Gender power dynamics get a table flip in the provocative, timely Beautiful Man

Foreground: Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen & Sofía Rodríguez. Background: Jess LaVercombe. Set design by Gillian Gallow. Costume design by Ming Wong. Lighting design by Jason Hand. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography.

 

Factory Theatre closes its 2018-19 season with Erin Shields’ Beautiful Man. Directed by long-time Shields collaborator Andrea Donaldson (now the new AD at Nightwood Theatre), assisted by Keshia Palm, Beautiful Man was first produced during SummerWorks in 2015—a few years before the #MeToo movement exploded into public consciousness. A hilariously sharp, satirical and thought-provoking turnabout of gender power dynamics, Shields has revised the original script to reflect the #MeToo landscape; and has added a section that provides a sense of everyday realism—in both cases, flipping gender power roles in surprising, provocative ways.

I first saw Beautiful Man at SummerWorks 2015—and loved it. Not for the feint-hearted when it comes to adult language, and discussions of graphic sex and violence, the razor-sharp, bawdy, no holds barred script and the playful, rapid fire performances turn the tables on who is marginalized and objectified. Three women—Jennifer (Ashley Botting), Sophie (Mayko Nguyen) and Pam (Sofía Rodríguez)—get into a passionate discussion about popular scripted media; all stories in which the female characters hold the power, and men are subject to objectification and violence. A movie about a world-weary, tough yet haunted female homicide detective on the hunt for a female serial killer who preys on beautiful men. Exhausted and zoning out in front of the TV, the detective watches a violent, graphically sexual Game of Thrones-esque fantasy fiction series featuring a powerful, cruel queen and her amazon warrior sister. Within the TV show, the queen watches a play with a plot that’s similar to Julius Caesar, but with women in the key roles; and within that play, a puppet show starring a lusty cave woman. Yep, it’s a puppet show within a play, within a TV series, within a movie—all within a play!

Throughout this first fantasy section of the play, the Beautiful Man (Jesse LaVercombe) is a peripheral character, always present in the background, with little to say as he gradually removes his clothing throughout. A sensitive, supportive but frustrated husband; a poignant murder/rape victim; a conquered sex slave. Valued only for his beauty and usefulness to the women in charge, his name is perpetually forgotten. In the epilogue, the shifted power dynamic continues, but in a markedly different way, as a woman relates personal anecdotes of navigating everyday corporate oppression, mansplaining, harassment, self-doubt and chastisement, and fear for her safety.

Outstanding performances from the entire cast in this thought-provoking, timely piece of theatre. Beyond mere fan girl involvement with the media they’re consuming and discussing, the three women engage on a deeply personal level with the movie, TV series, play and puppet show. Botting’s Jennifer displays wry wit and shameless enthusiasm; Nguyen’s Sophie brings an edge of precision and authority; and Rodríguez’s Pam relishes the sensual and forbidden. At times misremembering details in their reverie, these three  women find a titillating oasis in these stories of sex, violence and dominant female characters. And LaVercombe gives a sensitive and moving performance as the Beautiful Man. Viewed as eye candy, the “other half”, a sex object, a victim, and only subjectively and conditionally seen as useful—this is a man standing in places traditionally endured by women.

Despite the graphic sex and violence described during the first part of the play, not to mention the fact that these women are really getting off on it, the second part is perhaps the most provocative. What impact does it have on the conversations about these issues? Will the everyday oppression of women be better understood when told in this manner? Who gets the last word?

Beautiful Man continues in the Factory Theatre Mainspace until May 26; advance tickets available online or by calling the box office at 416- 504-9971.

Check out this Intermission Spotlight piece on Shields and her work by Carly Maga, including chats with Shields, Donaldson and Maev Beaty. And Megan Robinson’s conversation with Shields and Donaldson in In the Greenroom.

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Toronto Fringe: Hilarity ensues with farce-inspired improv shenanigans in Entrances and Exits

Back: Ghazal Azarbad, Liz Johnston, Dylan Evans & Connor Low. Front: Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer & Ruth Goodwin. Photo by Connor Low.

 

The Howland Company joins forces with Bad Dog Theatre for a Toronto Fringe run of improvised theatre, creating a new show every night inspired by traditional farces with Entrances and Exits, directed by Paolo Santalucia and running on the Factory Theatre Mainstage. Split into two parts, the scene starts in the living room, then flips to the bedroom, where we see the same scene play out but from a different vantage point.

Last night, host and FX operator Connor Low set the stage and collected suggestions from the audience: a type of party and three sounds you don’t want to hear coming from a bedroom. We got New Year’s Eve party; and breaking glass, a blood-curdling scream and a gun shot. Hilarity ensues, with tension-filled marriages, grudge-filled resentment and competition, secret passions, startling revelations and a college wrestling uniform.

Last night’s ensemble featured the hilarious improv stylings of Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans and Liz Johnston (the ensemble also includes Ruth Goodwin). With high-energy antics and side-splitting shenanigans, these actors turned on a dime to create this wacky fun slapstick tale of friends and frenemies gathering to ring in the New Year.

Entrances and Exits returns to the Factory Mainstage tonight (July 14) at 9:15 pm and July 15 at noon; these guys are sold out, but you may be able to snag some rush seats if you arrive early.

In the meantime, check out Megan Robinson’s In the Greenroom interview with company member Liz Johnston and production manager Mimi Warshaw about their experience creating this improvised farce for Fringe.

Want to check if the show you want to see is sold out? The Toronto Fringe folks have set up a page for sold-out shows, updated daily.

Check out the 2018 Patron’s Picks, which receive an additional performance on July 15.