An Interview: Diana Flacks is back at the Tarragon for her 5th solo show, GUILT (A Love Story)
GUILT (A Love Story), an all-new play about pathos returns Diane Flacks (Tarragon’s Waiting Room) back to the Tarragon Theatre for her fifth one-woman show. It’s a deep dive, we are told, into a complex, uncomfortable, and highly human feeling; into and about the “unshakable monster that is guilt,” and the things we’re not supposed to talk about. It’s around the state of being that most of us, especially parents, wrestle with inelegantly. And this frontmezzjunkie can not wait to see it.
Flack’s solo show – her first in 10 years – offers a return to her celebrated comic style that is as funny as it is wrought with guilt. In it, she offers up her most autobiographical work to date, a relatable reflection of being submerged in the long, lingering, uncomfortable feelings of guilt she experienced after ending her marriage. With Guilt, Flacks offers audiences the chance to dig deeper into the emotion with her, exploring the struggle and the comedy that can be found in our feelings of guilt and the acute awareness that she has caused others pain.
“What happens when you take that ever-present feeling of guilt and match that with the effervescence of comedy?” asks Artistic Director Mike Payette. “You get an insightful glimpse at humanity, penned and performed by the brilliance of Diane Flacks’ signature style. We’re so excited to welcome Diane back to her theatre home at the Tarragon, embracing the strange things we hold onto when life gives us lemons.”
Guilt brings the perspective of a self-sacrificing Jewish mother who becomes the instigator of a family’s dissolution. Societal effects, causes and casualties, and the feeling that we have when we’ve profoundly hurt others. This exploration may not pull punches, but don’t worry, we are told, it’s accompanied by laughs – “because how else do we get through anything?”
Frontmezzjunkies was fortunate to have a little Q&A with Flacks, before seeing this personal odyssey live on stage this month at Tarragon.
Q: Diane, how does it feel to return to the Tarragon Theatre with your fifth one-woman show?
A: It feels like coming home, when you adore your home. It feels full circle in many ways. The Tarragon has been the home of so much of my work as an actor and playwright. I really cannot overstate how much that means in a completely insecure and often excruciating line of work. And I admire and adore the leadership team and their focus on bringing the community together and back to the theatre.
Q; When you think about presenting something about pathos, the “unshakeable monster that is guilt“, what is your focus around this “complex, uncomfortable, and highly human feeling”?
A: My focus is being as unflinching as possible. My goal isn’t to be autobiographically accurate, but to use my own hapless experience, and the wisdom gained from it, to help illuminate something that I assume is as complex for others as it has been for me. That’s one of my missions as an artist.
Q: Where did this idea or this formula originate from?
A: I actually did a gig where I had some prepared material and then had to go on in the second act without anything prepared. I looked at the audience and admitted what was really starting to weigh on me. I was drinking too much, and it was because I was trying to numb my guilt. The audience response sent me on a journey to investigate what guilt is and how we cope with it as humans. Is it useful? Is it unique to each of us?
Q: My main gig is a psychotherapist, and in my work, guilt and shame are probably the two most talked about emotional states of being, making me more curious (and excited) to see this show in February. How did you find your way through this complicated landscape?
A: I did a lot of research into origins, personally, culturally, and psychologically. I took time to try and embody many different perspectives on what it is and how to wrestle with it. I looked for ways through, that would be useful to communicate. I used humour as a major tool because it helps when we’re talking about things that make us squirm.
Q: The piece presumably deals with the idea of feeling or being ‘hurt’ or ‘hurting’ others – how impactful is your own life experience on your creative process as an actor and a writer in this offering?
A: It’s a big one. I didn’t imagine writing about it at first, but when something is persistent and complex in my life, I assume it is for others, and that’s where my mission statement as an artist comes in. Art’s magic is in allowing our stories to be shared, reflected, integrated, and used to heal. That sounds grandiose, but think about every time you tell or retell a story, with jokes, and how that works to ease whatever moment is troubling you. Think of trauma therapy, which, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but the goal is to tell and retell until the story is integrated and less harmful. Theatre can do this live, together, and connected.
Q: What was the greatest challenge you had in bringing this piece to the stage?
A: Discovering the ending!
Q: What about this presentation excites you the most? What scares you the most?
A: I’m excited to be back at Tarragon and to share the material and the world with an audience. The designers are some of Canada’s treasures and I can’t wait for people to see what they have done. And Director Alisa Palmer is so sublime. She did the epic 6-hour Fall on Your Knees adaptation with the skill of a master chef, and now she does this one-person piece like a boss. Fabulous.
As to scared – it’s insane to do a solo show. It’s bonkers. Sorry, I know you’re a therapist, but bear with me. It’s very vulnerable in the best of times because you have no safety net. No other actor to lean on, no one to pick up a dropped line, no one to focus on so that you don’t focus on your nerves or insecurities. And the content is personal, so it’s especially vulnerable for me. There is a lot of humour, but if the audience is quiet, it can cause anxiety. And this is why I don’t undertake one unless the material feels super relevant and important to share with an audience. I’ve done one per decade of my career. Well, two in my twenties. My first one Myth Me was about how young women’s identities were manipulated before they could process why. By a Thread was about childhood sexual abuse and fear and art, and was inspired by a friend’s experiences. Random Acts was about the societal expectations around coping with the randomness of violence and hurt, and based on a lecture I saw by Marianne Williamson. And Bear With Me was adapted from my book of the same name and was about all those THINGS that no one TELLS you when you’re pregnant and a new mom. Not just my experience, but literally everyone I talked to. Outrageous! And this one is similar. There is not a lot about mothers who end their marriages in the zeitgeist and about how to cope with the guilt.
Q: And what would you most like an audience to connect with?
A: I hope they connect to their own senses of empathy, accountability, love, and to their ability (or lack of it) to allow themselves the compassion to let go.
GUILT (A Love Story) runs in the Mainspace, February 6 – March 3, 2024, opening February 14. Guilt: A Love Story was developed by Mything Inc., with support from the Canada Arts Council, Tarragon Theatre (Toronto, ON) and One Yellow Rabbit (Calgary, AB), which presented a limited-run workshop production in 2022. Following its premiere run in Toronto, GUILT(A Love Story) will appear at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg.
Guilt (A Love Story) is written and performed by Diane Flacks (Tarragon’s Waiting Room).
Directed by Alisa Palmer (Tarragon’s Sibs), Guilt (A Love Story) features choreography and intimacy coordination by Rebecca Harper (National Theatre School of Canada’s Director of Movement), set and costume design by Jung-Hye Kim (Crow’s The Chinese Lady), lighting design by Leigh Ann Vardy (Stratford’s Richard II) and sound design by Deanna H Choi (Tarragon’s Cockroach).
GUILT (A Love Story)
Written and performed by Diane Flacks
Directed by Alisa Palmer
February 6 – March 3, 2024 (opening February 14)