A contagious title, a funny play

No, this is not an educational play about sexually transmitted infections. No, the Department of Health and Social Services will not be touring the production around schools in Yukon communities.

No, this is not an educational play about sexually transmitted infections.

No, the Department of Health and Social Services will not be touring the production around schools in Yukon communities.

And yes, you can giggle – everyone else does.

This is the general line of questioning the actors, director and playwright of Syphilis: A Love Story have been fielding ever since promotions for the local comedy began.

The truth is, the play has very little to do with the centuries-old, bacterial disease.

“I don’t know exactly how I came up with this sort of idea,” said local playwright Peter Jickling. “But it had been brewing for a couple of years anyway.”

The character play eventually hit paper during a 24-hour, play-writing competition in the spring of 2009.

During Nakai Theatre’s Homegrown Festival in 2010, Syphilis: A Love Story was preformed as a reading, which means the actors still held scripts in their hands.

Now, the local-borne play will be on stage in its very own run.

But there have been some changes.

The script is shorter, said Jickling, who unknowingly recites the words along with the actors during rehearsals.

And some of the characters have changed, slightly.

“She started out as a very sweet person and she’s not so sweet anymore,” said Justine Davidson, the actress Jickling sought out to play Lynn Flynn – the female role, which attempts to pull the protagonist away from his lonely world.

Davidson played Flynn in the Homegrown Festival reading and is back for this professional run of the play.

“I realized the sweetness thing was actually a mask that the character would probably wear,” said Davidson. “It’s actually a little bit more realistic than it was in the first go-around because most people aren’t actually that sweet.”

Jickling also sought out director Brian Fidler to preform as an actor in the Homegrown Festival reading.

“I read it and I thought, ‘I like this. I like these characters and the style of writing is really strong,’” said Fidler, remembering when he asked Jickling to direct instead.

Fidler ended up directing the reading in 2010 and did so again for this production of the show.

“It really is his baby and I think he trusts us with it,” said Fidler of the piece for Jickling. “If he didn’t like what I did the first time then he wouldn’t have asked me to do it this second time. I always know he’s really enjoying it when I hear him (reciting the script during rehearsals) aloud. It’s kind of unusual to have the playwright there.”

The story is about a writer who is hired to write a pamphlet on syphilis.

“He becomes obsessed with turning it into a work of art,” said Jickling. “At the same time, he has a love interest come back into his life. So he’s trying to write about syphilis and sort out his love life at the same time.”

The common reaction from friends and family – and the common joke from people who only know the title – is that the play is autobiographical, said Jickling.

“I definitely think there are aspects of the play that are autobiographical,” he said. “But maybe I should start with a caveat saying that I’ve never actually had syphilis. Maybe that’s important to put in there.”

And the piece was never intended to promote advocacy or awareness for sex education or syphilis sufferers.

The title is just a great hook.

“We looked up what syphilis sores look like on the internet,” said

Davidson. “But other than that, no, we have not learned anything about syphilis.”

But audience members will have a condom fall on their lap when they open their programs, said Fidler.

When looking for funding, the group approached Health Services.

“I didn’t think they’d even talk to us,” said Fidler. “I said, ‘We don’t have a message play that promotes healthy attitudes about STDs. It’s cheeky and it’s irreverent but its not promoting really healthy attitudes.’”

But Fidler suggested the government department just “go with it,” put condoms in the program and use some space in the lobby to provide information about safe sex and sexually transmitted infections.

“I think it’s a credit to them,” said Fidler. “It means that this is a cheeky, ridiculous title, but we can also get out a real message. ‘Cause there is no message like that in the play.”

“It’s a love story, that’s the message,” said Anthony Trombetta, who plays Howard Gunn – the main character’s somewhat idle neighbour and buddy.

“I don’t want to offend the syphilitics out there,” said Fidler, adding that he feels better knowing Health Services is playing a part.

“But the story is strong,” said Fidler. “I think it transcends just the good title.”

Syphilis: A Love Story is playing at the Guild Hall from May 19 to May 21 and May 24 to May 28. Shows start at 8 p.m. and Tickets are $20 at Climate Clothing (in Horwood’s Mall) or at the door.

The Guild will also be offering syphilis-inspired drinks during the show’s run, like ‘sex on the beach’ cocktails and ‘penicillin’ shots.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at