The Femme Playlist is a collection of greatest hits
by Drew Rowsome
It makes sense that Buddies' current season should have a spunky little femme follow a solid butch dyke onto the stage. As that great institution constantly reminds us: there are more variations of sexual/gender expression than any of us can imagine, but which all of us should explore and enjoy. The title, The Femme Playlist, is a bit of a misnomer as that concept (which does make for a catchy title and an amusing just-off-the-top segment) is promptly abandoned, and the threading device that frames the show is another metaphor all together.
That is the problem, and the strength, of The Femme Playlist. Catherine Hernandez, the titular femme, is a warm, engaging performer. She has only to flash her irresistible smile, or give a coquettish wink, and the audience is in the palm of her hand. She is also a skilled comedian, in this context 'comedienne' might be the right term, and The Femme Playlist is filled with more laughs than can be counted. Her line readings, her timing, and her inflections are all flawless. She manages to garner guffaws from a predictable joke involving Star Wars and masturbation (a comic but probably common combo) but most are much smarter and earn deeper, lacerating "ain't-that-the-truth" laughs. A youthful attempt at seduction has a punchline that brought down the house - by being specific the moment attained universality: everyone in the audience recognized a similar gaffe from their past and was able to laugh and exorcise it.
This is not to imply that Hernandez is merely a stand-up comedian/comedienne. When the plot turns tragic and harrowing, the painful emotions are right there on Hernandez's face and expressed truthfully in her body language. It is either an externalized experience or masterful acting. And it sets up The Femme Playlist's truly transcendent moment: a hilarious school presentation speech by Hernandez's daughter, self-identified as "the queer spawn," as incarnated by Hernandez. It is virtuoso, breathtakingly funny, and it stops the show.
And therein lies the one major problem with The Femme Playlist. The queer spawn, after raising several plays worth of intriguing issues and tangents, is never heard from again. The series of vignettes, as clever and absorbing as they may be, are over too quickly and never add up to a whole.
There is the occasional passing platitude about female, queer and of colour empowerment but, as a climactic device, it feels tacked on and like preaching to the converted. Hernandez is such a powerful presence that spending more time in her presence, digging deeper into each jewel on the thread, would be a invigorating, and highly entertaining, experience. The elaborate stage overwhelms Hernandez's big presence and denies the intimacy that she initially, effortlessly, creates. The cleverly orchestrated lighting and effects would have been more than enough, Hernandez can hold a stage without the need of excessive props.
Hernandez the performer is extraordinary and The Femme Playlist should be seen just to enjoy her revel in a star turn, her joy and energy are that infectious. If the show itself is overhauled and given shape, it could become a powerful piece of theatre instead of a one woman cavalcade of comic moments. This playlist is full of one-hit wonders when Hernandez deserves a solidly crafted collection of escalating anthems.
The Femme Playlist runs in repertory with Brotherhood: The Hip Hoperain afteRock Plays until Sun, Oct 25 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com, bcurrent.ca