By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
Content warning: Explicit mention of suicidal ideation in the fourth paragraph.
When I first listen to the ethereal harmonies introducing Catherine Hernandez’s I Cannot Lie to the Stars that Made Me, I feel a sense of belonging. It’s as if I was invited right into the play: a warm campfire where “a grieving young mother [ . . . ] shares stories with her fellow women of colour” under the night sky. Adapted by SFU alum and the frank theatre’s director, Fay Nass, this musical explores themes of resilience, lust, and the intersections between poverty and race. While the play has a lot to offer, the discussions of trauma may be triggering for some listeners.
In three acts, these women come into their grief, embark on the fraught journey of healing, and endure the honest difficulty of this process. Stars features Lili Robinson as the young mother; and Anjalica Solomon, khattieQ, and Emily M. Cheung as Robinson’s supporters. The grit of healing — like salt over wounds — permeates throughout the play in their raw confessions. But what draws me is how the women laugh, cry, and soothe their way through it. It’s truly a joy that shines like stars.
The audio play’s first song is meditative, beginning with deep breathing. “And so I hold my sadness in the palm of my hand, its tail between my fingers so that it can no longer escape me,” Robinson sings, her voice hushing towards the end. Cheung and Solomon join in crescendo, “So I can tell it to fuck off, for I’m ready to be happy!”
These lines feel emblematic of the play — there are many moments when a woman describes the impossibility of overcoming grief and being vulnerable. Struggling with postpartum depression, Robinson’s character talks about the difficulty of finding a counsellor while living in a shelter. But what follows those gut-wrenching moments is the supportive women around her, giving her strength to be resilient.
The play is deeply uncomfortable sometimes, reflective of the vulnerability of the women’s stories. Robinson’s character talks about the dissonance of feeling empty while her son seems so full of joy. “It made it easier that he had my eyes, so it looked like a happy version of me, discovering the world while I worried,” she says. Robinson’s delivery of this monologue about raising her carefree son while processing trauma is heartbreaking, but necessary as it highlights an issue often unacknowledged.
Eventually, through the raw moments of struggle, the women find some respite in themselves and each other. This culminates in the final song, when they breathe deeply together. In their speech about burning away their pain in the campfire, they say to the universe, “Let the stars that made me know they have made a goddess.”
As a listener, I was invited to sit with these women and reflect on my struggles. When they let go of their hurt, it felt like a release. Stars made me reflect on the people I’ve learned to trust to hold my pain and how grateful I feel in my community, in my strength. The play beautifully embodies reverence and reassurance in one’s self. It is a dedication to the importance of community.
Listen to I Cannot Lie to the Stars that Made Me on Soundcloud. Content warning: play contains mentions of sexual and partner abuse, drug use, self-harm, and poverty. To stay updated with the frank theatre’s projects, follow their website and Instagram.