When I found out I would be reviewing SummerWorks shows, I raced to make sure I was the first in line to dibs this one. The program for Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week reads like a list of Canadian theatre All-Stars and it is impossible not to imagine this show as well conceived and beautifully executed play. I was not disappointed. It is not one well known theatre company that made this show happen but rather is presented as “Thompson and Fine Presents” (meaning the writer and director). It’s a show that claims to shine a light on “dyke moms, queer spawn and butch/fem interplay”. I would say that is pretty accurate.
As soon as I walked into the humid Factory Studio Theatre I felt like I had walked back in time to the Toronto of the early 90’s. I couldn’t quite place it but when a woman arrived on stage and began singing I instantly felt like I had gone to a University Café and was wearing my old birkenstocks and brocade vest. I later realized that this talented muscian was none other than Lorraine Segato, famous for being the frontwoman of The Parachute Club in the eighties.
I also realized that the feeling was right, the narrative of the couple ontage would have meant they met at that time if you stop to do the math. That couple being Freda and Jem, portrayed by the hugely talented Diane Flacks and Kathryn Haggis. The show is mainly narrated from Haggis’s point of view as a butch dyke and I found her monologues so simply sweet and beautiful, particularily about growing up gay: “I learned the way to get a girl was to speak from your deepest place and the way to keep her was to let her speak from her’s”. Lois Fine’s genuine words, Kathryn Haggis’s earnest portrayal and Judith Thompson’s precise direction (yes THAT Judith Thompson) gave these monologues a distinct colouring that allowed me to be moved by these two conflicted women.
It’s a simple story. Girl meets girl. Girl hooks up with girl. It gets serious. They decide they want to have babies. They have babies. They are a family. They are a mostly happy family like yours or mine. But like so many families, two decades later the small fractures in their relationship are too big to repair and each family member must deal with the separation. This once happy family hurts. They are hurting hard. And that’s where we meet them.
Diane Flacks is so perfect as Freda, the sweet femme who leads with her heart and jumps into her life, love, and motherhood with unbridled enthusiasm. She is likeable and sweet and I never once doubted her love of Jem. Nor did I doubt Jem’s love back – Haggis has managed to create a humourous character that is likable and heartbreaking despite being emotionally choked. Both moved me to tears. These are two great actresses at the top of their craft.
Equally perfect are their kids, played by Sadie Rose Epstein-Fine and Nick Eddie. Epstein-Fine’s Sam is a shaved headed, outspoken 19 year-old who is entirely pissed by her parents’ choice to separate. Eddie’s TeeJay internalizes his pain and we repeatedly see him shooting a gun (I feel this plot line needed a bit more development). These kids were very well chosen. You can see their moms reflected in each of them.
I thought Beth Kates’s set of doors was metaphorically perfect as they are bathed in Jennifer Jimenez’s acute lighting design. The entire show is directed beautifully – I couldn’t get enough of watching Freda and Jem’s relationship, particularly in the scenes where they are coparenting. There is a real comedic truth throughout the show; Lois Fine has created characters so real you want to spend more time with them. In fact, I was bummed when the lights went down, I just felt like there was just so much more to say. But perhaps that is the show’s real truth.
Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week Plays plays at Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.
Monday August 8th 10:30 PM
Wednesday August 10th 10:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 5:30 PM
Friday August 12th 12:30 PM
-All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.artsboxoffice.ca, by phone at 416.504.7529, in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., One block North East of Bathurst & Queen W. M-F 12PM-7PM, Weekends 10AM-8PM) (Advance tickets are $15 +HST and $1 service fee)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows