Review by Anja Bless
Are lesbians immune to the messy divorces of their hetero counterparts? Can a progressive couple bring the same alternative thinking to their separation that they brought to fighting for equality? Blessed Union, written by Maeve Marsden and now showing at Belvoir St Theatre as part of Sydney WorldPride 2023, explores these questions in just under two hours of high energy, witty, and emotional dialogue between Ruth (Danielle Cormack), Judith (Maude Davey), and their children Delilah (Emma Diaz), and Asher (Jasper Lee-Lindsay).
Director Hannah Goodwin, in collaboration with set and costume designer Isabel Hudson, throws the audience headlong into the modern and warm suburban home of Ruth, Judith, and their children. An Easter family lunch, all laughs and love, is quickly revealed as the setting Ruth and Judith have chosen to reveal to their children that they are separating. But, they preface, this is not your straight-forward separation (pun intended). Instead, they want to go on this journey as a family, to show each other and the world that not only was their marriage beautiful and full of love and respect, but their separation can be too.
Cormack and Davey are perfect in their casting as the career-oriented, former revolutionary turned union executive Ruth, and the loving (to the point of suffocating) and witty teacher in Judith. Likewise, Diaz as the quippy and keen new law student Delilah, and Lee-Lindsay as the cheeky and rebellious schoolboy Asher both shine. Lee-Lindsay’s comedic timing and physicality, and Diaz’s portrayal of anxiety bubbling to the surface are especially noteworthy. Sadly, there wasn’t quite enough time for the audience to fall in love with this family before it all comes crashing down. The high energy start to the performance (leading to dialogue that is almost too speedy to follow) cascades into yelling matches that have insufficient respite for the quieter, sad, and loving moments that the performers portray so beautifully. The script also often borders on the overly-verbose and cerebral, with quotes of Marx and casual lectures on law and labour rights history. While at times this allows for fun and witty exchanges, it also makes it difficult to relate to the characters as their conversations bordered occasionally on surreal.
While the main plot of Blessed Union explores a well-worn genre of divorce tragicomedy in a refreshing light, more interesting perhaps were the sub-plots around navigating a post-yes vote society as a lesbian couple with children, or the complexities of raising bi-racial children as white parents, or the significance of gender for a son living with three women. It would be exciting to see these themes explored more on a stage such as the Belvoir’s, pushing the envelope a little further than where Blessed Union takes it.
But despite these drawbacks, Blessed Union remains at its heart an exploration of how love, hurt, and change knows no bounds. And how, like making a family meal, divorce can create a mighty mess out of just a few ingredients, but eventually the clean-up helps to reveal new possibilities.
Image Credit: Brett Boardman