“Blood is thicker than water.” The saying is so ubiquitous that perhaps we never stop to consider what it means. Many of us don’t have to think about the bonds we have with our family: we love them unconditionally and we assume, without even questioning it, that they love us unconditionally, too. But, if we really examine it, are there conditions on the love that we feel for our family? If a member of your family did something that you consider unforgivable, would you still be able to love them?
The strength of familial bonds is tested in Fire Exit Theatre’s Badger, a one-woman play written by Andrew Torry and directed by Barrett Hileman. When Hester (Heather Pattengale), a young Calgary woman from a tightknit Christian home, makes the difficult decision to have an abortion, it creates a rift between her and her family. Isolated, she struggles with her family’s rejection and is desperate to reconnect, especially with her sister, Charity, Hester’s former closest ally. When Hester receives a phone call from her mother that Charity is in renal failure and needs a new kidney, Hester finally sees a chance at redemption.
But it’s not a simple decision, and the questions facing the narrator – and the audience – lack easy answers. After years of rejecting her sister, does Charity deserve her kidney? What is Hester’s obligation to help a family that has been so cold and unforgiving to her? As Hester, struggling to understand why her family can’t move past her decision, asks: “Does God’s grace wash away all sins… except this one?”
Badger tackles difficult and complex themes like forgiveness, religion, family and abortion with sensitivity and compassion. Pattengale is outstanding as the narrator, while the music and lighting all emphasize the emotions of the story, softening during the tender moments between sisters, distorting and thundering as Hester’s world falls apart. Badger is a powerful and heart-wrenching play that inspires tears, applause and conversation – as all excellent theatre should.
Badger ran from February 26 to March 2 at the Engineered Air Theatre (Calgary). Another Fire Exit Theatre performance that deals with the issue of abortion, Sunny Side Up, plays April 30 to May 4, also at the Engineered Air Theatre (Calgary).
By Sara Elizabeth Taylor
Photo: Jason Mehmel