There’s a simple pleasure to be had in sitting back and watching everything on stage being done well. Belvoir’s new queer family dramedy, Blessed Union, is seamlessly terrific. Funny, emotive, and probing. Flawless. No notes. I could end the review here, but obviously I won’t…
Ruth (Danielle Cormack) and Judith (Maude Davey) have always upheld their ideals in the face of a world pushing against their love. Fiercely compassionate, ethical, and political, they have raised their two children—diligent law student Delilah (Emma Diaz) and rambunctious high schooler Asher (Jasper Lee-Lindsay)—to be aware of the world around them. When they sit the kids down to talk one day, they drop a bombshell; after 30 years together they’re splitting up. What does that mean for a family who have redefined the structures of what a family is? Can they navigate a queer divorce without tripping into heteronormative traps? “Look, we aren’t going to just fall apart like, like, like – a straight couple”, declares Ruth.
While they try to move through their “conscious uncoupling” with grace and transparency, they aren’t prepared for the emotional whiplash the whole family will experience and the issues that will be unearthed along the way. Defying societal and patriarchal norms is much easier to do with your head than with your heart.
Blessed Union taps into the uniquely queer angst of, “What happens now that we’re mainstream?” After so much of LGBTQ+ culture was born in the counterculture, fighting against a heteronormative world, how do we define ourselves now that we have won so many major battles? It’s been five years since Australians overwhelmingly voted in support of same-sex marriage, and Ruth and Judith are finding the fires of their activism, and their relationship, starting to wane.
While these issues are more sharply felt for the queer Left, the impact it has on the family is the same for everyone. All the stages of grief play out in different ways for each family member. Delilah struggles watching her role models fail before her. Asher acts out at school in hilarious ways. Ruth powers on through while Judith falls apart. In this mix, nothing is safe. The Virgin Mary, a Weber BBQ, and a whole lot of food are used to bring this turmoil to life.
Writer Maeve Marsden (creator and curator of Queerstories) has channelled her powers into a singularly insightful and funny debut play. Gently poking fun at the politically active Left and the foibles of lesbian love, Blessed Union revels in its specificity. Some of the most pointed insights are delivered in the form of jokes, softening the edges while still hitting the target. This is a beautifully executed script.
The strong performances never stray from their emotional core, even in their most ridiculous moments. Cormack and Davey make a perfectly matched, if very different, couple at the core, but it is Diaz and Lee-Lindsay, as their mixed race children who perform the real comedic balancing acts. Diaz gives Delilah a smart, brittle nature that looks on the verge of an emotional collapse. She cares deeply, too deeply, and it takes a physical toll on her. While Lee-Lindsay’s Asher masks his pain with precocious quips and avoidance techniques. Kudos to director Hannah Goodwin for breathing messy, multifaceted life into this piece and delivering so convincingly it to the stage.
Blessed Union is the kind of play that makes me want to grab a copy of the script and pour over the lines for the wit, the wisdom, and the wonderful construction. Behind the onstage chaos is a team of professionals all hitting their stride and it’s a joy to watch them work. As the Almighty Cher once asked, “Do you believe in life after love?” The answer is, “Yes, but it’s bloody difficult to get there sometimes.”
By Chad Armstrong
Blessed Union receives its World Premiere run at Belvoir St Theatre as part of Sydney WorldPride from February 11th – March 11th, 2023. Click here for more info and tickets.