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photo by Leif Norman

composer/co-writers and actors David Hein and Irene Sankoff.
photo by Leif Norman


Jane Enkin


By Jane Enkin, posted May 12, 2012

My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding earned a joy-filled standing ovation; the happy opening night audience buzzed around the whole team during the after-show celebration. Who wouldn't love a clever, funny, warm show that culminates with a chupa? The play, crammed with gorgeous singing, fun music, and comic choreography, is a feel-good show about well-intentioned, caring people. After success in Toronto and many Canadian and American locations, My Mother's...Wedding appears with new orchestration and a made-in-Winnipeg production presented by Winnipeg Studio Theatre.
This is a true story (stream-lined in some ways), written by David Hein and his partner Irene Sankoff, about their own lives, focused on the journey of David's mother. David Hein himself is narrator, band-member and guide throughout the show. The talented Scott Peterson, playing teenaged David, is eventually supplanted by Hein, while the real Sankoff takes on her own character.
Annabel Kershaw, as David's mother Claire, is the central character of the play. She moves from her conventional marriage in Saskatoon to a new identity in Ottawa as a single woman, then a partnered lesbian mother. Kershaw makes great use of her beautiful, rich voice, her expressive face and physical presence, and great comic timing as she swings back and forth between confidence and self-doubt, letting love carry her forward all the way.
Rosemary Doyle's role is less complex – she is the perfect, patient, supportive partner. Her beautiful voice and joyful energy make her duets with Kershaw a delight. Winnipeg actor John Bluethner helps us to feel sympathy for David's father, Claire's ex, even when she does not. He gets great laughs when he has a brief bout of jealous fantasy with his show-stopping number “Garth's Lament.” “She's washing dishes with her, playing scrabble with her,” he sings, the lyrics focusing on the intimacies that really touch him, as the ensemble has a lark acting out “Hot Lesbian Action” in the kitchen. Incidentally, this scene includes the only visual image of a woman in a “masculine” outfit, or even one   as “unfeminine” as most Canadians' everyday clothes. The women of this play belong to a particular lesbian sub-set in which everyone is well-educated, stylishly dressed and slender, with fabulous hair.
It seems to me an important political truth about contemporary North America that no one in this play is actually uncomfortable about gay people and gay marriage, except Claire's mother who is presented only through the phone conversations we eavesdrop on. Claire's doubts are about commitment, self-exploration, and Jewish identity – she meets Lesbians and then identifies as one of them with ease. She is concerned about the reaction of teenaged David, but he shrugs and quickly adjusts to life with two Moms. In a cute number, we learn that his actual problem is that these two women want him to know “Feelings Are Important”, even before breakfast -- “So is getting to the shower,” he struggles to answer as they drown him out. He quickly uses the info to court young Irene -- “feelings are important” makes just the right impression on her.
David and Irene are amazing – talented singers and actors, they play themselves and tell their own story in a very humble, even self-effacing way, allowing the more dramatic emotions of the other characters to swirl around them. Although they have already performed the show many times, they allowed a fluid rehearsal process with skilled director Kayla Gordon and the talented on and off-stage team.  
It was fun learning after the show what's true and what's only “almost true” in the show – no, the Moms didn't actually have their first dinner with Irene in a Hooter's Restaurant -- they realized at the door what kind of place it was and turned around; yes, the Moms did actually corner Irene and educate her on creative approaches to sexual satisfaction. By the way, because of scenes like this one audiences under fifteen are asked to stay away. The show is really very mild and I think a sixteen year-old could have a great time.
Along with the comedy and music, the show has many satisfying emotional moments, and the whole audience applauds when the wedding finally takes place, with lovely Wiccan and Jewish elements.   People touched base in the lobby about which scenes brought them to tears.
For me, the strongest emotions came during the central ensemble number, “A Short History of Gay Marriage,” set during a demonstration for marriage rights in Ottawa. Accompanied by a slide show of photos and newspaper clippings, and moving tableau by the actors, David sings the history of gay rights in North America. Beginning with the birth of gay activism at Stonewall in New York and Pierre Trudeau's assertion “The State has no place in the bedrooms of the Nation.”, David takes us through a compare and contrast look at high and low moments in Canada and the U.S.
After the performance, David talked about the impact the play has for American audiences. “They go crazy,” he said, finding in the play an affirmation that progress does happen and that they are part of that progress, on a different time scale than in Canada, but following the same hopeful trajectory.
And what an auspicious time for this play! Barak Obama: “I have to tell you...when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage...At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
Reflecting this morning, I thought of the relative simplicity of this issue – recognizing that a disenfranchised group of individuals have the rights recognized for the population as a whole – compared to the much more complex issues, including Indigenous rights, environmental protection, and an end to child poverty, that our country still faces. More complex, but still, an affirmation of hope like this play, a recognition of success, can be energizing on all fronts.
Serious reflections aside, My Mother's...Wedding is a fun show, with lots of verbal and visual humour throughout. The ensemble cast romps through a huge number of roles, clearly designated with simple, effective costumes and minimal set changes. I always love to see performers having a great time on stage, getting a kick out of each other and the material. Chirping “We Love Winter”, hamming it up in a Hooter's restaurant, dancing a hora at the wedding, these flexible triple threat performers kept the energy high.
At the end of the show, we're treated to a slide-show of photos of the real wedding, David's two mothers in their matching flower garlands and flowing skirts, beaming. Mazel Tov!
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