My Playwright Sister, written and performed by James Diamond and Johanna Nutter, is a sequel of sorts to Nutter’s earlier work, My Pregnant Brother.
My Pregnant Brother sets Nutter’s struggle to assert herself against her instinct to help her pregnant, transgendered brother. While this autobiographical piece is exquisitely well-performed, it has also been the target of much criticism claiming that it exploits Diamond’s experiences for the sake of Nutter’s own fame and fortune.
My Playwright Sister breaks down that criticism in a way that clearly explains how some of the language and thoughts in My Pregnant Brother are troublesome without overshadowing the emotional centre of the piece – the tension between Diamond and Nutter – or, as Diamond puts it, without turning the show into “a TED talk on transgender issues.”
While it’s not necessary to have seen My Pregnant Brother to appreciate the emotional dynamics of My Playwright Sister, having the background context certainly helps, and to that end Nutter is performing it on certain dates as a prelude to the latter.
Seeing the two back-to-back makes it difficult to think about them as individual works, but at the same time, that’s very much the point of My Playwright Sister: That there is a much larger, ongoing narrative than the one presented in My Pregnant Brother.
My Playwright Sister is structured around Diamond’s notes on Nutter’s My Pregnant Brother script. As Nutter reviews the notes, Diamond explains both the thoughts behind his feedback and the impact each part of the show had on him.
Nutter at first tries to deflect or minimize Diamond’s criticism by grasping at happier memories from their shared past and explaining that her show is her own autobiography, and that her intention was to present her past as she experienced it. While this is effectively what her show does, as Diamond points out, it also tells a significant part of his story in a way that he is at best uncomfortable with.
While the performances at the start of My Playwright Sister feel stiff and forced, particularly on Diamond’s part, the impression of two performers listening for cues quickly gives way to two siblings trying to actively listen to each other as they work through some very raw emotions. That they are both able to be so open and honest about themselves in front of an audience, and more importantly in front of each other, is impressive.
Both are also very much in the moment with each other, creating a sense of intimacy that would feel voyeuristic in a larger venue, if not altogether lost. This also allows for some hope that by repeating the exercise of talking it through they will be able to reconnect and rebuild their relationship. In the meantime, their willingness to work this out in front of an audience makes for a very moving experience.
My Playwright Sister is being presented at the Freestanding Room, until June 20, as part of the Montreal Fringe Festival. Tickets available here. My Pregnant Brother is being performed on June 15th and 20th, at no extra charge (total run time for both shows: 120 minutes).