Maybe I got what I asked for. I wanted story and this week I saw a play that had two.
The first act of Michael Healey's Courageous, now receiving its world premiere at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre, is about Tom, a devout Catholic marriage commissioner who refuses to marry a gay couple because it goes against his faith, despite the fact that he himself is gay.
The second act takes up the story of a minor character in the first act, a white trash child-man named Todd who marries his equally juvenile and potty-mouthed girlfriend at the very beginning of the play. A straight couple that seems doomed for failure and oblivious to the meaning, privilege, and responsibility of marriage.
On the surface, the stories are related only in that six-degrees-of-separation kind of way. But thematically, they are kissing cousins and unraveling the relationship is half the fun of a very fun evening.
It's a play I wish I could see again. Partly to watch for the connections between the acts with the knowledge gleaned from having seen both, partly so I can write down more of the clever funny lines, and partly so that I can hear and ponder the intricacies of the arguments about faith and behaviour. And there are many.
In one particularly satisfying scene, Tom and Brian (the lawyer he refused to marry) are waiting for the adjudicator at the human rights tribunal that is hearing Brian's complaint. They suspect they have been left alone to see if they can work out their differences and they certainly try. Tom's passionate and intelligent articulation of his faith - how and why it matters - could spur a conversion. His willingness to turn the other cheek, and his understanding of the power and importance of forgiveness, give substance to his assertion that we have lots of opportunities every day to "behave like a Christian".
Todd's story is completely different. Married young, this skater-dude is now a jobless father whose approach to life can be summed up by the fact that he never does something until he has been asked four times, which is his way of determining if it's worth doing. When his wife Tammy nags him to get a job (four times, of course) he finally does and that's when things truly get complicated.
The acts have completely different protagonists and conflicts; they also use a different theatrical style. While Act I is straightforward realism, the events of Act II are framed - and frequently interrupted - by Todd's narration, a narration that not only tells the story but demands the audience pay attention to the lessons he is learning from his life. Act II begins with Todd commenting on the first act, ("That was harsh, eh?")and then capsulizing the typical approach to life in two questions: "What should I do?" and "Am I happy?" As he finally comes of age he discovers that the first question might be a lot more important than the second.
En route to self-discovery, Todd's life is affected and changed by Christians. His boss is a born-again recovering alcoholic and his Somali neighbor and co-worker "gets religion" under the boss's guidance. When those two apparently kidnap Todd and Tammy's daughter, we are afraid for her safety and their sanity. But the revelation that they have taken the baby to be baptized - and the equally surprising discovery that Tammy regards the action as a beautiful gift - shape Todd's life and the conclusion of the play.
I'm still working through the connections between the acts, still wondering why Michael Healey structured Courageous this way, still debating whether it was the right or best choice.
All I know for sure is that this is my favourite kind of play - one that makes you laugh and makes you think, one that makes you want to write down things the characters say and post them on your wall. Or at least think about them some more.