Sky Gilbert talks about Pat and Skee, a dark new comedy about his parents

Pat and Skee opens February 25 at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, a darkly comic memoir of a challenging childhood.

Sky Gilbert is a ‘child of divorce.’ Pat and Skee is an homage to Sky’s parents—who did their best to raise him despite all the unpleasantness. Sky plays himself in Pat and Skee, which gives him a chance to chat with his mother (Patricia) about her divorce from his father (Skee). Pat and Skee goes beyond meta-theatre—searching for the wistful, often comic essence of the struggle that lies at the very heart of any broken family.

I asked Sky about his new show.

How long have you been thinking of writing a play like this one, about your parents?

I haven’t thought about it as much as written a couple of plays about it. This is the second. I wrote a play called The Terrible Parents about 6 years ago, that starred Gavin Crawford and Edward Roy, and I produced it at Buddies. It was mainly about my mother’s affair with Jerry — her lover after my father (and during their marriage). There were some kind of cartoony scenes with my own father depicting the ‘happy family’ before that — but mostly it was about my mother’s love for Jerry.

I also wrote a book about my mother — a book of poems — called The Mommiad.

During lockdown I began thinking about my mother again, she died in 2011 and she is the main inspiration for the play.

Back in 2019 I recall that when I interviewed you before the premiere of Shakespeare’s Criminal, you spoke of your mother.

She was an amazing person; she ran for political office in Buffalo in the 60s, started her own business and raised two children. But more than that she nourished my creativity — I remember that as a teen I was torn between music and theatre as professions and she had an upright piano installed in our tiny flat in East York just so I could practice. It’s a long story, but let’s just say that her beauty and her wit were what inspired me; her dark sense of humour about the world is probably also mine today.

…so now I read that this new play is “a chance to chat with [your] mother (Patricia) about her divorce from [your] father (Skee).”

Are you in some sense seeking to discover more about your father, perhaps to reconcile yourself to him in some sense??

I would say that this is a memory play, pure and simple, It’s me missing my mother and father, since they are both dead, and wanted to bring them back in some way. I get a chance to confront my mother, it’s very odd being in rehearsal with Suzanne Bennett who is so uncanny as her — and having the ‘Pat’ character tell me that I’ll never escape the memory of her — which essentially happens at the end. The play is really about different kinds of love — my love for my mother, and my father’s love for my mother, and my mother’s love for Jerry and of course my mother’s obsession with me.

Pat and Skee: Suzanne Bennett and Ralph Small (photo: Felix Vlasak)

Could you tell me the age of yourself and your parents in Pat and Skee?

There are some scenes when my mother is 35 and my father 39— these are the divorce scenes, when she tells my father she is divorcing him.

Then there are scenes when my mother was 45 — these are the scenes in the 70s, where I am a waiter in a cafe and I am serving my mother and we are talking about her relationship with Jerry after the marriage to my father is over.

I’m a child of divorce myself, and also a divorced adult, on my second marriage. At the risk of asking you a colossal question that’s impossible to answer, I’d be interested to hear your take on the institution of marriage, both from the point of view of the child and as the adult considering marriage or partnership. Please also comment on the changes you’ve seen from the time of our childhoods in the mid-20th century, to now decades later.

I’m against marriage. At the very least I think it’s not for everyone, or for a very select few. I think it is unnatural as monogamy is unnatural for most people. I would say less then 40% of the population is truly happy being monogamous — most people will tire of one sexual partner or need variety. Also people are different. Some people can handle a co-dependent relationship, they think they need it. I hate co-dependence. My partner and I have had an open relationship for 25 years and we lead very independent lives, we would never get married. For me marriage means the oppression of women, as well as conformity, as well as hypocrisy, and trying to fit all of us who are square pegs really into round holes.

Has the process of writing a work that purports to be self-exploratory been in any sense an act of reconciliation for you, either with your parents or yourself?

Yes I’m going through something being in this. I think it might be at the very least odd, or at least an interesting emotional experiment. Ralph is as like my father in his performance as Suzanne is like my mother and it is unnerving.

Ralph Small and Suzanne Bennett (photo: Felix Vlasak)

But it’s nice to have my parents back in my life! Suzanne is putting me through the ringer in interesting ways: “How do we separate the fantasy of your mother from your actual mother?” She asked me this the other day — very interesting question.

The pandemic underlines our need for art, given how dependent some of us were upon the arts to stay sane. How have you been coping?

Are you kidding? I’m furious, angry. I’m actually with the truckers to a certain extent. That is I HATE LOCKDOWNS — and they seem the only ones capable of saying it. I am a social person and I live in my social interactions and in theatre. This has ruined my life and put it to a stop essentially, to all the things I love. They are gone. I need to perform, to be in front of people, to meet strangers, to have promiscuous sex, to go to bars and party. I need that to survive it is essential.

Also lockdowns are homophobic. Many of us don’t have families and we find our families in our community. If we can’t go out into the community we don’t have family. I hate everything online— social media is ruining our lives and ruining our children. Online education is useless and bad for young people. I have nothing good to say about COVID-19 measures— there were too many restrictions, for too long for no reason, with no sense of people’s mental health. Period. They may have been necessary at one point, but certainly no more.

As a professor you have likely been using Zoom and other virtual teaching tools, even though you are a practitioner as playwright and performer in live theatre. Apart from missing live performance (don’t we all): how have the two years of virtual teaching changed your process for live performance?

I have come to realize the incredibly inadequacy of zoom teaching and online learning. The essential of learning is no longer there — the question and answers, the easy improvisational conversations, the expressions on people’s faces — social interaction. Zoom rooms are scary places (did you know they were developed first years ago and very popular for druggie sex parties?) — some students are blacked out, I never see them, some never speak. I don’t know how they are reacting to what I’m saying. It’s awful, and creepy. We need live classes in order to teach and doing living teaching a week after having to zoom makes this appallingly apparent.

The phrase you use of the “broken family” might seem to be a bit of an oxymoron. What’s left, when a family is broken, and do you think it’s still recognizably a family?

Well, there is still habit, there is still shared experience. I know that I love my sister, and that even though the divorce stressed us both out, and certainly left me with abandonment issues, we share all the movies we watched, the culture of the 60s, all the gossip about our crazy mother, etc. There’s always that bond which never disappears.

Does being gay, and coming into relationships from a place that was until recently forbidden in our culture (first, being gay itself, and later, the notion of gay marriage), make partnership or marriage better or more meaningful? And as a gay person do you have special insights about straight relationships?

I wish gay men could bring their honest insights about alternative relationships into the world of gay marriage. We were supposed to CHANGE marriage, we were supposed to make it our own, instead gay marriages are just as dysfunctional and dishonest as straight ones. I have HUGE insights about straight relationships, I mean I used to be in one with a woman, and I’m very aware of the lies that hold straight relationships together, and I understand men, and how awful/wonderful they are, and I understand a major thing — sex between a long term couple never last more than ten years. But you can still love the person you love, totally, and if your relationship is open, there are so many possibilities. If straight couples could open up their relationships when the sex stops (because it almost always eventually does) they would be a lot happier.

That’s my advice….

Sky Gilbert’s Pat and Skee opens February 25 at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, running until March 12. For tickets click here.


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