Ecce Homo Theatre’s Loving the Stranger… Examines the War that Never Ends

Loving the Stranger or How to Recognize an Invert

Reviewed in this essay: Loving the Stranger or How to Recognize an Invert, from Ecce Homo Theatre. Written and directed by Alistair Newton. Until January 15th at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. Part of The Toronto Fringe’s NextStage Festival. 416-966-1062 or

One of the final slides projected onto the screen hanging onstage during Loving the Stranger or How to Recognize an Invert is stamped with a particularly significant name and date: “Harper, Ottawa 2005.”

Not a lot has changed since then, when Conservative party leader Stephen Harper remarked that he believes in “the traditional definition of marriage”—a union between a man and woman. But Alistair Newton’s self-written and directed production has developed an unpredicted and poignant relevancy, given the federal government’s recent misstep of recognizing same-sex marriages in non-Canadians while challenging their legitimacy on the home front. Call it dramatic irony.

Loving the Stranger… premiered at the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, created through a residency with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It’s inspired by the life of artist Peter Flinsch, who was forced into the Hitler Youth and eventually the anti-aircraft division of the Luftwaffe when the Nazis took power in his native Germany in 1933. Geoff Stevens, Seth Drabinsky and Matthew Eger recreate infamous figures culled from the Third Reich through to the present day with delightfully vaudeville splendor. In one particularly gripping moment, Flinsch (Hume Baugh) narrates his arrest in Germany, for kissing another male after a Christmas party in 1942.

Interspersed in Baugh’s gently heartbreaking retelling of Flinsch’s past are whimsical cabaret numbers (including the 1920s German gay rights-liberation anthem “The Lavender Song”), Flinsch’s ethereal paintings of Adonis-figured males (with a dance interpretation starring Laurence Ramsay), and audio footage of Newton’s interviews with Flinsch in his Montreal home before his death in March 2010.

Darkly humorous, PSA-style vignettes decrying the “new” family unit and San Francisco (Kimberly Persona’s cartoonish musicality shines here) offset heavy monologues of various Holocaust survivors, mostly actors and artist-types. Even with the legalization of same-sex marriages here in Canada and states like New York and California, and eradication of homophobic legislation like Paragraph 175 (Germany’s anti-gay law), the wounds are still fresh, and their tales sting. The final scene, with those same Christmas-party officers in the present kissing tenderly, freely, is a beautiful reminder of how much has changed since Flinsch’s journey began, even if recent events, like Harper’s sort-of backpedaling on our national stance on same-sex marriages, prove there’s still much work left to be done.