My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding is not what you think it is. Oh, sure, the title's a mouthful that promises a great deal of proselytizing and earnestness, but it's just a way to get your attention. No, David Hein and Irene Sankoff's musical (based on Hein's own mothers' courtship) is in fact a romantic comedy with a twist: Instead of watching two twentysomethings fumble through a romance only to save it in the end, here we see a mature, thoughtful love story about a middle-aged woman finally coming to terms with herself.
Our heroine is Claire (Laura Ackermann), newly divorced and starting life over in her forties. This second start entails leaving her son, David, behind in Nebraska with her ex-husband while she heads to Ottawa for a new job and new scenery.
David is played by Pierce Hastings as a young man and Ben Nordstrom as an adult. Nordstrom also serves as the narrator, a role that's tailor-made for the actor. He's genial and charming as always, but he also gets to act; watch him as he sits on the bandstand and sees his life play out again. Nordstrom has a persistent half-smile that gives way to embarrassed grimaces when life gets wobbly. Armed with a guitar, he also joins the band in many of the songs, which hew closely to folk and classic country, with the occasional foray into pop.
But as charming as both Davids are, this is Claire's story. Adrift in the Great White North, Claire finds a roommate (Anna Skidis) who sings in a politically active lesbian choir. Practice is held in their front room, and in short order Claire meets Jane (Deborah Sharn), who is the Wiccan of the title. The pair become great friends, and on a walking tour of the city they share their first kiss.
Sharn and Ackermann make a fantastic couple. The duo create sparks when singing their first song, and their relationship proceeds naturally toward a love so true it can survive an awkward dinner at Hooters with David and his first serious girlfriend, Irene (Jennifer Theby-Quinn). The moms are unflappable as they grill Irene about her birth-control choices and sing of pleasurable sex that doesn't involve a penis. (A gentleman in the front row actually did the "hands-on-cheeks, mouth-wide-open" face from Home Alone when "You Don't Need a Penis" started, then burst out laughing.) It's awkward, but riotously funny.
At some point in any rom-com, there's a senseless argument or an overheard comment that forces the two lovers apart. Or perhaps the conflict will be that Claire is not sure she likes Jane "that way"? This play is far smarter than that. Claire has no doubts about her feelings for Jane, and because she's a psychologist and Jane's a social worker, the two have no misunderstanding they can't talk their way through. Their greatest obstacle as a couple is Jane's own self doubt: How can she truly love Jane if she doesn't love herself?
This personal conflict is bound up in Jane's feelings about her forceful Jewish mother and her own lapsed faith. Again, what makes the script so effective is how it deals with Jane's inner turmoil. There's no quick solution, no moment of epiphany that frees her; instead there are years of talking and loving, of shared experiences and slow movements toward self-realization. Ultimately, Jane's unstinting love helps Claire on the path to freedom. When Claire reaches that point, it feels true because it's hard-won. Life is never as easy as a rom-com, and My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding is grounded in real life.
There is a great deal of story crammed in the play's 90 minutes, but director Edward Coffield still allows everything room to breathe. In the latter third of the show, the focus shifts toward the effort to legalize gay marriage in Canada, which is ushered in by the anthemic "Legalize Love." This is as political as things get, and as rousing as the song is, the message is sung rather than shouted.
And anyway, what's wrong with a little more love in the world? It's love that brings Claire and Jane together, it's love that finally heals Claire's wounded spirit, and it's love that brings everybody together for the wedding we've long been promised. You can write a sharp script that subverts every expectation and cliché, but you still have to include a wedding. Not even the Supreme Court can change that.
My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding Through May 31 at the Jewish Community Center's Wool Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $36 to $40. Call 314-442-3283 or click here.