by Cathy Hammer
In 2015, the Republic of Ireland passed an amendment to their constitution allowing Gay couples the rights of marriage. Though civil partnerships had been recognized since 2010, they did not grant the same rights and responsibilities as civil marriages between men and women. The vote was particularly emotional and tension-filled taking place in a very Catholic country in which homosexuality had been a crime until 1993. Even those who fought hard for LGBT equality felt a little sting of whiplash from the speed of the cultural shift. Ann Blake’s dramedy, The Morning After the Life Before — a Montreal and London Ontario Fringe favorite — puts a warm and welcoming face on the issue, helping us understand the significance of this dramatic social change and to celebrate it with laughter, music and a little cake.
We are led through a two year journey by Ann, a self-proclaimed troubadour played with wit and awareness by the playwright herself. She occasionally punctuates her rapid-fire storytelling with folksy acoustic guitar. From the outset she confesses that characters will be blended and events truncated because she has a point she wants to make. She is joined on staged by the equally talented Lucia Smyth, who plays all the other people in Ann’s story. The third player of sorts is an ornate wedding dress, the loaded symbol of seemingly every little girl’s dream, which occasionally performs a role, but spends much of the time hung to the side, overseeing the proceedings.
Ann’s world is rocked when she meets Jenny, the first person to ever ask her out on a proper date. While Ann is forever worrying what other people think, Jenny is comfortable in her own skin. At first Ann thinks she is just attracted to being wanted, but soon she realizes that what she feels for Jenny is genuine love. Sadly, years of being preached to about the sins of homosexuality bring on shame and discomfort mixed with her joy. Coming out is a struggle and some of her conversations reminded me of the old David Steinberg line that explaining his lifestyle to his parents was like explaining alternate side of the street parking to a cranberry.
As directed by Paul Meade, the two actresses connect and reconnect deeply, as Smyth switches among her roles of Jenny, Ann’s parents, assorted friends and others they meet along the way. A table and two chairs help set the scenes, all lit by an overhead grid of well placed lights. The wardrobe is drapey and muted, all the better to focus on the actresses’ expressive faces.
The emotional core of Ms. Blake’s script is so truthful, you don’t need vast knowledge of Irish culture or history to understand the path of the characters or the well-placed jokes. Ann’s desire for love and acceptance is relatable, no matter your sexual orientation, and her world is populated with a range of recognizable people made real in just a few words and gestures from Ms. Smyth. It’s a challenge to get someone to understand Gay love when the only relationships they can envision involve traditional feminine roles defined primarily by men. But each interaction makes Ann that much more clear eyed. Even those who obviously disapprove of two women building a life together contribute to Ann’s growth as a woman and as a partner.
This moving and funny two-hander is part of the 16th season of Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Festival, a highly curated mix of brand new and recently acclaimed productions with a focus on contemporary Irish playwrights. Running until January 28, this year’s lineup of 17 events includes five US premieres and one world premiere, with productions coming from Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Queens and Manhattan. The festival culminates in an award ceremony and celebration of the Irish Arts at Rosie O’Grady’s. For the full schedule and to purchase advanced tickets visit www.origintheatre.org.
The Morning After the Life Before — The Cell theatre (338 W 23rd Street, B/t 8 /9 Ave). Runtime is a little over an hour with no intermission. Performances are Mon, Wed, Fri 9pm; Tue, Thurs 6.30pm; Sun Jan 27 5pm. Tickets are $30 and reservations can be made by calling 866 – 811- 4111. Ends Sunday, January 27, 2019.