I have always been fascinated by saints, and can remember staring at paintings of Saint Sebastian as a kid. There is something captivating in the idolization of martyrdom, which religion paints with a certain mesmerizing and romantic beauty.
I think John Arthur Sweet, the writer/performer of Running to Saint Sebastian, would agree, although he would put it better. In his show, coming to us from a run at the Prague Fringe, John Arthur Sweet opens up about dreams, life, sexuality, and somehow finding himself in charge of a dilapidated church. Throughout his show, we are invited to get to know a man who is relatable, as funny as he is touching, and “splendidly human.”
We enter into a space that looks very recently inhabited. There are backpacks on the stage, a chair, a table, and well, a few audiences members. The atmosphere is unassuming, and casual—comfortable even. Eventually John Arthur Sweet enters, seemingly from underneath something upstage, although perhaps I am imagining miracles already. He greets us in a casual, familiar manner that could only come from years of performance experience—and I know right away, we are in good hands. He begins by addressing the audience and describing a dream of his, and the tone of the show is immediately identifiable. This show is strangely charming, and definitely 16+ —indeed, among many other delightful moments that I would love to go one about, John Arthur Sweet has the most pleasing way of saying “Fuck” I have ever heard, in a tone that somehow invites us to lean into him as he reveals himself, and can only make us smile.
Running to Saint Sebastian is something of a subtle diamond in the fringe rough. And yet, it suits the fringe beautifully. It was a relief to finally watch what I haven’t yet seen at the festival this year, but very much hoped to see: a clever and strange solo show by a seasoned creator and performer.
John Arthur Sweet is a combination of beautiful writer and in-the-moment performer. It is a pleasure to listen to his words and images, balanced with sections that feel casually improvised, like a story he’s penning in the moment. This combination makes the show effortless, and allows us to feel like we’ve known the performer for years. Indeed, I felt like I would love to listen to him talk over a beer, and happily, this show feels a lot like that—like friends chatting, revealing themselves intimately, and comfortably. There is a beauty in John Arthur Sweet’s knack for intimacy, and it is refreshing to sit back and allow him to take the wheel.
The show jumps between various storylines, with John Arthur Sweet at the centre of it all. There is an impulse to compare him to Saint Sebastian and find the metaphors to link his inward journey to Saint Sebastian’s outward suffering. And yet, John Arthur Sweet has another kind of saint-like magic to him—he not only exposes his wounds to the world, but he also inspires, and brings people together. If you, like me, have been craving a well-penned, beautifully performed solo show that exposes but never pushes, or simply if you are a human who craves belonging, I suggest spending some time at the P’tit Impro with John Arthur Sweet.
Hard Times presents “Running to Saint Sebastian“
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 7 – 16, 2019
Venue: 03 – Le P’tit Impro
3713 Saint-Laurent #202, Montréal, H2X 2V7
Admission: $8 – 10 | Ages 16+
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from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!