Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents Lois Fine’s play Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week
If I told you that Judith Thompson was directing a play written by queer activist Lois Fine and it was being staged at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, you’d likely think I just woke up from a wet dream. Either that or I was trying to explain a Beatles song. But no, it’s reality, and it is a play currently on stage in Toronto. Oh yeah, it’s called Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week.
Freda and Jem are two lesbians who hit it off at a meat market, shack up, and decide to have children. Jem (Kathryn Haggis) is a butch plumber turning wrenches while Freda (Diane Flacks) is a grad student turning pages.
They turn out to be a very traditional couple. Jem is stoic and strong, the silent type. She could be described as a stereotypical male, if this were the 1950s. Thankfully, it isn’t and most males these days are not so one-dimensional. Call me crazy, but most modern-day men are emotional and intellectual rainbows compared to Jem. And that is a good thing!
I also found Freda to be a one-dimension cliché. She comes across as yet another June Cleaver wannabe, looking for a son, a daughter and a picket fence.
Later, when two children (one boy and one girl) join them, they become a boring, typical nuclear family.
Bad grades? Yawn.
Skipping school? Yawn.
No father figure? Yawn.
Oh wait, here’s something: Jem helps with her son’s homework. Now that is peculiar!
The acting, staging, music and writing are all immaculate. The trouble I had with it was it’s all felt too familiar, too safe. This is basically a functional family and the parents just happened to fall out of love.
Don’t get me wrong. Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week has tremendous writing, damn fine acting and is a show well worth checking out. But for me, this play doesn’t have a “hook,” an edge. It doesn’t challenge me to re-evaluate my prejudices and it doesn’t take me somewhere I haven’t gone before. It’s a choreographed, black and white snapshot that makes me think “how quaint”.
The thing that really did make Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week worthwhile, at least for me, was Camellia Koo’s set design. Koo has created a deceptively simple set for this play, consisting of a large, pyramid-like structure occupying most of the stage in Buddies’ Chamber space. I thought the steps served to signify one’s power, their rise to the top of the hierarchy, subsequent fall and more. At times Freda and Jem stand at the top, elevated, while their children Teejay (Stephen Joffe) and Sam (Sadie Epstein-Fine) play below.
In my mind, that’s why the relationship between Freda and Jem failed: they viewed their children as medals to be worn, instead of young people in need of nurturing.
And what can be said of Lorraine Segato? My goodness, seeing her perform such personal songs in such an intimate setting is such a treat. If they doubled the ticket price and Lorraine performed solo, you’d still be ripping off Buddies. Segato alternates between electric and acoustic guitars, and she sings in that distinctive voice.
If anything, her music is the edge I was looking for. Situated stage left, she moves in and out of the “pyramid” from time to time, and for me those were the highlights. Music is the ghost, the constant, the guiding light. Lorraine Segato reinforces that truth, especially as she joins Jem, walking barefoot.
The one major thing I didn’t like about the evening was the person sitting behind me. She had some kind of tablet that apparently needed a stylus. And apparently the stylus needed to double click before being activated. And apparently she needed light bright enough to weld with in order to scribble something. Maybe once or twice would be forgivable, but she did it so often it was like a malfunctioning strobe light was an audience member. I can only imagine how distracting it’d be for the performers. I hope Buddies finds out who she is and bans her for life.
- Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week is on stage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until October 5
- Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with matinees on Sundays at 2:30pm
- Ticket prices range from $20 to $37, with PWYC available on Sundays and a limited number of free tickets available for queer youth age 25 and under on September 24
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-975-8555 or at the box office
Photo of Kathryn Haggis by Tanja-Tiziana