Did you ever read or hear Obama’s January 2009 inauguration speech? I remember my delight as I read the transcript that the New York Times posted online, how moved I was by its complexity of argument and its elegant, quite high register, with echoes of Emerson and the King James Bible. Here’s a man, I thought, who’s speaking not to the “unwashed masses” but to the enlightened citizens of the country he’d like to exist. And he wasn’t just speaking to them: he was also willing them into existence.
Maybe history doesn’t bear such gestures out; probably a country’s people don’t change their character because of a leader’s good intentions. But that doesn’t make his gesture any less noble, to my mind, or less important.
I felt much the same way towards the end of your production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People at Tarragon Theatre, or rather your revision of Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Ibsen’s play in Florian Borchmeyer’s adaptation and Maria Milisavljevic’s translation (to put it simply). A contemporary update of Ibsen’s story of a man who speaks out about his town’s contaminated water supply and runs afoul of the local economic elite, it struck me as perhaps the most important production I’ve seen at the Tarragon in years.
I first discovered Rosamund Small’s writing when I was a juror for the Sears Drama Festival’s new play competition for high school students several years ago. I was like 21 or something myself, had a stack of plays to read, and came across a script that struck me as hugely assured. I had no info about the author besides that he or she was an Ontario high school student, but I scribbled a little note on the feedback sheet that went something like: “Hope you’ll keep writing plays! You’re super good at it. If you ever have a show onstage, please shoot me an e-mail and let me know.” And I left my e-mail address. A year or two later, behold: there was an e-mail.
I discovered a terrific new play last weekend. It’s called Turtleneck and its author is Brandon Crone, a National Theatre School acting grad who runs a theatre company called Safeword, the mandate of which is, in part, “to facilitate, through the medium of theatre, a forum of philosophical discussion and critical thought surrounding issues that are relevant to modern society.”
Remarkably, Turtleneck does that. And it deserves way more notice than it’s gotten.
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?