When Joel Klein sings about gay sex, he does it with lipstick on.

It’s an intentional choice, to perform this particular show in drag. Developed as an art project with the BC-based Gutter Opera Collective, Cocktales with Maria is a frank, verbatim retelling of scenes from the sex lives of Klein’s gay friends, funny, sad, shocking and poignant stories gifted to Klein after plying his friends with free drinks and flattery. Working with composer Isaiah Bell, Klein pulled the most unique and the most relatable stories, exploring what is quintessentially a universal human experience of awkward, surprising and transcendent sexual encounters.

In the early days of the cabaret, the Gutter Opera Collective toured rural BC communities before hitting urban centres, experimenting with presenting the show with Klein in and out of drag – as Maria Toilette, and as himself.

Joel Klein
Joel Klein applies his stylized make-up as he prepares for the role of Maria Toilette in Cocktales with Maria
They found that the persona of Drag Queen Maria Toilette was more able to find acceptance from people of all backgrounds and lived experience. Klein postulates that the makeup, wig and costume provided some level of separation that made frank lyrics about intimate encounters between two men less threatening. There is both a suspension of disbelief and a wink here – the audience knows Klein is male, but his presentation as Maria creates space for a tongue-in-cheek denial of his maleness while pointing directly at it. This is what drag does, at its best: it asks us to engage critically with what we’re seeing, to sit comfortably in the cognitive dissonance, to ask ourselves what it means to be one thing or the other, and to wonder where the limits are.

Joel Klein as Maria Toilette
The intent and effect is healing, it invites audiences to freely examine their own sexuality, their hang-ups, their secret desires and their joy in a humorous, non-judgmental light.

Cocktales with Maria was developed in partnership with the Gutter Opera Collective and features Joel Klein as Maria Toilette, Kristina Lemieux as Vadge and Karen Lee-Morlang as The Morekeys de Schade.

Tapestry Opera is delighted to be partnering with Joel and the members of the Gutter Opera Collective, whose goals include “putting the sex back into homosexuality” as a part of Tap This: A Queerated Opera series presented in partnership with Pride Toronto on June 8, 9 at 9 pm in the Ernest Balmer Studio.