Welcome to the fifth installment of our Pride Month series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media. A note: this article contains some spoilers for the musical Jagged Little Pill.
Jagged Little Pill is a complicated musical filled with complex and interesting characters, from frazzled mom Mary Jane to fish-out-of-water daughter Frankie. It’s also a victory for representation, with a diverse cast and many different sexual orientations among its main characters. But the character who walks away with the show is Jo, played by the astonishing Lauren Patten. As the show begins, Jo is dealing with her religious mother’s disapproval regarding her sexuality. Despite her difficult home situation, Jo is funny and kind, a good girlfriend to Frankie. But Frankie is also attracted to new student Phoenix. Telling herself her relationship with Jo isn’t exclusive, Frankie starts to see Phoenix as well without telling Jo.
This all comes to a devastating head when Jo walks in on Phoenix and Frankie having sex. Angry and hurt, she runs away, telling Frankie’s parents what she saw in the process. But this is all just a preamble to Jo’s biggest moment. When Frankie runs away to New York and calls Phoenix for help, he can’t drop everything to save her. So Frankie calls Jo, who goes to help her even after all that’s happened. When Jo arrives, they talk about what happened. But Frankie is unwilling to admit what she did with Phoenix was wrong. Jo tells Frankie that if Frankie really believed it wasn’t wrong, she would have told Jo. Then, Jo breaks up with Frankie by singing the ultimate kiss-off song: “You Oughta Know.” By the end of the show, Jo and Frankie are friends, with Jo gaining a new girlfriend.
“You Oughta Know” is a show-stopping moment. Patten builds the song’s power slowly, choosing to release all the anger and hurt in short bursts until Jo can’t take it and explodes with rage. Jo isn’t willing to be mistreated anymore, especially not by someone she loved. Patten’s devastating performance, coupled with the audience’s sympathy for Jo, combines to give the song a show-stopping quality. Much has been made of the minutes-long standing ovation audiences in Boston repeatedly gave this number during its out of town tryout, and with good reason.
Jo is a character worth highlighting because of how the audience relates to her. Her struggle to be accepted while remaining true to herself is relatable, and who among us hasn’t experienced heartbreak? Her explosion of anguish is more about her desire to be seen than just being cheated on. Jo is telling Frankie (and the wider world) that she is valuable and deserves to be heard. As Patten said when describing the moment to The New York Times:
Jo really experiences this moment as the dismissal of her person — a queer person who doesn’t exactly know how she identifies. An unreal amount of people relate to Jo. Because everybody knows what it feels like to feel unheard, to feel unseen, to feel disregarded as a person. It becomes an extremely cathartic moment for everyone in the audience to experience somebody really, really demanding to be heard.
“You Oughta Know” is one of Alanis Morissette’s most recognizable hits, and before seeing the show, I assumed it would go to one of the lead characters. But by giving it to Jo, who is important to the show but definitely a supporting role, Jagged Little Pill gets a genuine, unexpected reaction from the audience. Patten walks away with the show from the moment she growls that first “I … want … you … to know” at the top of the song. For all these reasons, Jo is a character worth highlighting in our Pride Month series.
Be sure to check back here every day this month for more of our Pride spotlights!