This is Her Life
Review by Sean McQuaid
Like some of the other shows at this year’s Island Fringe Festival, Realizations is dark, brave and quasi-autobiographical. Staged by Small Town Queer Menace Productions, this play explores issues regarding rape culture and forging one’s own sexual identity, as written by Kandace Hagen and directed by Rory Starkman. Based in part on incidents from Hagen’s own life, it’s a bigger, more ambitious play than most of its semi-autobiographical festival siblings, more complex and more complete.
Advance publicity sometimes made the show sound like a humourless, eat-your-vegetables slog of earnest social activism. One blurb, for instance, describes it as “a transitional story that exposes the politics and negotiation of one’s sexual awakening in a culture that is controlled by heteronormativity.” Activism is definitely part of the mix here, but it’s wrapped in a pretty well-written, very well-performed, often entertaining story about long-closeted lesbian Molly’s lifelong quest for self-acceptance, complicated by repeated incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
The quantity and variety of sexual predation Molly contends with feels excessive — like, we’re talking Perils of Pauline levels of serial misfortune here — but Hagen’s writing keeps the individual incidents and Molly’s reactions to them unique enough that this recurring thread doesn’t become tedious or repetitive, though it’s often uncomfortable (as it should be).
Starkman’s set — assorted clusters of furniture and set dressing representing a shifting array of times and places — is dominated by stacks of boxes representing Molly’s memories, which she literally unpacks for us as she tells her stories. It’s a visually interesting concept that serves as an effective framing sequence through which Molly narrates much of the show.
Molly, incidentally, is played by two actors: Marli Trecartin as present-day Molly, also our de facto narrator; and Hannah McGaughey as the younger Molly of yesteryear. Both do a very good job here, crafting a character who’s funny and charming and appealing while capturing all the pain and fear and anger that comes along with this troubled life.
All six supporting stars are solid, most of them playing multiple roles. Standouts include Kate Dempsey’s cheerful Toni, whose warm chemistry with Trecartin’s Molly helps make Molly’s lone happy romance work; comedic gem Cameron MacDonald flexing his drama muscles capably as assorted appalling scumbags; Richard Haines bringing the creepy as two very different flavours of sexual predator; Sophie MacLean’s beguiling turn as Molly’s first female crush; and Rachel MacLeod’s earthily comedic chops as Molly’s blunt gal pal Lydia.
Speaking of comedic, local stand-up comic Sam MacDonald is the biggest revelation in this cast. He’s surprisingly genuine and entirely effective here in a purely dramatic, wincingly uncomfortable role as Molly’s final, hapless male love interest Marcus, the only person slower to recognize and accept Molly’s true sexuality than Molly herself. It’s painful to watch, impressively so.
In other painful watching news, the spacious, air-conditioned Charlottetown Yoga Space is a pretty nice Fringe venue overall, but sight lines were sometimes pretty terrible further back in the audience — depending on blocking, future shows may need to find some way to elevate their playing area. Infrastructural quibbling aside, though, Realizations is one of the more impressive offerings of this year’s Fringe roster.