I Lost My Husband: I lost a couple of hours

Meghan Gardiner's character Evelyn sings karaoke in I Lose My Husband

Meghan Gardiner gets down—sort of—in I Lost My Husband (Photo by David Cooper)

I Lost My Husband is boring. Why waste time, talent, and money on it?

In the story, Evelyn loses her spouse Peter in a bet with a bartender named Melissa. Peter, whom we never meet, obligingly moves right in with the younger woman.

There are a couple of almost-interesting wrinkles in the script’s gender politics. For both Evelyn and Melissa, Peter is a trophy husband, a success object: he owns a BMW dealership. Melissa even admits, at one point, that she is a “car whore.” And, although the script is deliberately progressive—in a mild way—when Evelyn describes herself as “a hardcore feminist”, her claim is an obvious and manipulative exaggeration. So, in these instances at least, the script has a sense of humour about its politics.

It also makes some reactionary assumptions. Catherine Léger’s text (translated from the French by Leanna Brodie) reinforces gender stereotypes. When Melissa admits to being a car whore, Evelyn’s stepson William argues that only women can be car whores; men are more likely to be lasagna whores. In other words, women look for partners with cash and men want to be taken care of. Well, kind of. Maybe. But that’s a bit broad, don’t you think? Not to mention heteronormative. (If you’re about to counter that comedy about gender is necessarily reductive, I encourage you to read The Importance of Being Earnest.)

Besides, once the lay of the land is established, the plot of I Lost My Husband is predictable. In comedy, the old order is disrupted and, in the inevitable happy ending, a new order is established—often with elements of the old order reaffirmed. And the playwright gets to define what happiness looks like. So, in a feminist play, what do you think is going to happen to the value of the trophy husband? Will it go up or down? Also, in this play, the disruption is about an older man shacking up with a younger woman. And Evelyn’s stepson, sweet, innocent William, who is the same age as Melissa, is clearly smitten with her. What’s your guess about how that’s going to work out?

Another big problem with the script is that Evelyn is a self-centred protagonist who possesses almost zero self-awareness: the play gives us very little reason to care about her. She resists and insults her psychiatrist and, when she pretends to be concerned about her stepson’s wellbeing, it’s just a ploy to get her husband back. Evelyn’s blunt self-interest is supposed to be comic, of course, and it might be funny if we were sympathetic to her on a deeper level. But Evelyn’s big beef with her husband is that he refused to loan her $150,000 so that she could buy a Tim Horton’s franchise. Evelyn is a terrible businesswoman. Her yogurt stand is tanking. I wouldn’t have loaned her fifty bucks.

I’m straining to give the script the benefit of the doubt here, but maybe—maybe—if Evelyn were played as a kind of clown, an illogical, unstoppable, but vulnerable force of nature, the comedy might be saved. But watching Meghan Gardiner as Evelyn in this production is like watching Audrey Hepburn play the pre-transformation Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady: there’s too much inherent class, too much restraint to make it credible. The wildest element of Gardiner’s perfect make-up is the lip gloss when, arguably, she should look like early Courtenay Love. And, although costumer Hannah Case puts Evelyn in decoratively ripped jeans and a band T-shirt, everything is so clean and it fits so perfectly that this Evelyn comes across as a yummy mummy rather than a chaotic force.

None of the acting is bad in the show. Playing sweet, aimless William, Curtis Tweedie has fun with timing. And there is one comic riff in the script that I found funny: Steve, William’s dealer, says that the name of Evelyn’s Shop, Evelyn’s Own Yogurt, is disgusting because it makes it sound like Evelyn secretes her own dairy product.

But that’s not enough of a takeaway from a night at the theatre.

I LOST MY HUSBAND by Catherine Léger. Translated by Leanna Brodie. Directed by Diane Brown. Produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre in association with Gateway Theatre. In Studio B at the Gateway Theatre on Saturday, March 17. Continues until March 24.

Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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