I Now Pronounce You Man and Sister: Fringe’s Controversial Home Free!

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The Vancouver International Fringe Festival brings incest and agoraphobia to the stage.

By Harleen Khangura

Fringe Festivals, known for celebrating alternative theatre, are often synonomous with descriptors like unusual, strange, and at times, risky. The Vancouver International Fringe Festival does not disappoint in presenting a melange of quirky yet compelling plays. “You get a lot of weirder fair at the Fringe than at the Arts Club or somewhere else where they have to sell a hundred tickets. There are a lot more risks taken,” says Brian Cochrane in a candid interview about Home Free!, a play that he has directed to be performed at the Vancouver Fringe Festival this fall.

Cochrane is well acquainted with the Vancouver theatre scene, as he has previously directed, produced, and acted in several plays, the most recent being King John at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. “I wouldn’t say that I like to seek out controversy but I think that you always like something unusual,” he says. According to him, people like to remain in their comfort zone, but “we all secretly want to be pushed and prodded. We want to go to a play that will move us.” Home Free! dares to evoke a roller coaster of emotions, enough to move, and at times, perturb the audience.

In Home Free!, there are no scruples when it comes to undertaking controversial themes. The show, presented by Staircase XI Theatre Society, explores many eyebrow raising issues, perhaps the most unsettling of them all is incest. The play is one of the earliest works of American playwright Lanford Wilson. It depicts the lives of a brother and sister, Lawrence and Joanna, who live in a tiny apartment with two imaginary friends. The disturbing twist is that the siblings live like a married couple and Joanna soon gets pregnant with her brother’s baby.

To add to the tension, Lawrence suffers from severe agoraphobia and Joanna ventures to help him confront issues that he otherwise wishes to evade. According to Cochrane, the highly conflicted relationship shared between brother and sister is what makes the story click with the audience. “A lot of people have had a family relationship where you need to help someone face something. So, even though the story is set in extreme circumstances where most people would find it gross, the central core of it is very relatable,” he says.

The play also considers the choice, or in this case, the compulsion of alienating oneself from human society. The cluttered apartment/playroom that the brother and sister are sequestered to allows them to live a fantastical existence, separating them from the reality that lies outside of its thresholds. When asked what makes alienation appealing to Lawrence and Joanna, Cochrane says, “I am not sure if it is appealing. I don’t know if anyone chooses alienation. For Lawrence, there is something that he cannot face and it forces him into this extreme denial. What appeals to him about staying home and being with Joanna is that he doesn’t have to face what he doesn’t want to face. So in the play, alienation is more of a problem than a solution.”

By exploring a myriad of compelling topics, Cochrane hopes the play will urge the audience to ask questions without being overtly didactic. “I hope that people will question ‘what would I do in that situation?’ ‘Would I have done the same thing or done something differently?’ I’d rather ask a question then tell somebody something because otherwise I think that the play would be dead.” Instead of creating a passively entertaining atmosphere, the show attempts to engage the audience through thought-provoking questions.

Home Free! plays at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival from September 6 – 16.