Con­sent: Play re­veals need for drama to tackle cer­tain cor­ners of life

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - FILM -

» Moon’s other fe­male in­ter­view sub­jects range from her 16-year-old sis­ter (on the sub­ject of BDSM) to an old friend from com­mu­nity the­atre who is now work­ing as a strip­per (and who is fas­ci­nated by how many men go to strip clubs to say no to women).

Chris­tine Horne, in a won­der­ful nat­u­ral and un­adorned per­for­mance, plays all the girls and women, while two male ac­tors – Steven McCarthy and Jaa SmithJohn­son – play all the men that Moon talked with.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­trast – they make short, stac­cato ap­pear­ances that feel like cameos, while Horne has the mono­logues and long scenes.

This is just an ex­pres­sion of the re­al­ity Moon found when broach­ing the sub­ject of con­sent with friends and strangers. While women seem ea­ger to talk about the times men they were with crossed a line and the dif­fi­cul­ties they’ve had ex­press­ing their dis­com­fort, it was harder for the play­wright to find men will­ing to talk un­guard­edly, even with the prom­ise of anonymity.

What she finds is a wide gap – be­tween stri­dent men such as a 27-year-old po­lice of­fi­cer who calls him­self a “guy who ar­gues with fem­i­nists” and men who say what they think she wants to hear in con­ver­sa­tions she’s deemed too bor­ingly po­lit­i­cal cor­rect to stage.

A fas­ci­nat­ing scene comes when Moon talks to just such a sen­si­tive male friend – and, af­ter he’s left the bar, a fe­male friend tells her of the time she slept in a bed next to him and woke up to him phys­i­cally forc­ing him­self upon her. Moon calls this rape; her friend says she’s never thought of it as any­thing other than “awk­ward.”

What did the guy in ques­tion think hap­pened? Ask­ing For It is, in a way, a drama­ti­za­tion of the frus­trat­ing lim­its of the con­ver­sa­tion that was opened up by the Ghome­shi af­fair. Women spoke out; men clammed up. You see a sim­i­lar thing hap­pen­ing with the case of Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein.

In its own way, Ask­ing For It demon­strates the need for drama to tackle cer­tain cor­ners of mod­ern life, the places fic­tion can reach that doc­u­men­tary can’t.

The strength of Moon’s piece, how­ever, is that it’s al­ways aware of when it’s hit­ting walls. A cou­ple of scenes in which men try to se­duce the play­wright – one is suc­cess­ful, one is not – are in­ter­est­ing in that they al­low us to ponder the dis­tinc­tion be­tween se­duc­tion and co­er­cion, but also be­cause they ex­tend the con­cept of con­sent to the form of doc­u­men­tary the­atre. Did these scenes re­ally hap­pen while Moon was record­ing the au­dio on her smart­phone?

Bren­dan Healy’s di­rec­tion is art­ful: The four ac­tors be­gin by sit­ting around a table in front of scripts and mi­cro­phones, like four ra­dio hosts com­pet­ing to be the next host of q. Later, Healy plays gen­tly with these con­ven­tions, but gen­er­ally keeps us lis­ten­ing, the am­pli­fied sound cre­at­ing the in­ti­macy of a pod­cast. I felt the whole thing could have been edited more tightly, but then I feel that way about most pod­casts as well.

Ask­ing for It con­tin­ues to Oct. 21 (night­woodthe­atre.net)

JEREMY MIM­NAGH

From left: El­lie Moon, Jaa Smith-John­son and Chris­tine Horne in ap­pear in Moon’s play, Ask­ing For It. The show, based on tran­scripts of Moon’s talks with peo­ple about the sub­ject of con­sent, is a drama­ti­za­tion of the frus­trat­ing lim­its of the con­ver­sa­tion opened up by the Jian Ghome­shi af­fair.

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