Friday, September 10, 2021

The Schmigado's and Schmigadon't's of Mixed Orientation Relationships

Spoilers about minor plot points in Schmigadoon are contained below.

Schmigadoon is a creative new meta musical about … being in a musical. It’s funny, smart, has some earworm songs, and boasts an outstanding cast. But at its heart, this musical is about finding true love. Because it has some characters who are from the cynical modern world, and some from the idyllic musical world, Schmigadoon finds a really nice balance between being ironic, and being earnest. So its message of finding true love also falls squarely in the center of the irony-earnest Venn diagram. I would sum up its message as “Relationships are not perfect and never will be, but you can find happiness in the imperfection. And THAT is true love.” 

The relationship that intrigued me most in Schmigadoon was the marriage between Mayor Aloysius Menlove (cute name) and his wife Florence. I was intrigued partly because the characters are in an emotionally interesting situation, partly because there’s not much said about them in the musical, and partly because Alan Cumming is just such a captivating actor. The mayor is a closeted gay man, married to a straight woman. He comes out of the closet during the course of the six episodes, and expresses his attraction to another closeted character, Reverend Howard Layton, another closeted gay man who is in a similar situation with his straight wife Mildred (played by the indomitable Kristin Chenoweth).

These relationships between a gay spouse and a straight spouse are sometimes referred to as “mixed orientation relationships”. The two mixed orientation relationships in Schmigadoon are as unique as the individuals involved in them. The Reverend and his wife have a lopsided, emotionally abusive relationship. Yet the Mayor and his wife have a strong bond and a truly beautiful love for each other. The Mayor’s wife is proud of him for being authentic, and they both express their strong love for each other. (Just not, you know, bedroom love.)

There are so few positive portrayals of mixed orientation relationships. In truth, many fail. Most are difficult. Schmigadoon is no different. This was a comedic parody series, but also a show with heart. Yet the portrayal of the Mayor and his wife may be one of the most positive portrayals of a gay man and his straight wife I’ve ever seen in a piece of entertainment. I’m thinking of Tobias & Lindsay Fünke from Arrested Development. Frank & Cathy Whitaker from Far From Heaven. Ennis & Alma Del Mar and Jack & Lureen Twist from Brokeback Mountain. Those relationships are either comedic or painful. Or both. There is pain inherent in the mixed orientation marriage of the Mayor of Schmigadoon, but there’s also a sweet love and understanding. We don’t find out what happens with the Mayor and his wife, or what happens with the Mayor and the Reverend other than that they share a simple kiss. And maybe that’s for the best, since we don’t always know what path our own journeys will take us on in life. But in the meantime, we can appreciate the pain and the joys that people in mixed orientation relationships feel. We can celebrate diversity in relationships. And we can just love without an agenda, as Schmigadoon encourages.

Even if it’s not, you know, bedroom love.

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