Content Warnings: Rape, sexual assault, abuse, trauma, misogyny, gaslighting, fatphobia, whorephobia, toxic masculinity, workplace harassment, wrongful dismissal, abuse of power, depictions of violence, and spoilers.
Yes, I had to think extensively about the content warnings that apply to this play. The list of topics covered in the play is indeed a lengthy one.
The play begins with a strong design element. Minimalist, impactful and impersonal. Enter my suspicion and discomfort of gendered subject matter placed in the hands of a masculine-identified director, Michael Wheeler. My sense was that a man directing this play would not be equipped to understand the insider perspective of gendered forms of abuse. I remember hearing for the first time from a feminist mental health activist that she had PTSD from heteropatriarchy. She wasn’t kidding, and this is what is at the heart of our protagonist’s story.
Mara (Zoë Sweet) made me uncomfortable in the ways her absence of consent was portrayed as ‘shyness’. The way her stress-responses were presented as personality flaws. Later, the script does deliver when it becomes clear to the audience that Mara is being abused. This clarity comes a bit late in the show, leaving the audience suspended in their vulnerability. It’s not that I wasn’t sure or hadn’t noticed that Evan (Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard) was an example of toxic masculinity—it’s that I wasn’t sure he was supposed to be. When you’re a survivor, you may become unable to shut off the screening tactics that keep you safe, and the tension in this production relies on the audience’s experience of trauma to be felt.
Every one of us is a survivor of something. That’s why we absolutely need more plays like this. So that survivors can go to theatre venues and see themselves reflected. So that survivors have opportunities to talk about their experiences with each other without having to come out about it. So that conversations about trauma can be commonplace, accepted, and safe.
Though Darrah Teitel’s play synopsis describes a story that is about abuse of power and labour on Parliament Hill, there is so much more complexity in this story. One that reminds us of how intrinsically heteropatriarchy is designed to exploit trauma, how workplaces benefit from this, and how family and intimate relationship dynamics contribute to these systems.
I struggled with questions I could not answer throughout: did Mara hitting her partner make her an abuser too or was it justified by her abuse? Was Evan representing a predator or the average man as being toxic? Was the sexual relationship between Mara and Jordan (Sarah Kitz) safe because it was consensual or unsafe because it involved hierarchies of power in the workplace? Was Jordan good for queer visibility because she was portrayed as having power or was she doing queer communities a disservice by being a stereotype? Was Lydia (Deena Aziz) a supportive caregiver because she bargained for her granddaughter’s compensation or an enabler because she dismissed Mara’s trauma and encouraged her to compromise with an abusive husband?
The answer is yes, all of the above. We are all survivors. Whether from messy upbringings, bullying, abuse or traumas of all kinds. We come from hurt people who create damaged families, who teach us cruel stories about ourselves and the world. When we learn love in these hurt places, we learn that we can’t say no. We learn that if something feels wrong, it’s because there’s something wrong with us. We learn that it’s our fault. We learn that love and hurt come together.
Having seen this play, I am reminded that everyone around me might have traumas I cannot see. I move in my daily life a bit more fervently aware of my traumas and those of others, more devoted to breaking those cycles wherever I can, and more fiercely committed to unlearning the ways I’ve been allowed to be hurt. Thank you, Darrah, for writing about these traumas.
As long as a play like this one can be written and performed, its urgent cry must be heard.