At PAL Theatre until May 28, 2016
Posted May 13, 2016
BF stands for Brad Fraser, Canadian badboy playwright, and it also stands for Best Friends. That’s the combination in 5@50: five best friends – all women and all on the cusp of turning fifty – as imagined by Fraser (Poor Superman, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love). Curious that a guy would think he knows something/anything about women entering their fifth decade.
He gets some of it right. But not all of it. From a Huffington Post interview referring to 5@50: “When a woman turns 50, it’s such a milestone and it’s a similarity”, Fraser notes, “within the gay community. Finding a specific focus was easy. What is the major concern going on in my peer group? Addiction. A lot of people I know my age are either drunk or in AA. Addictions define us in middle age; we have to address them.”
Having seen both sides of fifty and being female, I don’t believe that addictions define women in middle age. At fifty, most of us are thinking about retirement and whether we can afford it. A lot of us are on our own again. We worry about our children, our mortgage (if we’re lucky enough to have a home). Careers. Aging parents. Our future. Global warming. Donald Trump. Who has time, money or energy for addiction?
What Fraser does get right is the support these women get from their friends. But another thing that doesn’t ring true is how nasty these five are with each other. At fifty our old friends are far too important for us to alienate them.
In 5@50, Olivia (outrageously portrayed by the incomparable Deborah Williams) has become an alcoholic and it’s her friends – homemaker Fern (Donna Yamamoto), journalist Tricia (Veena Sood) and many-times married Lorene (Diane Brown) who decide something has to be done about her. Olivia’s lesbian partner and medical doctor Norma (Beatrice Zeilinger) is, unbelievably, okay with the status quo; maybe a reformed Olivia won’t love her anymore.
Fraser writes very sharp, very funny dialogue and the best of the lines are given to Sood, as Tricia. She’s also the character we like the most because she’s honest, smart and grounded although she’s still, at fifty, looking for a partner. We don’t get much of a handle on Lorene (Brown’s character); after the failure of a handful of marriages, she’s now married to a guy who’s gay and she has adult children with whom she has lost touch. Lorene is self-obsessed and not very nice. Yamamoto’s character Fern has taken the conservative route and married a guy that’s safe but boring. She does yoga a lot. Williams does a superb job of being the loud-mouthed Olivia. But there’s one character in the quintet that isn’t really believable. Norma (Zeilinger) starts off grumpy, gets grumpier and ends sad. Without giving much away, Norma betrays Olivia in a manner that’s a real stretch.
Set and costume design is by Marina Szijarto; lighting design is Kyla Gardiner’s.
All Fraser’s misperceptions aside, directed by Cameron MacKenzie for Zee Zee Theatre and Ruby Slippers, 5@50 is sharp and funny. I laughed in spite of myself and it was only after the fact – and after a clear-headed post-show conversation – that I saw, once again, images of women projected by a guy.
If you want the real deal, stay tuned for the next incarnation of Mom’s The Word – Mom’s The Word 3: Nest ½ Empty – coming up in 2017. These women/writers/performers are living it and know what it’s really like to be female and in their fifties. Their addiction may be for creating theatre; let’s hope there’s no cure for it.