Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Fringe fest’s extreme theatre

Lesbian witch mother, radical therapy & the meaning of everything

INFINITE SPIRIT. Soo Garay, Clinton Walker and Elizabeth Saunders star in T Berto's new play A Singularity of Being. Credit: Justin DeGuzman

Sex, drama, love and lies. No, I’m not talking about that last sad 4am grasp at finding someone — anyone — to go home with after Pride. Toronto’s Fringe Festival may not have floats, but it offers fabulous entertainment for the drama queens who prefer to sit in cushy air-conditioned comfort while viewing others’ tragedies and triumphs.

A parent’s second marriage can often be tricky — particularly when your mom is part Jew, part witch and all gay. David Hein’s been there and shares the tale in his new play, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. Hein wrote the musical with his wife Irene Carl after years of explaining the presence of multiple mothers at their own wedding nearly a decade ago.

“We had five mothers,” Hein says with a chuckle. “My wife was in the bridal suite with all five of them fussing over her: my mom, her partner, Irene’s mom, her dad’s new wife and my dad’s new wife.”

Hein’s mom split for Ottawa and newfound Sapphism back when he was 13 years old, with Hein staying at his dad’s place for a year before joining his mother. Young David had no inkling of the surprise awaiting him.

“My mom loves to tell the story of me overhearing her talking on the phone, telling her future wife that she didn’t know how to tell me something,” says Hein. “The next day she came out to me, and I said ‘Well, my dad has a new girlfriend so I can’t see why you shouldn’t.’”

If that rates pretty high on the adorable meter, you’re going to love the play’s depiction of Hein’s mother’s big day: an open field, a huppa, a flaming pot and a broom all shared equal significance at the lesbian wedding.

Carl’s first meeting with her fiancé’s two gay moms (played by Lisa Horner and Rosemary Doyle) was equally unorthodox.

“It was at Hooters,” laughs Carl. “We thought it looked kind of like a Kelsey’s family place, with the big cartoon owl sign.”

Director Andrew Lamb was initially drawn to the piece because of its campy humour, but quickly realized there was more to the story than just a lezzie punch line.

“There’s a whole level underneath the fun where we get to the heart of these characters and really fall in love with them,” says Lamb. “David and Irene have really created a beautiful tribute to an essence of love that I think is truly universal.”

My Mother’s Lesbian Wiccan Jewish Wedding, also starring Robert Kennedy and Jackie English and featuring the Kyle Orzech Band, continues at Bread and Circus (299 Augusta Ave) till Sun, Jul 12.

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Roland Mathers longs to break free of his earthly shackles, but the brilliant astrophysicist is trapped by gravity and an ailing body. Roland (played by Clinton Walker) has been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis); his story is told in T Berto’s new play A Singularity of Being.

As the scientist’s body begins to fail, Roland’s mind continues to question the mechanics of the universe and Einstein’s unified field theory. Vivacious wife Sally (Soo Garay) is a pillar of support and optimism, while friend and mentor Reeve (John Blackwood) does his best to bring spiritual succour, but Rolland finds himself feeling less connected to the world around him as he ponders creation.

CanStage commissioned the piece from Berto three years ago, asking the playwright to create a piece loosely based on real-life astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. As Berto began his research he realized that writing a biographical play about a living person can have its drawbacks and limitations.

“Biographies don’t necessarily make good drama,” says Berto. “People just don’t tend to live in dramatic arcs.”

Drawing from Hawking’s story, as well as a close family friend who had recently passed away from ALS, Berto created a story of how the illness affects its victims and their family. “What happens to a person who leaves us physically to go live in their head,” Berto aks, “and what are the effects on the people around them?”

The playwright posits that Roland and Hawking’s journeys of the mind represent a questioning of both science and spirituality. “They’re asking the questions of what makes the universe,” says Berto, “the fundamental of particles and physics. So, if you want to know everything about everything, are you not questioning God?”

A Singularity of Being, directed by Edward Roy and also starring David Tripp and Elizabeth Saunders, continues at Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave) till Jul 12.

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Shannon McDonough is trying to lose her emotional baggage by any means possible. The popular cohost of OutTV’s travel show Bump (coproduced by Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra), teams up with cowriter Lori Pearlstein to chronicle the journey from cynical dumpee to balanced single gal in their new play Build a Bridge and Get Over It.

Kathy (McDonough) hopes that a weekend therapy retreat will help her cope with an ended relationship and the death of her sister — a double whammy that’s left her reeling and looking for answers. There she meets Jessie (Pearlstein), a straight woman who says she’s come to camp in a half-hearted attempt to quit smoking. Their subsequent Odd Couple bickering leads to a surprising camaraderie.

“Kathy’s willing to do anything to make the pain stop,” says McDonough. “She’s had this horrible breakup and doesn’t want to waste a whole day doing drum circles, but she does want to fix the problem. Jessie’s quite skeptical about the whole thing, and it causes a lot of tension between the two of them.”

McDonough went through her own test of fire a few years back when she faced a wicked breakup following the death of her sister.

“I was just willing to do anything to get through it,” she says. “I had gotten my scuba licence, taken Bollywood dancing and done yoga when I finally decided to go on a therapy retreat.

“My friends thought I just went to eat parsnip burgers, but it was incredibly supportive and, in the end, I felt totally elated. If you’re really honest with yourself and ask the right questions, you can find the answers — without being too airy-fairy.”

McDonough and Pearlstein team up with directors Nicole Manek and Margaret Smith to Build a Bridge and Get Over it beginning Fri, Jul 3 at 5:15pm in Tarragon Theatre Extra Space.