The Frank Theatre Company presented The Explanation in the Vancity Culture Lab from April 17th to 29th. The Explanation is a tender, playful, introspective story about identity, relationships, and the questionable necessity of labels. SAD writer Ella Adkins reviews!
A person walks onto the stage, sporting a micro mini skirt, black wig and some Doc Martens. They say ‘I’m John’. John, played by Kevin MacDonald, fiddles with the beaded spectacle cords and pats down his shiny black wig, and assures us he is straight, and a man, and only dresses up as woman on Saturdays to journey to the Vancouver Public Library to frequent the Literature DVD section. The Explanation, a play directed and written by James Fagan Tait, begins light-hearted and quirky as we see a middle-aged white, straight male exploring his identity in an unprecedented way. In John’s words, by dressing up ‘as a big old girl’.
After this monologue introduction, my critical feminist/gender identity ears perked up. Here is John, a self identifying straight man, talking about how great it was to be woman one day of the week. Being someone who identifies as a woman full time, I immediately jumped to the privilege of that sentiment, and questioned whether or not John does actually know what it was like to be a woman at all. For John, it was a glorified escape, whereas for many it is a reality accompanied by societal expectations and misogyny. But John was experiencing something that was very much outside of what is considered to be normative behaviour for someone of his race and sexual orientation. John is being vulnerable by challenging his sexuality and gender, even if it only was for one day of the week. I couldn’t help but admire that, complicated as it may be.
Now another character is introduced: Dick, played by Evan Frayne. Slightly balding, a protruding belly, works for the city. Dick notices John at the library one day, and sparks up a conversation. When John replies, Dick is surprised at the low register of John’s voice. Although John is not the woman that Dick expected them to be, they still embark on a day together. Coffee turns into a drink which turns into visiting a nightclub. Whilst we experience their adventure as well as most of the play in-scene, most of the spoken text is inner dialogue and asides, which gives the viewer a feel of this running anxiety throughout. As two self-identified straight males, this situation is unknown and strange. ‘Is this wrong?” Dick asks himself. ‘What is happening here?’ John asks himself. They are both uncomfortable but enjoying themselves. Neither of them know what to do or say, but manage to find the words anyway.
The crux of the play existed in this beautifully awkward and unknown relationship. John and Dick would frequent the club on Davie every Saturday, thrashing about their uncoordinated middle-aged bodies as John’s mini skirt waves about with every twist and turn. I think the beauty from the relationship between these two characters was not only their honest and vulnerable connection, but also how incredible it was to see two men who identify themselves as straight to have such an intimate connection that may cause the world to question otherwise. John and Dicks relationship made me instantly cognizant of how prevalent toxic masculinity can be. That to many, this relationship would be instantly labelled as queer or gay, which is by no means a bad thing, but it proves that societally there is no room for an in between or an unknown experimentation with gender or sexuality. The Explanation addresses this complex in between in such a delicate way by giving us two characters who never are really able to explain what they are or what they are to each other, and poses the question of whether or not they should have to label or explain.
Whilst lighthearted and playful, The Explanation digs deep with its questions on identity. As Dick and John move further into their relationship and there intimacy becomes sexual, they immediately as themselves and one another, ‘Am I gay?’ ‘Are we gay?’ ‘Does it even matter?’. As I left the theatre with damp eyes, it was the title that resonated with me. The act of explaining, and the constant need for society to be able to explain something. What this play demonstrated to me is that love, sexuality, gender, and identity are far more complicated that labels. That there is always ebb and flow between them. Whilst labels of gender and sexuality can provide great support in terms of identity, The Explanation demonstrated that there can and there must be a allowance for people to exist in unknown places and spaces.