Review: Spilling Family Secrets (Havana, until September 20) Vancouver Fringe

I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that Susan Freedman’s Spilling Family Secrets is not a dark tale of horrific family dysfunction. It’s quite the opposite. There are lots of secrets, hardships, and triumphs, and huge amounts of love and character.

The preview that I saw at Fringe-For-All, a show at the start of Vancouver Fringe where actors from dozens of shows get two minutes to persuade the audience to see their work, hooked me. Susan and her friend Anita Ruth find a treasure trove of love letters between Susan’s parents, written from 1927-1937. Their giggly fun is quickly and harshly interrupted by Susan’s mother, and the secrets hidden in those letters remain hidden from the children for another 40 years or so.

Ultimately, Susan’s mother bestows the letters on Susan, and 2.5 years after her mother’s death, Susan finally begins to read them with her mother’s blessing and no fear of interruption. The parents’ relationship was exceptionally long, and almost devoid of fighting or tension. How is it that some couples are able to manage marriage so well? Susan does not answer that question, but she was frank in discussing how this expectation did not work out for her. Every thing that Sam and Brownie (Susan’s parents) experienced, such as poverty and family opposition, is common to many couples, and many relationships crumble under those intense stresses. Susan does point out the wisdom of her mother (somewhat forced by circumstances) in ensuring that her would-be husband did indeed truly care about her, because it was so many years, during the Great Depression, before they were able to finally establish themselves as a family.

The immigrant narratives of Susan’s parents and extended family are very interesting as well. Do we still live in a country where the son of a rag-and-junk man can become the Chief Justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeals (like Samuel Freedman, Susan’s father, did)? Can you envision the excitement of a honeymoon trip to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota?

Susan crafts a compelling narrative from the letters, while giving the audience an interesting portrayal of her own life in the shadow of her parents’ perfect marriage. If relationships interest you, if you like gossip, if you enjoy memoir–go!

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