As it’s Pride Week here in the Twin Cities, what better show to see right now than Le Switch at the Jungle Theater? A new play that is experiencing a rolling debut, having been first performed in Chicago and now here (where it got its start at the Playwrights Center PlayLabs), this comedy deals with romance right on the brink of the monumentous legislation of marriage equality. David (Kasey Mahaffy) is librarian who loves to categorize subjects but struggles to categorizing himself, finding he is straddling different things in his life. As his best friend Zachary (Michael Wieser) is about to get married and plans his bachelor party in Montreal, David as best man struggles to understand why people want to get married while his sister Sarah (Emily Gunyou Halaas) admits she has fallen in love with her husband – a green card marriage of convenience that has become far more. While in Montreal, David decides to make it up to Zachary after having an argument about the wedding and buys flowers from florist Benoit (Michael Hanna). David falls head over heels for Benoit and ends up spending the entire day with him. Guided by his family and friends, especially his roommate Frank (Patrick Bailey) who is still mourning his deceased partner and supports the idea that marriage may not be for everyone, David struggles through learning French, tackling cultural and personal differences, and mental blocks in order to have a relationship with Benoit and ultimately try to answer, “What is it about?”
This show is wickedly funny, clever, and poignant. It was hard for me, after Orlando, to not take every moment with a little bit deeper meaning. While this show feels like a rom-com, it has a much more complex and philosophical root. David has learned to identify as the kid who disappointed his parents, while his twin Sarah was successful. Identifying himself as weird and abnormal, a failure of sorts, David has learned to accept that marriage is not for him because it represents what is normal, be it heteronormative or the traditional idea of success. Because David is not these things, he cannot accept that marriage is an option. However, it also prevents him from allowing himself to feel he deserves a loving relationship and he continues to push out anything “good and perfect” in his life. Instead of learning to learn new ways of success, he accepts that the traditional routes are the only option and keeps certain doors closed, as he refuses to open his antique books. Benoit challenges him to live different and to find other options.
What this play succeeds in (in terms of conversation about the LGBTQA community) is recognizing that not all people in the community think alike. They don’t all feel the same way about marriage. They don’t have the same experiences being gay or coming out or how and what they choose to embrace what identifies them as who they are. Through differences in age and generation, there are different attributes and ideas on what it means to be a member of the queer community. Though a great deal of support is shown for marriage as a positive outcome, its struggles are shown with Zachary and Franks reminds that it may not be for everyone. But the play does show that it is one answer and, though it looks different for everyone, it is another way to express love. I really enjoyed the writing of this piece, focusing on switching and being caught between ideas, especially in how lines switched between people – the idea of “It doesn’t matter/Everything matters” getting passed around and the layers that “classification” carried with it throughout the piece. Though this piece is not radical or extremely diverse in terms of race or gender, it does provide a more nuanced representation than must media surrounding the LGBTQA community and one with a great deal of sincerity.
The aesthetics of the piece are also captivating – the hyper-real moments that flow almost cinematically as Benoit performs an almost ballet to arrange a bouquet to the Flower Duet from Lakme, lighting a cigarette in slow-motion, the repetitions of “La Vie en Rose” throughout, the moments of a librarian and a florist falling in love a long a canal. All of this is conveyed through the brilliant, fluid set design of Kate Sutton-Johnson, stunning lighting (that moves seamlessly between club scenes, New York apartments, and Montreal mountains) by Barry Browning, complex and gorgeous sound design by Sean Healey, beautiful, detailed costumes by Moria Sine Clinton, and clever, coordinated directing by Jeremy B. Cohen. Also I appreciated how much focus was put on the dialect and language by the cast and vocal coach Keely Wolter. The French spoken by Hanna sounded authentic and spoken with ease (and personally reminded me of my French teacher from high school, who was Minnesotan but could speak French without an American accent).
Most of all, what I liked about this play was that it was hopeful. After Orlando (and the other mess of events this week), the world looks bleak. A play that is heart-warming, uplifting, and provides hope for different ways of living and different ways of community is something I think we all need right now.
Le Switch is written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. It is playing now through July 31st at the Jungle Theater. Show and ticket information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
And for those of you who might be interested in some of the issues touched upon in the play, check out these books which I’ve encountered in some of my studies/research:
- Virtuous Vice: Homoeroticism and the Public Sphere by Eric O. Clarke – discusses ways in representations of queer culture fall short and how inclusion only accepts a small aspect of homosexuality.
- The Queer Art of Failure by Jack (formerly Judith) Halberstam – discusses alternatives to the narratives of success and finding positivity in difference and failure.