When Daniel Tobias cheekily lopes onto the stage and belts out a nostalgic rock tune about the blossoming young love of his parents, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the wrong theatre. It’s a buoyant beginning to what could potentially be quite a sombre show. At age 29, Tobias was diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer, and his one-man monologue/cabaret/confessional takes us from his Jewish atheist upbringing, his therapy and recovery, to the nature of faith, idolatry and bacon.
Tobias has an importantly bright and exuberant energy, and it’s one that permeates as he weaves a difficult but well-balanced tone throughout. Beginning in his childhood home, where the family secretly eat bacon and celebrate Santa, Tobias introduces us to the vengeful God of the Old Testament, who is not only given a friendly ribbing, but becomes the show’s antagonist. After a jazzy ode to circumcision, complete with a stereotypical Brooklyn Jew God gleefully quilt-tripping Abraham into collecting foreskins to prove his love, Tobias reveals that God decided to make an example of him and his secular, anti-circumcision views by giving him testicular cancer. And so we come the show’s central drama.
It takes something special to make an audience both laugh and cry, and Tobias and director Christian Leavesley expertly manage the ebbs and flows of mirth and sadness. The operatic number about Tobias’ surgery manages to be subtly humorous in an otherwise haunting lament about lost masculinity, identity and fear, accompanied by beautiful animation. But as we travel right to the brink of darkness, Tobias brings us light. He has a new God: not vengeful or spiteful, but seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong. However, like his father’s love for Santa, Armstrong proves to be merely a mythic hero.
This may not be an easy show for some. I doubt there are many people not affected in some way by cancer, whether it be personally, a family member or a friend. Tobias’ description of chemotherapy, of his despair and loss of positivity, may be difficult to handle – it was for me – but this is precisely why such confessions are so important. Tobias never lets us dwell on this sadness, and things turn upbeat very quickly. But this kind of story of struggle, hardship, and failure, also of light, recovery and love, is one that should be shared. The Orchid and the Crow is a richly moving and deeply humorous examination of loss, fear, faith and identity.