SummerWorks: Debating feminism & privilege in provocative, sharply funny Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife

DontTalktoMeLikeImYourWife-400x530

Traitorous whore spy? Feminist? Sexually liberated opportunist?

The gloriously notorious Mata Hari gets look through 21st century eyes in Call Me Scotty Production’s premiere of Andrea Scott’s Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, directed by Andrew Lamb and opening last night in the Theatre Centre Mainspace as part of this year’s SummerWorks program.

Shifting back and forth between Mata Hari’s final hours in prison in 1917 and a university course on ‘Women Screwed Over by History’ in 2016, we see the famous erotic performer and accused spy from several points of view, both past and present.

On her last day in prison, Mata Hari’s (Kimwun Perehinec) is introduced to cellmate Hélène (Lisa Karen Cox), a young French-Senegalese woman in for prostitution who has been moved from another cell block. Instructed by Sister Leonide (Paula Wing) to keep Mata Hari occupied, Hélène knows that this section of the prison is for doomed prisoners. During Mata Hari’s final hours before execution, of which she is unaware, a young prison guard (Jeff Lillico) attempts to satisfy his curiosity about his celebrity prisoner as he takes her for a stroll in the prison grounds. After a failed attempt at converting Mata Hari, a professed Hindu, to Catholicism, Sister Leonide has a genuine heart-to-heart chat. In 2016, as university professor Christopher Locke (David Christo) prepares a lecture about Mata Hari, he gets into a heated debate with a black female student (Cox as Karen Sinclair) over the meaning of feminism and how it relates to Mata Hari.

The sharp, darkly funny and thought-provoking script is well-matched by an excellent cast. Perehinec does a lovely job with the resourceful and unapologetic Mata Hari (the stage name chose by Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod); mining the vulnerability, celebrity entitlement, cultural appropriation and buried memories of a woman who change her name and her life, she reveals the abused wife, loving mother and sexually liberated woman behind the stage name. Famous and infamous for her erotic performances, we see a woman who loves sex and longs to be loved; and who will do what she needs to do in order to survive. Cox is an excellent foil and debater, to Mata Hari (as Hélène) and to Locke (as Karen); fearlessly challenging and questioning preconceived notions with intelligence and edgy humour, tempered with a good-natured personality and a strong desire to have a real dialogue about the issues. Christo brings an easy-going, cool vibe to the forward-thinking, self-professed feminist Locke; he’s genuinely interested in women’s and minority rights, but struggles with a modern marriage arrangement that may be working against his interests, as well as present-day, budget and diversity-conscious hiring practices.

Wing is a delight as the feisty and commanding Sister Leonide; wily and worldlier than she appears, she has a kind heart beneath that take-charge exterior, as evidenced in a lovely two-hander scene with Perehinec. Lillico (a late addition to the cast when Christo suffered a cycling accident that impaired his mobility) does an excellent job with the young guard’s conflicting feelings about Mata Hari; both curious about and furious with her, an apparent crush takes a turn as he reveals his own heartache and loss.

No one is as they seem; and each character challenges our biases and preconceived notions of their social roles and life experiences. This is a play that will make you think about, as well as question, what you believe about gender, race, white privilege, inclusion, economics and power.

With shouts to set/costume designer Melanie McNeill for the opulent and exotic touches to an otherwise drab and Spartan prison setting.

Debating feminism, equality and privilege in the provocative, smart, sharply funny Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife.

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife continues at the Theatre Centre Mainspace until Aug 14. Go see #thematahariplay

In the meantime, check out some interviews with playwright Scott by yours truly and this week’s cover story by NOW Magazine’s Glenn Sumi.

 

 

Advertisements

Interview with Andrea Scott on upcoming Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife @ SummerWorks

Headshot - Orange

Andrea Scott is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and producer at Call Me Scotty Productions. Her plays have appeared in the New Ideas Festival and SummerWorks (Eating Pomegranates Naked and Better Angels: A Parable – the latter is also featured on Expect Theatre’s PlayMe podcast), in a Mixed Company Theatre touring production (Frenemies) and, most recently, at Solar Stage (Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees). Next up for Scott is a SummerWorks production of Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, which “explores feminism, slut shaming and the power dynamic that exists between the genders as viewed from Mata Hari’s prison cell in 1917.”* Andrew Lamb is directing, and the cast includes David Christo, Lisa Karen Cox, Kimwun Perehinec and Paula Wing.

LWMC: Hi, Andrea. Thanks for taking the time to talk about Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife – and thanks for giving me the opportunity to read it first. Things have been cooking for you lately, with Expect Theatre for the PlayMe broadcast of Better Angels and a recent production of Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees at Solar Stage. Quick side question: What’s your experience been shifting between writing for adult audiences to younger audiences?

AS: Less swearing. Or maybe more, now that I think about it. When I write for children, I have to be very conscious not to give the children my ‘adult’ voice. I have a habit of using big words or a vocabulary that is rather expansive. Children are so smart and observant, and when they say something insightful, it takes adults by surprise. That is a challenge to write because you don’t want people to hear it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a clever adult putting their words into the mouth a child.’ I remember feeling that way after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

LWMC: Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife features Mata Hari as the central figure. How did you become drawn to her story?

AS: I was asked to be in a reading of Harriet’s Daughter by M. NourbeSe Philips in the 2013 AfterRock Festival produced by b current. The character I played was obsessed with Mata Hari, so in order to understand my character better, I researched who she was in history. I thought I knew who she was and was surprised to learn that there was little to no hard evidence that led to her execution. What was clear was that she was very open about her sexual appetite, enjoyed showing her body, and entirely unapologetic. A woman like that could only be trouble in 1917.

LWMC: The action shifts back and forth between Mata Hari’s cell, in the hours before her execution in 1917, and a present-day university women’s studies course that includes a lecture and discussion about Mata Hari. What made you decide to structure the play in this way?

AS: I was very excited about this woman’s story and when I would tell people about Mata Hari, I came to realize that most didn’t know who she was at all. The professor conceit came out of the desire to inform and educate the audience. Early drafts had him directing the lecture at the audience, but Marjorie Chan, AD at Cahoots Theatre, felt it would be more dynamic to have another character with which the professor could interact. Nobody knows what Mata Hari’s last hours were like, so this is an imagining. What is known is that she had two cellmates and was never informed of an execution date. Right up until the guard showed up at her cell, she believed she would be released. She seemed unaware that an espionage charge was a guaranteed death sentence when over 50,000 French soldiers had been slaughtered at the Battle of Verdun.

LWMC: The play draws some sharp social and feminist parallels, and the discussions of gender, sexuality and colour – and even ownership – between Mata Hari and her cellmate are mirrored to some extent in the debates between the professor and his female student in the present day. What do you hope the audience will take away from these perspectives?

AS: That, unfortunately, slut shaming between women is just as bad as when men do it and it has always existed. That even in prison there exists a hierarchy entrenched because of racism and privilege. Mata Hari, who was a Dutch citizen, looks at her cellmate Helene and asks her where she is from even though Helene is clearly French. There were many black people in France, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of evidence of this fact in French plays or literature. Alexandre Dumas’ work was being read in French prisons and he was a black man. Race and gender politics have always been around but now we have a more open society where one can discuss it without reprisal (hopefully).

LWMC: And was there anything that surprised you as you were doing the research for the play?

How little things have changed regarding military protocol if you are identified as a threat to national security. Mata Hari was taken into custody, interrogated repeatedly, denied access to her lawyer on many occasions, had her correspondence intercepted, and essentially convicted for being a sexual woman. Several years after her execution a prosecutor on the case admitted that they did not have enough evidence to kill a cat.

I also touch on the precarious employment issue plaguing university professors. I was completely unaware of how little they make, their poor treatment, and the assumption that once you’re a professor you’ve got it made. It was a bad situation 10 years ago and now it’s even worse as universities move towards operating on a business model treating education as a commodity.

LWMC: You’re currently crowdfunding for the production on Indiegogo. Tell us about that. And what other ways can folks support Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife?

AS: I recognize the impetus to simply split the box office after a SummerWorks show and make a little bit of money beforehand in order to pay for supplies, but I really want to pay my team for their skills. I did a Fringe show many years ago, and after 5 weeks of rehearsals and 7 shows, I was paid something like $20 and I was like, ‘Nah, Man!’ My base amount is $500 per person, so usually I need about $5,000 in the business account by July so that I can pay for rehearsal space, marketing, insurance and contingency items. By the time the show has had a run and the box office is reconciled, I’ve usually made enough to give everyone that $500 in September. This year, I’m being way more ambitious by applying for grants because rather than $500 (which breaks down to $100/week/member), I’d like to pay them $600 a week, which approximates the Indie 2.1 contract. We’ll see. It may be nuts and everyone will simply get $500, but I had to try.

If people don’t have the funds, I’d just like them to re-post the link or talk about the play. Nothing can replace good word of mouth.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

AS: The tiny play I wrote for Wrecking Ball #18 last July has been expanded into a full length piece called All Most Be Longing, and there will be an excerpt read at Factory Theatre Wired in June.

LWMC: Cool! I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? Specious

What’s your least favourite word? Scumbag

What turns you on? Intelligence with a sense of wit

What turns you off? Self-centred behaviour with lack of awareness of other’s feelings

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of birds in the morning

What sound or noise do you hate? CNN on all the time.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuckery said with an English accent

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Professor

What profession would you not like to do? Labour lawyer on the side of the companies

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You did alright. Here’s a dirty martini with extra olives.

Thanks, Andrea!

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife will run during SummerWorks 2016 (Aug 4 – 14). Take a look at the YouTube fundraising video:

 

 

* Call Me Scotty Productions website

SummerWorks: A compelling morality tale of modern-day slavery in Better Angels: A Parable

Akosua Amo-Adem in Better Angels - A Parable
Akosua Amo-Adem in Better Angels – A Parable

I first had the pleasure of seeing Andrea Scott’s Better Angels: A Parable in an early production at the 2014 New Ideas Festival, so I was excited to see how the piece had evolved for the SummerWorks production, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams and currently running at the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace.

Akosua Mansa (Akosua Amo-Adem) is a young woman from Ghana who moves to Toronto to work as a nanny/maid in the home of Leila (Sascha Cole) and Greg Tate (Peyson Rock). Wide-eyed with excitement over her new job, the prospect of living in a new place and her first plane ride, Akosua welcomes this change and adventure in her life. Leila and Greg are friendly and welcoming – with Leila fastidiously in charge of the household; she’s left her corporate job to work on a novel, and the house must run like clockwork. Greg is low maintenance by comparison, if not a bit clueless about the household routine, and often working after hours – and we come learn that he has other things occupying his mind. Soon, though, Akosua finds things are not so easy-going in the Tate house, as she finds herself working without pay for several months, then having to choose between getting paid and going home for a visit during the Christmas holiday (which, as a Muslim, she doesn’t celebrate). And Leila successfully manages to manipulate day-to-day activities so Akosua has no unaccompanied access to the outside world – and she’s taken possession of Akosua’s passport. Rather than wallow in her misfortune, Akosua uses her intellect and power of observation to turn her situation around.

Williams and Scott (who both also provide voice-overs for the play) have assembled an outstanding cast for this production. Amo-Adem is a delight as Akosua, giving us a young woman embarking on a great adventure who is animated and excited, yet solidly possessing of strength and resolve. This exuberant young woman is no push-over; she may be new to her position and to Canada, but she is nobody’s fool, and unapologetically asserts her rights when she finds herself being cheated of freedom and wages. Cole does a lovely job with Leila’s complex layers; tightly wound and controlling, and extremely entitled, but desperately lonely – and with a jealous streak. She does a remarkable job with the backhand compliments and ethno-cultural faux pas, which serve to highlight that, while Leila is interested in – and even attracted to (Greg is half black) – the black community and culture, she views it as “other” and sees black people as stereotypical “exotic” creatures, and has little to no respect for, or understanding of, their history and lived experience. Rock does an amazing job conveying the multifaceted aspects of Greg; he is largely absent from his marriage and has a laissez faire attitude towards the household – his interest in the goings-on in his home only piqued when he feels his position is threatened. Beneath the affable, good-natured, hard-working husband exterior is a man squirming with inner conflict and secret passions.

Better Angels: A Parable is nicely bookended, with Akosua’s personal anecdote at the top of the play about a getting a childhood lesson in the unfairness of the world, and her closing piece of storytelling about the West African spider god Anansi turning the tables on Death.

With shouts to the set (Laura Gardner, who also designed costumes) and lighting (Jennifer Lennon) designers for the beautiful and evocative spider theme used in this production. The yellow fabric placed web-like floor to ceiling and along the floor, and the lighting effect on the wall of Akosua’s tiny attic room – all in all, highly effective and imaginative design and staging for this production, especially on so small a playing space.

Better Angels: A Parable is a compelling morality tale of modern-day slavery and a young woman’s action to regain her freedom.

Better Angels: A Parable continues at the TPM Backspace until Aug 16 – check here for exact dates and times. Advance booking or early arrival at the box office strongly recommended – they had a full house at yesterday’s performance.

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable & silence speaking volumes in New Ideas Week Two program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Back at Alumnae Theatre for the Week Two program of the New Ideas Festival last night – and this is a very strong program, featuring four excellent – and very different – plays.

The Living Library, by Linda McCready and directed by Stacy Halloran is a delightfully funny two-hander about a young woman who comes to the library to take advantage of the Living Library Program to borrow a “living book” for a career conversation. Ann Marie Krytiuk is a treat as the energetic and driven, but lost, Sylvia; and Scott Moulton is marvelous as her interview subject, senior policy analyst Tom.

Better Angels: A Parable, by Andrea Scott and directed by Pomme J-Corvellec, uses both multi-media and traditional storytelling to great effect to present a modern-day morality tale. Akosua Mans (Keriece Harris), a young woman from Ghana who dreams of a better life in Canada, takes a job as a housekeeper/nanny for Toronto yuppies Leila (Hilary Hart) and Greg Tate (Daniel De Pas), and becomes their domestic prisoner. Caught in their own web of malicious machinations and deceit, the Tates’ plans go terribly awry. Harris does a lovely job as Akosua, shifting from wide-eyed, dreamy naiveté to wisdom and taking power over her situation as an immigrant domestic worker in a bad situation. Hart does a great job with Hilary’s conflicting emotions – domineering, controlling and tightly wound, but sad and lonely, and longing for connection; and De Pas brings a nice balance to Greg’s seemingly easy-going nature, all the while burning with unresolved passion underneath. Excellent use of projection for the set; it was very cool to see the cursor draw it on the canvas curtain as the stage was set, and the close-ups of Akosua’s face really draw the audience to her as a person – not an ethnicity, a skin colour or a service worker, but a person.

The Shimmering Odessa Building or Whatever, by Judith Upjohn and directed by Zoë Erwin-Longstaff, takes us on an unusual road trip of aimlessness, anomie and literature with three intelligent, hip and tech-savvy young women – all set against the backdrop of a scorched earth ravaged by climate change. Outstanding work from the cast: Sharon Belle (Writer/Iris), the driver, both coolly detached and lyrical; Tiana Asperjan (Cali), the cynical wise-cracking, but sensitive, friend riding shotgun; and Janice Yang (Wiki-Wendy) as the teenage backseat tag-along with an encyclopedic mind, who breaks her long silences with salient information and data.

Brockfest, by Joan Burrows and directed by Eric Benson, is a delightful family comedy. Siblings are reunited at Kitty’s (Liz Best) celebration of “not being American” anymore, where secrets are revealed and that nun’s got her eyes on you. Excellent ensemble cast on this one. Best brings the funny as the stressed out and excited guest of honour, also hosting this gathering; and David Borwick is hilarious as her sweet, but somewhat clueless, husband Cal (not to mention very handsome in uniform). Justen Bennett is both deliciously impish and neurotic as Kitty’s brother Les, and John Marcucci is adorably charming as Les’s partner Paul. And Andrea Lyons is perfectly hysterical as Kitty’s and Les’s sister, Sister Leona, who’s taken a vow of silence. Best. Entrance. Ever.

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable and silence speaking volumes – all in all, a seriously outstanding program of short plays. Week Two closes on March 23, so you only have a few more chances to catch it: twice today and tomorrow afternoon.

The Week Two reading is this afternoon: Charles Hayter’s Radical, directed by Darcy Stoop.

The New Ideas Festival continues next week (Mar 26-30) with its Week Three program and reading. Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival.

Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.

Life, love & faith in all its messy glory – Eating Pomegranates Naked

Eating-P-N-367x500I was back at the Lower Ossington Theatre main stage again last night, this time to see Andrea Scott’s Eating Pomegranates Naked, directed for the SummerWorks production by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.

A group of 30-something friends unearth personal loss, sins of omission and secrets, and struggle with various crises of faith. Scott (Eli Ham) and Sera (Marci T House) navigate the cultural and religious differences that at times challenge their marriage as they struggle to have a baby, while Rushton (Awaovieyi Agie) and Anaar (Cherissa Richards) work out their lives as a new couple, and come to realize that they haven’t had a clear discussion on the baby question and may not be the match they thought they were. For all her tough-talking bravado and comparatively bohemian lifestyle, Cassidy (Susan A. Lock), the single gal in the group, longs for intimate connection and wonders whether a baby is in the cards for her. Connection, family – whether birth family or a chosen family of friends – and a desire to leave some sort of legacy are foremost in the minds of these characters.

Really nice work from this ensemble cast. House does a lovely job balancing Sera’s strength and vulnerability, assuredness and doubt; and Ham’s Scott is a good complement, the other side of Sera’s coin, bringing support and love, especially during the most fragile moments in their relationship. Agie brings a nice sense of cocky, but congenial, confidence to Rushton, a handsome and accomplished man who must come to terms with the fact that he may not be getting what he expected from his relationship with Anaar; and Richards rounds out Anaar’s pretty, dumb girl exterior with a deep longing for acceptance, fearful of rejection if she reveals herself. Lock is sharply funny as Cassidy, gradually revealing that, beneath all of Cassidy’s smart-ass quips, there lies a lack of confidence that she’ll be able to change her life for the better.

Eating Pomegranates Naked is life in all its loving, fighting, believing – and messy – glory. This is another play I had the pleasure to see in an earlier draft – in this case, as a reading at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival 2012. During the Q&A that followed that reading, the audience learned that the title was inspired in part by friends of Scott, a couple who eat pomegranates naked for easy clean-up/stain avoidance – plus its colourful, erotic, and even biblical, reference (was an apple or a pomegranate that figured in Adam and Eve’s downfall?). In French, it’s “grenade,” a fitting word for the gasp-inducing emotional bombs that get dropped throughout the play. Revelations have the power to relieve or destroy relationships, and revealing oneself takes courage and can result in the discovery that what was wanted most, even as it slips through one’s fingers, is maybe not what was needed – or wanted – after all.

You have two more chances to see Eating Pomegranates Naked during its SummerWorks run at the Lower Ossington Theatre main space: tonight (Fri, Aug 16) at 10:00 p.m. and Sat, Aug 17 at 7:30 p.m. If you’re one of the first 25 audience members for this show, you may get lucky like I did last night and receive a gift bag with some tasty Cobs bake shop goodies.