gay divorce toronto

Gay divorce on stage at Buddies in Bad Times

In 2015 it will have been ten years since same-sex marriage was legalized across the country, after a wave of court decisions in eight provinces and one territory all but tipped the scales. Ten years and counting ahead of our neighbours to the south.

It's no wonder then that playwrights and theatremakers in the decade since have begun to explore what this new ritual has meant for queer communities -- marriage and matrimony but also, inevitably, infidelity and divorce. Freda and Jem's Best of the Week considers one such couple on the verge of parting, separating themselves from a life long-lived together alongside their two teenage children.

There's a lot of heart in Lois Fine's complex family portrait. Oftentimes raw and vulnerable, it reaches further than it's able to accomplish in considering individuals at a time of immense struggle. Musical performances that accompany Jem's journey, while beautifully rendered by Lorraine Segato, cannot help but feel hokey and in a number of critical scenes the dialogue seems overwritten.

Jem (Kathryn Haggis) is a butch dyke who wears her identity like a badge of hard-fought honour. After meeting Freda (Diane Flacks) in a bar and taking her home, she can't believe her luck at finding an ideal mate. Their relationship, now 21 years on and with two teenagers a part of the deal, starts to show cracks after the two women drift slowly a part and more quickly towards divorce.

Most engaging are monologues in which Jem describes how she embraced her butch identity. As a form of survival and as a role in a functioning family unit, the butch stereotype is exploded open by Fine. The queer umbrella produces a vibrant range of voices and it's exciting to see a character so rarely explore on our stages. I wish the play had been more about Jem and her complicated relationship with the butch identity.

While there is an inherent sadness in seeing a loveless couple remember their happier moments, the play is less successful charting the relationship history. Their teenage children Teejay (Stephen Joffe) and Sam (Sadie Epstein-Fine), played with enjoyable vigour by the two young performers, rage and storm with no real nod to how the future will unfold, same goes for Freda's briefly mentioned affair. The kids, as they say, are alright?

Thompson stages the play well on a functional set from Camellia Koo. The kitchen table is literally and figuratively the centre of the family and its reflected in the design. Segato's music expresses thoughts buried deep inside Jem but it's hard to overlook how unnatural a fit it feels in production.

Haggis commands the action, digging down deep to find Jem's vulnerability and anger. Flacks is a strong counterpoint, which makes it challenging for audiences to choose sides. In that regard, the play's successful.

While queer divorce is a dirty reality in the shadow of shiny, new queer marriage, this play would have been stronger had the focus been about Jem's butch identity.

Freda and Jem's Best of the Week, written by Lois Fine and directed by Judith Thompson, runs at Buddies in Bad TImes until October 5.

Photo by Tanja-Tiziana.

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