4 - Backpack

If enthusiasm and gratitude for Oakville could be bottled and put on the market, its name would be Yo Mustafa.

"I have established roots here, and I am not one of those people who see only the posh lifestyle," the animated theatrical director said at his favourite hangout, the Second Cup at Lakeshore and Navy. "Posh people can be the most passionate, sensitive people. If you make an effort to know somebody your efforts will be rewarded. In my heart, I have room for all sorts of people."

Mr. Mustafa had recently opened his Oakville Drama Series production of Neil Simon's comedy, The Odd Couple. In a 1985 re-write of the 1965 Broadway hit, Mr. Simon switched the genders. The "odd couple" of the title--two people tumbling out of marital bust-ups--is now a pair of women. You may remember the movie version with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Or perhaps only the television series. Or perhaps you are too young to recall anything at all about the early days of this warhorse of amateur theatre.

Under Mr. Mustafa's direction, the female leads in The Odd Couple played their roles, oddly indeed, like men in dresses. But what was he supposed to do with this script? Sledgehammer gags come at you every twenty seconds. The lightness and brightness and sexiness of the play are right up there with a sock.

Lest the impression be left that my idea of a good time is Baghdad on a really bad night, I hasten to state, for the record, that I welcome quietude as much as the next elderly man with knee problems and no hair. I just can't stand a steady diet of it. Nor, I have found, is the world prepared to let me live and let live, as I would like. When George Bush was threatening to invade Iraq, I marched in protest down University Avenue with a lot of strangers. Not because I wanted to, heaven knows, but because I was born in a pesky world with many irritations in it, one of them from Texas.

I like Oakville's kind of peace and quiet in measured doses. Mr. Mustafa, on the other hand, likes it all the time.

"Most of my childhood was in safe suburban places," he told me. "I do not want to live downtown. There is a sense of comfort and release when I come to Oakville, where I know everybody. Coming back from Toronto is like going on vacation and coming home and lying in your own bed. This is a very supportive community.

"There are conservative people, but [Oakville] is not a conservative place. Are people scandalized by a gay play? No, no--No, no, no! There was a play about gay relationships which packed out three nights. [The audience] saw a father who loves his son who wears red velvet. Everybody said: You can't do this play because it's a gay play. But it drew an audience of 5,000. It's a matter of what you give people intelligently. We have safe shows because those are the people who support us."

Toronto, he said, is a place "to go to," but not often and not at certain times, such as Hogtown's famously vulgar annual gay pride shindig. (I am told that, instead of a "pride" parade, Oakville has an anti-gaybashing picnic.)

"I don't want to see one more shirtless lesbian or gorgeous man in a Speedo. If you want to see something shocking, you go to Toronto and see it, and then you come back."

Mr. Mustafa was visibly offended when I ran by him the notion that what everybody in Oakville wants is freedom from offense.

"The people who don't want to be offended are a very small portion of people in Oakville. It works the other way! Torontonians are afraid to come to suburbia because they say it's all Leave it to Beaver."

Anyway, what's wrong with safety?

"Safety is comfort. The Second Cup is a safe place. People know each other. I am at home here. The downside is that if I did something stupid everybody would know about it. If you are willing to be educated in politics or human relationships, you will go out of your way to grow. Or you can always go to Toronto."

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