I did a stupid, fun thing a couple of nights ago and stayed up till 5 AM to watch the end (after the, um, late-beginning and middle) of True Detective on HBO. This was stupid in part because it turns out I have a low tolerance for depictions of ritualistic child sacrifice and, alone in my apartment, got pretty freaked out and upset. Fun because I was hooked.
But also dissatisfied. I’ve tried to piece together why.
Playwright Erin Shields is a very funny lady. I’ve known this for a while, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that her play Soliciting Temptation, which just opened at Tarragon Theatre in a production by Andrea Donaldson, is a very funny play. Deceptively so, since for its first half it’s not at all funny, is instead an earnest two-hander that consists of arguments volleyed between a would-be sex tourist in a South Asian country and his would-be prey, a young girl. The arguments and the language that frames them are boilerplate, textbook. He’s a smiling tornado of bourgeois self-justification, “contributing to the local economy.” She’s a Fury, decries him as a pervert, chastises him about the extreme vulnerability of child prostitutes in her country. Except it’s not her country. She’s a young activist from the West.
Glad to see Studio 180 Theatre’s Cock last night. (Did that come out right?)
Mike Bartlett’s play, an import from London, centres around a young guy who identifies as gay and is in a long-term relationship with a man, meets a woman he likes and sleeps with her, and has to choose between lovers.
Early scenes feel by turns expository and less than lifelike, the conflicts hyper-charged and overly explicit about theme, but they soon give way to the play’s compelling centrepiece: a dinner party where the protagonist and his two lovers negotiate their situation, its possibilities. The writing here has a subtextual layering that snapped me back to attention, drew me in, the conflict not essentialized into a head-on collision between two opposed parties but diffuse, plural, subterranean.
I was being a jerk and complaining to friends about the lack of a meaningful, sophisticated critical culture in Canadian theatre when, pretty much overnight, one appeared and smacked me in the face. Excited to see Conte d’Amour at World Stage and maybe post my own social media blurb about why it fucked me up or rocked my world or made me mad.
But here’s my question: why does it take an import from Europe to get the Toronto theatre community talking like this about what our work means, to make us demand that our art respond to our time in forceful ways?
Why can’t we call bullshit more often, not only at the bar but also in public, when our theatre doesn’t ask smart enough, urgent enough questions or do so in complex enough terms?