.