Three relationships in Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness, which plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. that dip into abusive territory and a sense that playwright Chantale Forde got there accidentally, quickly reversed as fast as she could, and capped a happily ever after on her play in the hopes that no one would notice.
The play begins with promise with a beautiful performance by Andrea Brown as Nika, a chef dating her husband again while they work out their issues, and she struggles to heal after his infidelity. This is the strongest pair in the bunch but Nika’s strength keeps getting undermined when her husband, Marcus, continually finds new ways to blame Nika for their relationship’s destruction, and Nika continues to shrink and apologize under his accusations, which is interesting considering he’s the one who had the affair. It’s a great situation upon which to comment on how even with well-meaning men who love them women are still often apologizing for their valid emotions and allowing their husbands to chastise them like children. Yet, one keeps getting the feeling in this play that Brown in encouraging her audience to root for all three of these relationships to succeed, and that is where things get problematic.
Damon has protected Jessica since they were High School sweethearts, he rescued her from their small town and now she is pregnant with his child and wants to have a life and a personality outside of their relationship. This infuriates Damon, who insists that he must control every aspect of Jessica’s life and ensure that she and the baby are completely dependent on him for the rest of their lives. Jessica makes a commendable attempt to free herself from this archaic temper-tantruming tyrant but when he brings up the fact that she wouldn’t be able to make enough money to live (in the real world) without moving back in with her parents she crumbles under patriarchy and they live happily ever after.
Even more problematic is twenty two year old Lise (Genevieve DeGraves) and 45 year old Stephen (Joel Fishbane) mostly because DeGraves and Fishbone have absolutely zero romantic or sexual chemistry, and most of their scenes involve Stephen being condescending and DeGraves trying to seduce him and it’s almost unbearably awkward to watch them. The fact that Stephen is a marriage counsellor who doesn’t understand why Lise is upset that she hasn’t been introduced to anyone he knows and that their dates never venture beyond his office or his house also completely undermines any legitimacy in his being a psychiatrist. It doesn’t make sense why Lise would let any man, let alone her boyfriend, treat her like she has the brain function of a goldfish, while objectifying her body.
I really wanted the crux of this play to be building up to the dining party scene where the big reveal was that Jessica was pregnant with Marcus’ baby, and for the cathartic explosion of these character’s lives and three horrific relationships.
Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness is like reading an article that you really, really hope was written by The Onion and then realizing at the end was completely in earnest and feeling really depressed about what that says about mankind.
TWISI FRINGE RATING:
Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
July 11 at 07:30 PM buy tickets