Love in the Margins challenges assumptions about love and disability

Love in the Margins is a wedding reception unlike any you’ve been to before. First, it’s short – at 60 minutes, it’s the shortest one I’ve ever been to. Second, the guests aren’t happy and don’t care if you know it. Third, it happens three times and you have two more chances to experience it during the Chinook Series: February 1 and 2 as part of the Canoe Theatre Festival.

Love in the Margins takes place at Luke and Lisa’s wedding reception. They’re the stereotypical perfect couple – and the MC, Kristy, really wants you to know and admire that. Not like the rest of the guests who are completely flawed and should just feel lucky to have received an invitation, as she says with a perfect smile on her face.

Pretty early into the show, the guests start to get irritated. And who wouldn’t at an event where only one version of love is accepted: that between able-bodied adults who want to experience love and intimacy within a church-sanctioned heterosexual marriage. Being single or having a disability are presented as the two worst possible characteristics, and heaven forbid if you are both. And then the maid of honour (played by Kelsie Acton, whose physical and vocal portrayal of the character’s state of inebriation is spot on) who’s had a few too many drinks and a little too much of Luke and Lisa’s perfection gives a speech that rallies the guests into action, expressing their rejection of the image before them of love and who has access to it.

Love in the Margins is an examination of the conventions surrounding love, and particularly what it’s like to face those conventions as someone who experiences disabilities.

At first, these themes are subtly introduced by the flamboyant MC, Kristy (played by the suitably over-the-top Kaylee Borgstrom) who we start out as seeing as maybe just excited and not really understanding what she’s saying or seeing the impact those words have. However, the character’s biases and true motivations quickly rise to the forefront and Kristy is revealed to be the personification of every negative thought that’s ever been had about people who experience disabilities: ranging from pity, to being a source of inspiration, to annoyance and tolerance. Particularly striking is the “inspiration” theme Kristy hammers away at. That idea that if someone with a disability can get to work on time to stock shelves while earning less than an able-bodied counterpart, others have nothing to complain about. The way this “inspiration” theme is presented in Love in the Margins draws attention to how demeaning and belittling of a sentiment it is. In particular, I liked how the wedding tradition of acknowledging out-of-town guests was satirically turned into an uncomfortable moment admiring how many obstacles particular guests had “overcome” in order to join the wedding ceremony that day.

Through Love in the Margins, various prevalent conventions, assumptions and barriers are presented and explained for an audience who perhaps hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how these things apply or don’t apply to people experiencing disabilities. Topics explored in Love in the Margins include everything from perceptions and assumptions about if or how people experiencing disabilities experience romantic love, physical barriers such as the issue availability of accessible wedding venues, the law about what kind of consent (and from who) a person with a disability needs to acquire to be in a relationship, how weddings and relationships affect eligibility for AISH support, and challenging the base assumption of desire to be in a romantic relationship versus being fulfilled by platonic relationships instead. These experiences are explored through a series of monologues and asides by Therese Couture, Julie Heffel, Heath Birkholz, and Andrea Ruschin and are some of the best moments of the play, allowing voices and experiences that aren’t often heard the chance to take centre stage.

Love in the Margins comes down pretty hard on the idea of love, and at some points it feels a little unwarranted, but the statements it makes about the conventions around love are poignant. The play spends a lot of time talking about the societal pressure to be in a relationship and get married, which I’ve certainly felt and can relate to. In particular, during Julie Heffel’s monologue, she talks about The Game of Life, where there are three pegs: one for college, marriage, and kids. You can’t win the game without getting all three pegs. The play discusses how if you’re not in a romantic relationship (even if you don’t want to be) you’re not “real”. You’re not seen as an adult. Maybe you even cease to exist as friends in relationships want to spend time with other couples. That pressure to be in a relationship, or at least actively pursuing a relationship, is one that certainly resonated with me and seeing Love in the Margins made me reflect on where that ideal comes from and why it’s assumed to apply to everyone equally.

Just like our bride and groom, perfection doesn’t exist in people or the relationships they have. Love in the Margins gives a chance for marginalized voices to take centre stage and share another experience of love – both the personal and how it exists in society – that isn’t often heard.

Remaining performances of Love in the Margins are February 1 and 2 in the Westbury Theatre at the ATB Financial Art Barns as part of the Canoe Theatre Festival during the Chinook Series. Tickets are $20 for students and seniors and $25 for adult tickets through Fringe Theatre Adventures. Evening passes for all shows in a particular evening are $50 and for $75 you get a Five Pack Festival Pass.

On Wednesday February 3 at 5:30 in the ATB Financial Arts Barns Lobby Board Room, Workshop West will present the salon “Love, Sex, and Disability” about unequal access to love, family, relationships and community. Attend in person or hear the conversation afterwards on the What It Is Podcast.

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