#MeToo from the other side in the sharply funny, provocative Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Alice Snaden & Matthew Edison. Set & costume design by Michael Gianfrancesco. Lighting design by Bonnie Beecher. Photo by Joy von Tiedemann.

 

Tarragon Theatre kicks off the New Year with the premiere of Hannah Moscovitch’s sharply funny, provocative #MeToo look at a student/professor affair in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, directed by Sarah Garton Stanley, assisted by Eva Barrie. A famous 40-something author and popular professor, grappling with writer’s block and a crumbling marriage, would rather not have the lovely, smart girl in the red coat standing so close to him—but he is irresistibly drawn to her despite the personal and professional ramifications. Questions of the nature of consent, power dynamic, and mixing up admiration and love, come into play as we witness the evolution of the relationship over time.

Jon (Matthew Edison) is a 40-something author and professor. Both famous for his writing and popular among students, he’s feeling out of sorts as he struggles with writer’s block on his current novel, and navigates separation and impending divorce from his third wife. Enter the bright and attractive first-year student Annie (Alice Snaden), who is a big fan. And she lives across the street from him.

Despite his scoffing at youthful sexuality and the middle-aged men who are attracted to it, and his initial discomfort at Annie’s attentions, Jon’s personal and professional resolve melt in the face of his hot mess of a life and a longing to get close to this fascinating young woman who appears to be coming on to him.

The “love story” is narrated by Jon, who speaks about himself in the third person and punctuates events with editorial comments that both admit and rationalize his actions. In this way, the narrative—presented from Jon’s point of view and coupled with surtitles that read like pointed chapter headings (video design by Laura Warren)—takes on the feel of a novel, written from a man’s point of view and ultimately relegating the female character to a roughly drawn, vague love interest. Despite his awareness of the sloppy, dismissive effect this has on writing, Jon proceeds to live this dynamic with Annie.

A few years after the end of the affair, Annie brings forward a perspective that questions the consensual nature of that relationship—given the age difference and power imbalance. As more years pass, Annie finds some closure as she examines their relationship from his point of view.

Razor-sharp, nuanced performances from Edison and Snaden in this thoughtful, provocative and funny two-hander; nicely complemented by Michael Gianfrancesco’s perspectival set of multiple doors, and Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design, adding a luminous sense of discovery and mystery. Edison gives Jon a genuine combination of cockiness and self-consciousness; above all the student drama, sex and stupidity, but wondering if he can still be cool and relate to them, Jon fears becoming a stereotypical middle-aged man who chases after younger women as much as he eschews the behaviour. Using the stresses of his mess of a life to rationalize his affair with Annie, Jon believes she’s coming on to him and that he’s really falling for her—and that makes it alright. Snaden brings an ethereal, wise child edge to Annie; wide-eyed, smart and a brilliant writer in her own right, Annie longs for acceptance, acknowledgment and a sense of identity. Despite Annie’s attention and attraction to Jon, and that she was of legal age, she realizes that she was still the student and he was still her professor.

Jon was in a position of power and could’ve stopped the affair from happening, but didn’t—and what Annie needed wasn’t a lover, but a mentor. In the end, it looks like they both mistook admiration for love. And the middle class isn’t as “nice” as some would expect.

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes continues in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until February 2; advance tickets available online. This premiere is bound to provoke questions and discussions—get out to see it and get in on the conversation.

 

Bittersweet memoir of lost love in A Play on Passion

APoP 3-Creation Lab
Patricia Delves & Gabriel DiFabio in A Play on Passion – photo by Danielle Capretti

A young crime novelist meets with a grand dame of Canadian theatre to ghost write her memoir – and gets a lesson on love in A Play on Passion. Written by G.D. Corkum and Patricia Delves, and directed/produced by Danielle Capretti, the play is being presented as a rehearsed reading for two performances at the Blake Thorne Studio.

A renowned stage actress born and raised in England, Veronica Devereaux (Delves) is chilly and aloof with wordsmith William Adkins (Gabriel DiFabio) when he first arrives, put off that their publisher has sent a writer with no knowledge of the theatre to write her story. The two soon find some common ground in their mutual, dogged pursuit of their respective arts – against the odds and the will of their parents – and Veronica’s icy veneer melts as she discovers a kindred spirit in William. As Veronica’s stories veer from the professional to the personal, her retrospective of love and passion touches a chord in William, who is struggling in his relationship with his girlfriend. And shared stories become shared wisdom.

A Play on Passion is a lovely two-hander, written with heart, humour and insight. Delves is a delight as Veronica, giving her both a regal dignity and a devilishly playful sense of humour. An actress of advanced years with a razor-sharp wit and a passion for life, her curiosity and verve have been tempered by decades of experience in life and on stage, but she remains frank and unapologetic of her choices. Wounded, but not destroyed, by regret. DiFabio is full of youthful charm and drive as William, giving us layers of creativity, sensitivity and sexuality. His parents expected him to be a plumber, but he chose instead to mine the human psyche for its dark and light desires to create stories of noir intrigue. At a crossroads with his girlfriend, he finds himself at a loss, aware that this is something new and wonderful, but scared to death of what it all means.

A bittersweet memoir of lost love, served with the wisdom of hindsight, in the intimate, moving and witty A Play on Passion.

A Play on Passion has one more performance today (Sat, Nov 21) at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are PWYW (pay what you want) at the door. You can call ahead for reservations at 416-762-4364; seating is limited, so book ahead or get there early.

The Blake Thorne Studio is located at 720 Bathurst St., Suite 401 – it’s the warehouse turned office building just south of the Randolph and Annex theatres (right next to the elevator – see the door with the kick-ass art/signage on it).