Embodied and Belonging in 2022: A Listen to Catherine Hernandez’ “I Cannot Lie to the Stars That Made Me”

The four performers in the audio play

My feelings about 2022 can maybe best be summarized in the following tweet by Liz Phair (@PhizLair):

"Logic: 2020 was hard because you have 2 swans trying to hatch 2 eggs. Each is responsible for an egg. 2021 was hard because even tho you have 2 swans hatching one egg, you have a stick chasing them, trying to smash it! 2022 will be great because you have 3 swans to hatch one egg."

Embracing the optimism of absurdity.

Even as we face closures and repeated postponements of very-long anticipated shows in the theatre sector (and countless anxieties and griefs outside of it), the pull and need for shared experiences in performance has only increased two years in. And so I’m fortunate that my first theatre experience of 2022 was the frank theatre’s recently opened I Cannot Lie to the Stars That Made Me, a piece that despite encountering weighty experiences, tells us it is “borne of joy.” The play meets the need for shared experience by rooting itself to a living embodiment of community in the choral presence, and reminds us of the body frequently, “a guide to moving and healing for women of colour.”

Produced by FNPP and DDI alumna, Anais West, directed by Artistic Director of the frank (and former PTC board member!) Fay Nass, and featuring PTC alumnae khattieQ and Lili Robinson, as well as Emily M Cheung and Anjalica Solomon. The play was written by Catherine Hernandez, the celebrated author of Crosshairs (Harper Collins Canada, Atria Books, Jacaranda Books in 2020) and Scarborough, published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2017 and longlisted for Canada Reads 2022. 

The mechanics of the play, its complex choral arrangement and composition by Taymaz Saba, as well as the invocation “we are all in this together,” are shared with listeners, as well as instructions to laugh and cry as the collaborators did in making it. As many of us struggle with how to change and adapt “liveness,” when the quality of liveness presents an actual threat to life, the company recreates an aspect by continually having an individual character speak to, and be received by the collective, in echo, harmony, or nuanced counterpoint. The generosity of this choral approach is extended to the tricky content as well. Hernandez sensitively explores the forces that might lead to domestic violence in Queer partnerships, as well as in families, without excusing it, or providing pat answers. The speaker shifts from scene to scene, but the collective is always there for them (and for us).

“Working on a project where both the play and the production centre queer, BIPOC women, femmes, and non-binary people was so nourishing, especially with the play’s very relevant themes of healing in the midst of huge grief. Working with such a supportive, open-hearted group felt like a cocoon from the harshness of everything happening in the world right now – I hope the finished audio play can be like that for listeners, too,” says Lili Robinson.

Emily M Cheung highlighted the unusual approach to musical creation, “What I loved about this production was how much of a collaborative process it was. The playwright, Catherine Hernandez, had asked for portions of the text to be sung, but given the performers free rein as to how. So, after considering recordings of our improvised read-throughs, Taymaz Saba, our musical director, wrote some more cohesive sketches for the sung portions and then we all worked together to finalize the songs.” Performer khattieQ adds, “I’m grateful to have worked on the powerful script, I found the words moving and poetic. Director, Fay Nass, put together an exciting and talent-filled team. It is a rare treat for me to get work in a mostly BIPOC environment.”

I wish for 2022 more work like I Cannot Lie to the Stars That Made Me, more complex community arrangements. More wild swans surrounding and caring for our audiences, however possible to do so.

I Cannot Lie to the Stars That Made Me runs until January 16, 2022. To listen online for free, please click here: thefranktheatre.com/current-productions/icannotlietothestars