My evening out at the Toronto Fringe Festival was characterized by an overwhelming nostalgia. Walking into the Annex Theatre for the first time in 18 years, I was instantly transported back to 1995, when I performed in two plays there. I have a great fondness for the intimate venue, which is full of warmth and history, a perfect setting for Laura Anne Harris’ hilarious and heartbreaking one-woman show—The Homemaker.
The set suggests a 1950s-era kitchen. Giddy and lovable, Laura Anne Harris owns the stage with her portrayal of Janet Cardinal, an isolated French-Canadian housewife who has decided to share her life story as a cabaret show. She describes life with her husband through hilarious vignettes that feature a lot of goofy cooking and cleaning.
At first, Janet Cardinal is a caricature. We are all too familiar with the trope of the dutiful and oppressed housewife (giving up on all of her dreams to create a home), and it is easy to find it tedious, but the genuine charm in her performance transcends the over-satirized stereotype. And as we delve into Janet’s story, her true humanness—her vulnerability—become clear.
There is some very funny clowning going on here. Our heroine becomes increasingly drunk as she happens upon bottles of booze stashed in every nook and cranny. This drunkenness coincides perfectly with the narrative.
Janet clings to alcohol to compensate for the great disappointment she feels in her life (she wanted to be an entertainer), and her husband seems to be surviving the same way. There are some sensitive moments between them, but you get the sense that they don’t quite know how to deal with each other or their unsatisfying lives.
Despite the very funny set-up, The Homemaker goes to some very dark places. The ending is particularly gut-wrenching and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it. But as I walked away from the theatre and made my way home, I considered what a luxury it is to be unsure of something as a “dramatic choice.”
Laura Anne Harris’ The Homemaker is challenging theatre. She gives us a very cute and shiny trinket to play with, but then she asks us to open it up and see what’s inside. Well, guess what…there is a lot of pain inside. “Dramatic choices” are fine to discuss in cafés where nothing is truly at stake, but real life isn’t always as tidy and fair as we’d like our entertainments to be. No, life can swoop in and smash what you care about, leaving you to pick up the pieces and try to heal.
What Laura Anne Harris has achieved here is quite exceptional. Easing us in gently, she’s shown us a little piece of life that is sad and harsh. She knows it’s devastating, that’s why she’s wrapped it up in a wonderfully entertaining package.
The Homemaker is funny, poignant and heartbreaking—a truly great piece of theatre.
- The Homemaker is playing at the Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst St.).
July 4 – 8:45pm
July 7 – 8:00pm
July 11 – 12:00pm
- Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10 ($5 for FringeKids), cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
- Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows
Photo of Laura Anne Harris by Neil Muscott.