There are two things you need to know about Behaviour: that it’s a phenomenal, hilarious show, and that you shouldn’t be scared of it.
There’s a content warning tucked away under the GCTC’s description of the play, and for good reason. Behaviour engages directly with abuse and rape, without euphemism or qualm. But don’t let that warning define the play for you! Darrah Teitel’s script is dreadfully funny, not to mention vivid and compassionate, and under Michael Wheeler’s direction the entire cast shines.
Note: If you have questions about the show content, GCTC suggests giving their box office a call at 613-236-5196 for a no-spoilers synopsis of the play.
A quick rundown of that cast: Mara (Zoë Sweet) is a staffer on Parliament Hill who can’t stop apologizing, and her partner Evan (Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard) is a struggling artist who “probably” loves her. Their domesticity quickly becomes agonizing, but the play doesn’t linger there—much of Mara’s time on stage is spent with the chief of staff, Jordan (Sarah Kitz), a cynical but affectionate veteran of the Hill, and later with her ruthlessly practical grandmother, Lydia (Deena Aziz).
“It all hangs on Sweet’s depiction of Mara, and she nails it.”
Kitz and Aziz are both particularly hilarious, delivering crackling lines with barely time to catch a breath. Some of those lines drew the kind of braying, embarrassing laughter that audiences only emit when they can’t contain themselves. But it all hangs on Sweet’s depiction of Mara, and she nails it.
Mara is gradually realizing how profoundly abuse permeates her life. She is ragged with it. The throbbing, somehow organic soundtrack feels like her palpitating heart, and with each transition between scenes the lights flicker and snap like frayed nerves (credit to sound designer Olivier Fairfield and lighting designer Peter Spike Lyne). You can see it in her apologetics, her body language all fluttering and turned inward, her nervous urge to do what’s asked of her. Her relationship is revealing itself to be parasitic, and her tyrannical boss seems deeply resentful of pregnant employees. It’s hard to distinguish these abuses, and in fact that’s the whole point.
The playwright herself lays it out for us in her notes: it’s “the interplay between hierarchy, power, labour and abuse.” They are interconnected, and they function in the same way: not just by dismissing or violently overcoming non-consent, but by removing the capacity for consent in the first place. When human beings are treated as means rather than ends, abuse is inevitable. When we fail to recognize and fight against that exploitation, it becomes part of the texture of our lives in every arena—at home, in the workplace, even in our government. We can abuse others and be abused without even being fully aware of it.
When Mara reaches into her own trauma to explain this tangled problem, it’s hard to listen to, but she’s still cracking jokes. Even when you’re at a play tackling #metoo and challenging your ideas about rape and the culture that enables it, it’s okay to laugh. In fact, it seems necessary. Approach these issues without humour and you’ll end up wanting to crawl home and fill your despair with Netflix binges and cheap pizza. When you leave Behaviour, you won’t be hollowed out, but you might be thinking about how to do some good—or at least how to do better.
Behaviour is on at the GCTC (1233 Wellington St W) until March 31. Showtimes at 8pm from Tuesday to Friday, at 4:30pm and 8:30pm on Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays. The show runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. Behaviour will also be streamed live on March 27 at 8 pm to celebrate World Theatre Day—catch it at behaviourplay.ca. Tickets and information are available on gctc.ca or at the box office.