Belvoir’s Blessed Union: The lesbian divorce drama comedy you didn’t know you needed
A blessing or a curse: the trials and tribulations of a progessive™ lesbian break-up
Penned as the “lesbian divorce dramedy”, Belvoir St theatre’s Blessed Union is a witty and rapid-fire chaos of love which sees a queer family attempt to navigate the domestic without leaning on any of the conventional rules of a parent separation. Grounded in a sweepingly political minefield, Maeve Marsden’s debut play arrives as part of Sydney WorldPride and tussles with the very progressive decision of parents including their children in the process of their legal separation, every step of the way.
Ruth and Judith (played by Danielle McCormack and Maude Davey respectively), have been together for 30 years. Their relationship timeline and history is deeply tied to left activism, union organising, building, and the pair have seen each other grow while battling the long queer struggle for marriage equality while steering the ship of parenting in a ‘non-traditional’ sense.
Under the directorial vision of Hannah Goodwin, Marsden’s play comes to life, and raises questions about the in-built struggle of dissolving from the domestic unit after having clung to an assimilatory arrangement of two parents, two children in a middle-class household, for so long.
Generational and racial fissures are raised, where two biracial children are seen growing up in a household with two white parents, both of whom are still processing their own trauma from experiencing discrimination by family members due to their sexual orientation.
In a bid to not become like the straights, this queer separation is anything from the textbook break-up you’ve seen before. The reinvention of the family unit offers a poignant reflection on a broken marriage, with the daughter Delilah’s (Emma Diaz) immediate question, “Is one of you with someone else?” quickly turned down by the scoffed “what a heteronormative assumption”.
Wanting to build a community and family outside the mainstream, Ruth and Judith have a stronghold on keeping their family safe, sane (questionable) and together, during this destabilising period.
The characters occupy the domestic space, weaving in and out of the kitchen and living room as the breakup progresses further, with nods to sleeping in separate bedrooms and having a glorified star chart with various categories including: financial, emotional, spiritual and physical to see to the restructure of their family.
The women include their kids in all of their decision making, including the resolve of creating a new vocabulary of affection to reflect the changes of their relationship breakdown. These terms of endearment are changed, and they respond to daughter Delilah’s suggestion of simply calling each other by their names with a halt, “names are very intimate darling, there’s history to them”.
The new names become attached to the women’s long years of union organising, and the audience come to know each other as Comrade Judith and Comrade Ruth.
With time affixed to the act of preparing food, we become acutely aware of how the family dances around social tensions, political correctness, critiques of capitalism and self-righteous sparring of ‘being right’. While someone takes something out of the fridge, sets the table, cooks pasta for dinner, panfrying dumplings or chopping up some vegetables, the living room becomes a space for comfort and negotiates the couple’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ in between quick repartees and the periodic digs between the children, indicative of typical sibling rivalry.
Criticisms of late capitalism and its effect on the nuclear family are raised, with “the only way we [Ruth and Judith] could do all of this if we both worked all of the time”. Notably, during the cooking, one dons an apron which reads All work and no pay makes a housewife.
The machinations of mental health are reflected through Delilah, a university law student who treads the tenuous line between collapse and holding herself together, while feeling deeply responsible for her mothers’ emotional fallout and trying to manage the adult™ job of keeping a house, a home.
Meanwhile, her brother Asher (Jasper Lee-Lindsay) walks through life with an air of nonchalance and avoidant quips, disputing his Catholic school’s regimented regulations in rebellious tendencies which includes a high note of fellating a monument of religious iconography during school; an act which sees to his suspension.
Differing modes of parenting emerge alongside the separation: tough love from Ruth is esconsced beside the softer and more empathetic Judith who displays her grief openly, with great vulnerability. When things come to a head, the turmoil of an unravelling family is executed with softness and great care, where Marsden’s script takes on jokes, hardened quips and pokes fun at the way the characters unravel the nascent thread of grief in their lives.
Marsden’s debut play reckons with the growing pains of realising your parents are not perfect and holds the delicate balancing act of comedic relief with the fallout of a waning long-term relationship.
The play is a love letter to all families, especially the ones that don’t fit the traditional mold of a household. It is a zealous anthem for left-wing activism while also hosting a critique on the bureaucratic structures of unions and the consequences of ceding to The Man. Where Delilah attempts to carve out a space to battle her demons, naming her panic attack, Thomas (after the tank engine and “I fucked a guy named Thomas once, and it was shit”), Judith relinquishes her parental duties and falls back into her inner child, Asher bulldozes through a conservative Catholic school with abandon and Ruth stokes a desire to reinvent herself.
With one-liners like, ““Everyone likes Jane Fonda, you’re not special”, “I gave up irony for lent” and “Comfort for you means coercion for me. Failure, I don’t know her”, the play is an exercise in self-assured disarray, in being free from inhibition and learning to roll with the punches as we go.
Blessed Union is a lesson that words hold weight, heeding warnings that progress can be reversed and it is vital to continue to be on the side that is fighting to retain our rights. It also offers a gentle reminder that not all feelings are rational, there is no time limit on grieving what once was and beckons us to invite the messy into our lives (caveat: do so at your own expense).
Blessed Union will be running at Belvoir St Theatre until March 10.
Tickets can be purchased here.