Fruitcake is a heart filled, holiday family dramedy oozing with laughs
By Ezekiel McAdams
December 12th 2021
Fruitcake is 25th St Theatre's first production in twenty two years. It is the first production under their Beyond the Fringe label as well.
The idea behind the play originated when playwright, Heather Morrison, read an article in The Globe and Mail in 2015 that, was entitled "Caring for 137 year old fruitcake becomes a stale holiday tradition."
The Dramaturge was done by Lenore Claire Herrem, whom also plays Katie in the production. Morrison wrote the finished product.
The play focuses on identity and the structures we find ourselves in.
A family comes together for Christmas holidays after the matriarch had passed away. It is an ensemble piece with patriarch, Henry (Bruce Sinclair), son, Brad (Deneh'Cho Thompson), daughter Jill (Anita Smith) and their extended family. Brad's wife, Katie (Herrem), their daughter Si (Oliver Claxton) and Jill's husband Michael (Ed Mendez).
Si, is a trans teen struggling to hide her gender identity from the family to placate her father's fears and insecurity of having a "normal" holiday. Brad and Jill, the two siblings, are struggling through their grief of their late mother while their respective partners, Katie and Michael, try to stay out of the fray.
The title refers to a fruitcake that father, Henry, is desperately trying to pass on to his reluctant daughter, Jill. Henry grapples with grief and time, forcing the fruitcake on Jill to preserve and protect the family lineage.
Wonderfully written by Morrison, the dialogue is razor sharp culminating with a powerfully memorable production that juggles laughter and pulling your heart strings effortlessly.
This is a thought provoking piece of theatre that asks its audience to think of identity, trans rights and cultural acceptance. The play is also hilarious. It uses a traditional structure to layer everything in place leaving the audiences entertained and possibly continuing the conversation and discourse afterwards.
The direction by S.E. Grummett, is subtle and nonchalant but feverishly executed. Grummett has experience with this subject as they starred, wrote and co-directed, SCUM, a manifesto, a thought provoking, fiery, razor sharp Fringe play that remains memorable and poignant years later. Grummett is able to mesh each of the ensemble's energy effectively, allowing them to shine and compliment each other. The direction captures the fly on the wall feeling perfectly.
The ensemble is enchanting. A wonderful mix of different energies that so comfortably mesh with everyone else, that it radiates a feel good vibe notwithstanding the subjects presented.
Sinclair portrays Henry with a sullen quiet gravitas that centres the entire production. Sinclair evokes such a sadness intertwined with humor as he rants about A&W and how the fruitcake is the most important part of the holidays.
Claxton truly is the heart of the play. The quiet, radiant, energy burns bright even when they are not on stage. This is their stage debut but you wouldn't know it as they're a natural.
Herrem plays Katie with a fierce, protective energy throughout the production providing one of the biggest laughs in a physical comedy stunt.
Mendez brings a down to earth quality to Michael who deals with depression, trying to do the right thing and hold on amidst the family chaos. Mendez embodies the character as a relatable but flawed.
Thompson captures Brad with a simmering rage desperately trying to put his own needs first to not "rock the boat" regarding Si's transition but holding on by a thread. Thompson is able to get the audience to care about the character without taking away the frustration emitted at him.
Smith ultimately steals the show with the bombastic, unrelenting nosy attitude as Jill. Smith perfectly evokes Jill’s need for attention while dealing with issues of miscarriage. Smith's portrayal is nuanced and layered.
The set design by Jensine Emeline captures a very distinct Saskatchewan family feeling that is instantly recognizable. Everything is meticulously chosen by Emeline from the decor and essence of a small town Saskatchewan setting.
Fruitcake is the holiday experience we didn't know we needed. This is wildly entertaining with razor sharp dialogue and an ensemble that shines. Ultimately leaving the audience with an unforgettable, thought provoking experience.
Small warning for those that may be triggered. The play contains themes of Transphobia (including deadnaming, misgendering), mental health, death, miscarriage and others.
Fruitcake is a 25th St Theatre production that is currently being performed at Remai Arts Centre BackStage Stage, The production is on from December 8th-19th. Tickets can be bought in person or online www.25thStreetTheatre.org