Blood Relative

New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin

08/03/2018 - 11/03/2018

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

17/03/2018 - 18/03/2018

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

17/03/2018 - 18/03/2018

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Dunedin Fringe 2018

Production Details


Zir Productions

An unflinching inter-generational portrait of the expectations we have for making family in-between birth and death.

“Family will always be there….”

Define “family.” Biological or chosen, this response is inherited, changes with time and place, and most comes under evaluation when “family” leaves us lonely.

BLOOD RELATIVE is a solo dramatic re-telling by trans non-binary performer Ren (of the award-winning “Ze”: queer as f*ck!), featuring their former self as married lesbian “Michelle,” Michelle’s staunch evangelical mother Edith, and beloved grandmother Mildred in the days surrounding Mildred’s death. Over the course of a few months, Michelle is faced with losing her one unconditionally loving family member Mildred, and discovering the degree of her infertility due to endometriosis (an inherited trait). As Michelle and Edith care-take Mildred, Michelle struggles with her expectations and disappointments of biological bonds. In the shadow of death and disconnection, she must examine her remaining power and possibility to define and make “family” for oneself.

BLOOD RELATIVE is Ren’s third solo show following the success of “Ze”: queer as f*ck! Zir Productions developed out of “Ze,” as a live performance production company committed to creating connection “beyond all binaries.”

*they/them gender neutral pronouns are used where referring to Ren (post-transition) and she/her pronouns where referring to Michelle (pre-transition).

New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin
Thurs 8 March – Sat 10 March 2018, 6pm
Sat 10 March & Sun 11 March 2018, 2pm
Ticket price range $10-$18
Booking details

BATS Theatre, Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
17 & 18 March 2018
6:30-7:30pm (60 min version)
Tickets: $13-$18

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
17 & 18 March 2018
1:00-2:15pm (full 75 min version)
Tickets: $10-$20

For Wellington Tickets:
T: (04) 212 4725

Warning: Contains challenging content.

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hour

A rewarding quest for family

Review by John Smythe 17th Mar 2018

It is part of the human condition that we all want to accepted and respected for who we really are, no matter what. But who are we, really?  

The universal quest for identity is inextricably entwined with notions of family, through many generations which may include blends of multiple cultures and ethnicities (as DNA tests attest). But not everyone relates well to their immediate family and it can be especially problematical if you have come out, first as lesbian then as genderqueer, in an otherwise binary-gendered nuclear family (mum, dad and the kids).

Over the past two years Ren Lunicke has toured “Ze”: queer as fuck! and I’m an Apache Attack Helicopter, both of which explore gender identity. Blood Relative focuses on the ‘family’ dimension of identity and their preferred pronouns are now they/them, and she/her when referring to Michelle, pre-transition).

Two elements converge to catalyse the story that Ren plays out: the last days of their grandmother, Mildred (1910-2010) and their diagnosis with endometriosis which could render them infertile.

Out as a lesbian and living with Julie, Michelle is drawn back to the family home when Mildred has a stroke and needs fulltime care. While tension and judgement infiltrate even the simplest conversations between Michelle and her mother, and phone calls with brothers, not to mention her father, the bond between Michelle and Mildred strengthens.

Mildred was a great fan of the flamboyant entertainer Liberace, whom Ren honours in this show. Given they recognise the importance of names when it comes to identity, and reveal that Mildred means quiet strength, it’s tempting to think it was Liberace who liberated Michells grandmother from the confines of conventional attitudes to sexuality and gender identity.

Although Ren’s programme note reveals their endometriosis was not officially diagnosed until about a month after Mildred’s death, the question of Michelle’s ability to fulfil her childhood dream of having children herself is juxtaposed with the family scenarios that question the immutability of the mythical family fold. How can she feel part of a home where the Jerry Springer Show is regarded as the News and the Lord Jesus is believed to offer those who love him passports to eternal life in Heaven?

One scene, where Michelle speaks derisively of pregnant women on a phone-call to Julie, sits awkwardly in relation to underlying desire for people to be accepted and respected for who they really are. But Michelle is fallible too and in this moment her vulnerability comes to the fore. Ren is as an equal-opportunity exponent of human frailty as the dreams and expectations of ‘happy families’ collide with reality.

Writing-wise the language is rich and fluent, and the structure ingeniously compares and contrasts different facets of the family vs no-family conflict. As we settle in our seats, Ren is a relaxed and welcoming host, and in performance they take on the personae of their younger self, mother, grandmother and medical specialist with deceptive ease and skill.

Ren grew up in the USA, fled to Canada then Australia, and has now embraced – and been embraced by – the concept of whānau in Aotearoa.  That their accent now sounds about 85 per cent Kiwi adds an extra dimension of intrigue to our sharing of their quest for identity, family and a place to stand.

The 1pm shows at the Gryphon theatre, today and tomorrow, are 75 minute versions of the one-hour show that plays BATS at 6.30pm today and tomorrow. It’s hard to know what is dispensable, given the version I’ve seen does not outstay its welcome.  

Whichever you choose, I feel confident you will find it rewarding. 


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Wry, warm, wise and humorous

Review by Sophie Fern 09th Mar 2018

The room is black and, on the stage area, there are a few chairs and a crisply made hospital bed.  Ren Lunicke introduces themself, and their grandmother Mildred, who we learn loved Liberace.  They then start to re-enact the autobiographical story of of their grandmother’s final weeks, their relationship with the rest of their family, especially their religious mother, and their diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis.

This description does not, however, capture the humorous warmth with which the story is told, the strength of the performance and the wryness of the observations that cover sexuality, family and, more than anything, love.

Early in the piece, Lunicke – who identifies as gender queer and uses them/they pronouns – muses on what makes family. Is it just social tradition that keeps humans in groups of father, mother and child?  Or is it a mixture of DNA and blood? Or is it the stories that families share?  

At this point in their journey Lunicke is convinced that their grandmother, Mildred, must have some ancestor wisdom to pass on that will make everything make sense.  And so they visit her regularly to record her stories and ask her questions about her life.  Their relationship goes from Mildred suspiciously asking Lunicke what they were doing there, to a warm welcome. 

Mildred is 100 and after she has a stroke Lunicke and their mother take turns to look after her.  Very gently, Lunicke plays their mother as a religious woman who feels underappreciated by her dying mother-in-law, and whose outlook on life is a mixture of fundamentalist Christian and Jerry Springer/Fox news.  Unsurprisingly, their relationship is strained.

Between visits to Mildred, Lunicke, who is relatively newly married, is dealing with crippling period pains, eventually diagnosed as endometriosis.  They play the doctor who gives a dry and calculated diagnosis, telling Lunicke that the treatment they might need could involve anything from the removal of adhesions and scar tissue right up to a full hysterectomy. Lunicke is working as a pre-school teacher and talks about not being sure they want a child while being unsure that they want this option terminated by the treatment they need to reduce the pain. 

Mildred suffers another major stroke and goes from occasionally speaking to being unresponsive and, on the weekend when Lunicke and their wife are away celebrating their first wedding anniversary, she dies. And, at this point, everything changes for Lunicke and, although a baby is not the result of the heartache that follows their grandmother’s death, it is the catalyst that allows Lunicke to find themself.

The evening ends where it started, on a musing of what, actually, is family.  Their disappointment with the biological bonds of their own family have led Lunicke to explore other possibilities of family.  Lunicke’s work is about story, and in bearing witness to each other’s stories; we connect with each other and make bonds.

This is not an extended therapy piece.  Whatever scars Lunicke might bear from that period in their life have been processed with great wisdom.  It is, instead, an invitation to bear witness to a period of another person’s life and, rather than feeling like a voyeur into another’s pain, you feel like a trusted friend. 


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