Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: (Montreal) My Playwright Sister (Fringe)

The Flaws of the Personal
by Caitlin Murphy

My Playwright Sister is a tricky piece to review. One of its goals is to actively question our ability to reflect on or represent others, a reminder that we are forever locked in our own limiting perspectives. It's also a true hybrid: a meta-theatrical piece straddling several generic modes. That said, it's also, at its core, a bold assertion that art is a conversation. So I wade in.

My Playwright Sister takes as its starting point My Pregnant Brother, Johanna Nutter's hugely successful one-woman play about her transgender brother, James Diamond, and his pregnancy. This 'sequel' is largely conceived as an opportunity for Diamond to speak back to that play, air his feelings about being represented (and arguably exploited) by his sister. The siblings proceed for the next hour to discuss and debate not only Nutter's original play, but indeed the very play we're watching, referencing the process of creating it, their director, Jesse Stong. Along the way much fascinating ground is covered: the complicated nature of memory, gender-normative assumptions, sibling tension and tenderness, the always humbling and never-easy task of truly understanding another human being.

I felt the piece was strongest when the siblings were literally revisiting Nutter's script for My Pregnant Brother, with Diamond objecting to specific phrasings or interpretations of his story, and offering his own revisions. The compromises that Nutter agrees to make, and the others that she rejects speak so eloquently and directly to that whole life/art conundrum. There is the moral imperative to be fair and faithful, and the artistic impulse to spin a good yarn; and as anyone in the Sedaris family has surely long known: these two often clash. As do Nutter and Diamond. Using the physical script and the table between them (that I wish would have stayed in the staging longer) grounded the proceedings in a way that felt real, important, urgent. At other times the prompts for discussion felt forced, the flow of things meandering, and the dips into theatricality a little too sharp.

My Playwright Sister ironically suffers a bit from the fact that its raw material is so deeply compelling and aplenty. There's an 'anything goes' licence that may have been dramaturgically stretched a little too far. That said, I admire the impulse and courage to tell a story about the impossibility of story, and to embrace and reveal all the complexity and messiness that necessarily entails. My Playwright Sister opens up a vital conversation resulting in a piece that (rather like family), despite its flaws, is impossible to ignore.

June 5 - 18

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