The Femme Playlist is an intense autobiographical piece on queer feminism on stage at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times
b current, sulong theatre company, and Eventual Ashes‘s production The Femme Playlist (currently playing at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre space) is a fascinating look into the life of a queer femme woman of colour: Catherine Hernandez. Hernandez invites us into her space for 45 minutes to reveal to us the realities of her life from masturbation to motherhood, body shame to burlesque. By meeting the show on its own terms I feel like I learned a lot and was left heartily entertained and wanting more time with this talented performer.
Hernandez opens the show by offering her definition of a playlist. Differentiating it from a mixtape, which is created for someone else, Hernandez tells us that her playlist is going to be her way of expressing the events in her life on her terms. This gave her permission to be frank with the audience, but also coy when she wants to. As a framing device, I found it incredibly effective.
The girlish charm Hernandez uses to play her young self at the beginning is infectious. I found it impossible not to be taken in by her sing-song skipping, and was utterly convinced by the way she transitioned it into an innocent expression of sexuality. Watching her discover her body for the first time (getting off to Princess Leia rather than Han Solo) was a raw and captivating moment. She plays the part with a feminine cutesiness that defies fetishization.
In fact, Hernandez’s ability to reclaim her racialized, feminized sexuality is one of the most exciting things about the play. It is so refreshing to see a woman celebrate her sexuality on stage while actively resisting the oppressive gazes that would objectify her doing so.
In one of the play’s last monologues, Hernandez plays her daughter giving a speech at a school competition. This monologue had the entire audience doubled over in laughter through it’s faux-naive take on queer families through the lens of a young “queer spawn.” Gein Wong’s directors note is right to foreground laughter as the most important part of this play. Finding pleasure and fulfilling desire through the wealth of lived experiences is what makes Hernandez’s play so relatable. Based on the ecstatic reaction of the audience, I think this aspect of the play must especially gratifying for queer people of colour who so rarely have their stories told.
I would be doing a great disservice to set designer Jade Lee Hoy not to recognize the technical excellence of her use of the space — especially through her use of mirrors, lights (in association with lighting designer Jazz Kamal), and stairs. The high calibre of the staging of the production lets the show’s themes and execution be the focus of the discussions we can have about it and that is the best praise I can think of to give to set and lighting designers.
The Femme Playlist is the kind of show I’ve been dying to see put on in Toronto for ages, and I’m happy to say that its depiction of race, womanhood, and queerness is authentic and thought-provoking. That is all that I can ask from a play that covers these themes, since all I want is to learn from them and to feel enriched by them. I’m thankful I got to see it.
- The Femme Playlist is playing until October 25 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street)
- Performances run Tuesday to Sunday. Date and times vary, see website for details.
- Ticket prices range from $2o – $25, with PWYC on Sundays. Rush tickets are available at $15 Tues-Thurs or $20 Fri-Sat.
- Tickets are are available online.
Photo of Catherine Hernandez by Jacklyn Atlas.