lisa horner and kyle orzech
photo by roger cullman
“My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding was nice.” This is the opening line of one of Canada’s newest musicals, which is enjoying a remounted production at the Panasonic Theatre produced by David Mirvish. It is nearly shocking just how nice this musical is. Based on co-creator David Hein’s own personal experiences, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding initially came out of the 2009 Toronto Fringe Festival and therefore I had expected this show to be a satirical, postmodern exploration of gender identity, multiculturalism and a witty, if somewhat sardonic, commentary on the effect these elements have on the traditional concepts of a hetero-normative family. That is not this musical at all.
On the contrary, nearly everything in this musical is perfectly functional and if it is not entirely functional at the beginning of the show, with time and growth, by the end everyone seems to find their own sense of empowerment and their own happily ever after. My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding is sweet. It is obvious that David Hein and his wife Irene Carl Sankoff wanted to honour Hein’s mothers and their unconventional wedding while writing this show and they infuse it with a lot of love and a strong dose of sentimentality. If one were being sceptical she could say that this musical is emotionally manipulative, like a Steven Spielberg film, and yet to be fair, Spielberg films are wildly popular and audiences seem to love this musical too.
This musical centers on David, a High School student who moves from the Prairies to Ottawa to live with his mother after his parents’ divorce. He learns that his mother is a lesbian and is incredibly accepting of this revelation and the musical follows his mother, Claire and her girlfriend Jane, and then David and his girlfriend/wife Irene through their subsequent marriages. The strength of this musical is David Hein’s songs and the incredible cast that have assembled for this production. The story is told primarily through the music and it is from these numbers that the musical derives most of its humour and gives depth to its characters and their relationships with one another. There is a horrifyingly awkward song entitled “My Friend Jane” in which Claire ends up massively over-sharing in her attempt to come out to David, which is particularly delightful and the comedic bull’s-eye of the show is definitely the “Don’t Take Your Lesbian Moms to Hooters” sequence (which includes the rousing showstopper “You Don’t Need a Penis”). Such are the gems that prove that often the truth is far more hilarious than fiction. There is also a brilliant song called “Hot Lesbian Action” which is a projected fantasy by David’s father, Garth, of what it must be like for his ex-wife with her new lover, which is very clever and wonderfully staged by Andrew Lamb. This song is in some ways mirrored by the reality, “Feelings Are Important,” a beautifully woven characterization of life as a young man with a psychologist for a mother and her homeopathic Wiccan girlfriend.
It is difficult not to love the utterly endearing Kyle Orzech as Young David who is filled with such sweet affection for his mother and the typical manic antics of a teenage boy. Jackie English manages to steal the show as Becki, a Hooter’s waitress who has minimal stage time but maximum hilarity. Lori Nancy Kalamanski creates a sweet, lovely portrait of Irene, David’s girlfriend/wife and Rosemary Doyle is equally beautiful as the serene Jane. Robert B. Kennedy provides some (much needed) tension as Garth, while still (incredibly) being a strongly likeable character. Lisa Horner is the star of the show as Claire, a woman who faces constant inner turmoil in attempting to balance her own life and her relationship with Jane with being a parent and her relationship with David. Horner also has a gorgeous voice which breathes such vitality into Hein and Sankoff’s music and lyrics.
The book of the musical seems a bit sparse, as though Hein and Sankoff have written the lines in attempt to link the songs together rather than using them to enrich the characters or strengthen their stories, their unique voices and their relationships. Structurally, I was confused about the fact that supposedly David did not know he was Jewish (an important plotline near the end of the show) because his Grandmother, who continually telephoned his mother, always asked Claire if she had been to Synagogue. It seemed strange that David, who grew up in Saskatchewan where his Grandmother was, would not have known that she was Jewish, and unlikely that a woman who so frequently referred to the Synagogue would have been able to have a relationship at all with her grandson without him knowing that she was Jewish. It also seemed unlikely to me that a woman who called her daughter so frequently long-distance would have lived in the same province as her grandson for the first fifteen years of his life and not had a relationship with him. Therefore, it was very strange and confusing for me how David could have possibly not known that he was Jewish. There are also some anachronistic issues which I found hauled me out of the world of the musical from time to time. The most significant of these was a reference to Wikipedia in a song supposedly sung in 1991, but there was also a reference to The Drowsy Chaperone and the use of the word “chillax” which did not seem to belong in the time in history that was being represented.
There are a lot of theatre productions that are written to urge audiences to examine the world critically and to reveal the pockets of injustice that we allow to exist and to expose the festering wounds of humanity to incite debate or advocate for change. My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding allows its audience to bask in the celebration of one of Canada’s victories, the legalization of Gay Marriage across our country. Andrew Lamb’s production encourages us to feel a united sense of pride in the theatre and a sense of gratification that our country is among a small minority in the world where such tolerance is endorsed by our government and the “majority of our citizens.” It is a nice feeling, no doubt. And yet, this production still did not quell my urge to go digging down beneath the happiness in search of something darker. This story seemed a little too perfect to me and it reaffirmed that it is in a character’s sublime imperfection that my fascination truly lies.
The Mirvish Production of My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding plays at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge Street) until March 21st, 2010. For more information or to book your tickets please call 416.593.4142 or visit http://www.mmljww.com.
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