Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 11, 2023
Playwright: Maeve Marsden
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Danielle Cormack, Maude Davey, Emma Diaz, Jasper Lee-Lindsay
Images by Brett Boardman
Judith and Ruth have made the surprising decision to part ways, after decades of love and marriage. Determined to stay queer to the end, the plan is to not go through the typical acrimony of a straight divorce, but in Blessed Union by Maeve Marsden, we discover that a civil split is easier said than done. It might just be five short years since its legalisation in Australia, but it is safe to say that nobody is surprised to be talking about the dissolution of same-sex marriages, such is our cynicism about that ancient institution.
The comedy of Marsden’s play may be concerned with its breakdown, but what we find ourselves observing, are specific qualities of the queer family, even though its general structure seems scarcely different from its more conventional alternative. With fundamentally different concepts of gender and sexuality at the very foundations of family life, the couple’s offspring seem to have developed into brighter young adults, although it appears that they are in no way more fulfilled than their counterparts from straight homes. Furthermore, their misery at times of difficulty, look exactly to be the same.
Dialogue and characters in Blessed Union are thoroughly delightful, with an irrepressible verve that keeps us engaged and fascinated. Direction by Hannah Goodwin provides for the show, distinct and widely varying emotional dimensions, that help us empathise with the many intense feelings being explored. In her efforts to sustain its infectious vigour however, the show can at times feel rushed, making it difficult to decipher some of the meaningful intricacies being spoken.
The cast of four is beautifully cohesive, in their portrayal of a modern nuclear family. Danielle Cormack’s passionate approach as Ruth, reminds us of the stakes involved, as the personalities watch everything fall apart. Maude Davey brings unexpected nuance to Judith, with a lightness of touch that helps us discover the sensitive aspects, of a story being told with a lot of raucousness. Their daughter Delilah is played by Emma Diaz, whose precise depictions of the endlessly complex experience of someone caught in the middle of their parents’ breakup, are painfully accurate as well as being highly amusing. Jasper Lee-Lindsay is wonderfully memorable as younger son Asher, full of charming whimsy and exquisite timing, for many of the show’s biggest laughs.
Designer Isabel Hudson conveys the values of our upper middle class, through a set and costumes that reflect the unassuming respectability, that queer people have grown to inhabit. Lights by Amelia Lever-Davidson and sound by Alyx Dennison turn up the drama on occasion, but are mostly warm and sentimental, for a staging that has at its heart, an abundance of tenderness.
It is somewhat strange, that people who have seen the worst, from a lifetime of persecution and prejudice, should wish to bring innocent lives into the same world that has inflicted so much cruelty. Judith and Ruth try so hard to spare their kids the heartache of a home torn asunder, but there is no denying the suffering that humans will go through, no matter how much protection is being furnished. The mothers however, have undoubtedly succeeded in providing better lives for their children, the nature of which they could only dream about in their youth. Times have indeed changed, and we seem more capable of valuing kindness, but it remains to be seen, if this new embrace of compassion and generosity, is but another flash in the pan.