Photo by Lorraine Graves
Ren Lunicke’s show, Blood Relative explores family both those born into and those chosen. It shows a young adult, Ren, working to connect with family, principally Grandma, while living in great contrast to parental fundamentalist values.
Lunicke is familiar with conservative Christianity both from childhood and from being a graduate of Trinity Western University.
Blood Relative won the Bravest Play Award at the recent Victoria, BC Fringe Festival.
Lunicke’s play opens with a hospital bed and some chairs. This minimal set is used to great advantage as the bed is sometimes where Grandma lives and sometimes where Ren encounters a medical profession that makes many decisions on behalf of the patient. Ren lives with crushing endometriosis.
The cast is small, Ren, Mother, Grandma, Doctor, and caregiver with a few other family members making cameos. All characters are convincing played by the sole actor, Lunicke.
The acting is engrossing, taking the audience into Ren’s world and that of the family. The gentle sound cues of music and recordings waft in and out of the action, heightening the mood while never intruding.
The lighting is simple and effective, highlighting the action and words that weave a picture of a complicated family as the audience comes to realize that all families have their own culture and all families are complicated.
Ren works to get to know Grandma, spending time, asking questions, mostly just being with her, enjoying Grandma’s love of Liberace and life.
Performed in a church sanctuary, religious parallels abound in this production but are always subtle.
As Grandma becomes too frail to care for herself, Ren buys her new socks, gently washes Grandma’s feet and puts on the new slippers.
When Ren asks Grandma for her life wisdom, she replies reaching her arms wide, “Have fun. Any wisdom I could give you, you already have or soon will.”
Ren also works to strengthen a new marriage with a partner not approved us by the extended family.
Suddenly, Grandma has a stroke and death is imminent. Family is called home. Each deals with their letting go in a different way.
Grandma’s son, Ren’s father, chooses to go on an Alaskan fishing trip rather than be there as his mother slips away. Ren too chooses to be with their new wife on a long-planned anniversary trip but is conflicted when on vacation as Grandma dies.
Continually asking the questions, “What is family?” and “Why do we need family?” Ren shows, we need family to know our stories, our past over many generations, all of what went into making the family dynamics we have today.
But, Ren says, “DNA is not a story. My story, only a family can provide a context for you.”
Ren gradually comes to forgive those who have passed harsh judgement and to choose life on its own multifaceted terms. Ending the play with, “Family is everywhere.”
Many in the audience were affiliated with Ren’s alma mater, Trinity Western University and some, including the TWU faculty in attendance, are members of One TWU, which according to Lunicke is, “The network for LGBTQ+ staff, students and alumni of Trinity Western University, as well as allies to such persons. One TWU commits to advocating for current and future LGBTQ+ students to ensure equal and non-discriminatory treatment. “
Having travelled the world with the play, Wednesday, Sept. 12 sees its final performance before Blood Relative moves on to Los Angeles and its US tour.
Tickets at the door at St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, 3025-264 St, Langley. Show at 7:30 p.m. with talkback afterwards with Ren Lunicke, the shows creator and performer.