Based on her 2005 childbirth memoir the current stage production of Diane Flacks’ 85-minute monologue Bear With Me is a breakneck mixture of visceral emotion, comic timing, physical agility and laugh-out-loud stroller-loathing memoir that may remind some why they forgot to have children. Ultimately Bear with Me ranks among the best of pregnancy tell-alls because, for the most part, it refuses to over indulge the kind of sentimentality parenting frequently falls prey to.
An expert performer and eclectic writer, Flacks bounces and gyrates around the stage with the skillful support of director Kelly Thornton in a dancercise, pilates ball, tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Physically channelling the likes of John Travolta, Anne Murray and Johnny Cash, her performance text incorporates music, text and movement to create a rollercoaster of painful and joyous emotion for any would-be mama or audience members already all too familiar with the double-edged experience of bringing new life into the world.
Flacks’s Jewish heritage combined with her same-sex partnership makes for a diverse and engaging journey through a form of identity politics that is never in your face but always out there. Unafraid to state the ins and outs of same-sex desire yet skilled enough to reveal the similarities between all forms of sexually penetrating play this is a writer-performer with a message for anyone interested in sex, reproduction and the ways in which you can have one without the other.
As a veteran stage and television artist Flacks has always been able to meld the personal and the political in a subtle yet powerful manner, universalizing her message for a broad audience. The circumcision segment of Bear with Me, in particular, blends ambivalence, regret and self-examination into a heartfelt critique of a much-debated ritual based upon faith and tradition.
Although the final moments of the piece do enter into a world of metaphoric sentimentality where the power of parenting competes with both war and greed, the sheer heartfelt presence of a committed performer and talented writer of autobiographical theatre elevates the sentiment to the level of personal catharsis, engaging both spectator and performer in a mutual moment of joyful and tearful purgation. Bear with her and Flacks will take you on a rigorous ride through one of nature’s most theatrical events.