Review: WE THREE

by Lynn on April 18, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, Toronto. Ont.

Written by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman
With contributions from Jill Harper, Suzette McCanny
Sarah Naomi Campbell and Hallie Burt.
Directed by Jill Harper
Set and Props by Christine Groom
Lighting by Simon Rossiter
Sound by Tim Lindsay
Cast: Hallie Burt
Sarah Naomi Campbell
Suzette McCanny

We Three intends to be a play about friendships and the challenges facing women today. Another re-write and re-think is in order to put the intensions into a credible reality.

The Story. We Three is about three women who were best friends in university. They have gone off in various directions and they are getting together after two years for a dinner party. Jamie is a feminist blogger. Skye is an alternative education PHD candidate. Jamie and Skye were roommates in university as they are now. The dinner party is in honour of Blaire who has come to Toronto for a conference. She has been in Calgary for two years in a high powered job as an administrative assistant to an executive in a company. According to Jamie and Skye Blaire seems to have it all—much is made of the fact that she has recently bought a condo. She has money, an important job and success. She is also married, but the two friends give this a passing comment because they don’t like her husband. When Blaire arrives she is eager to show off her latest ‘acquisition’—a ‘boob job.’ That sets off the fireworks for the evening.

The Production. The production opens on the living room/dining room of Jamie and Skye’s nicely appointed apartment. Stage left the table is properly set for the dinner. There is a couch stage right with several decorative pillows. At the back are two large bookshelves with various framed photos, knickknacks and some books on the shelves. I wonder if set designer Christine Groom was making a statement about these women since there were so few books on the shelves.

Skye is bopping to music that is playing in the background while diligently vacuuming the rug. She frets over the arrangement of the various pillows on the couch and arranges and re-arranges them, wanting to get them just right.

Jamie rushes in breathless. She apparently was supposed to have arrived earlier to help Skye but got waylaid. She is busy typing on her computer. Skye wants her to get ready or help. Jamie takes more time typing something that is vital to her and rushes off to change. And even that seems to distract her. We learn that Skye had been sexually assaulted but didn’t report it. She cites the recent Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case as her reasons for not doing it. The police would have really done nothing. If there had been a court case she envisions that what happened to the three alleged victims would have happened to her –ie vilified in the press and in the court of public opinion—so Jamie has decided to start her own blog about her experiences. From other things she has said, Jamie seems to be a walking mass of insecurity about herself and combative in stating her opinions.

Both women reveal a deep concern to impress Blaire. Besides the obsessive re-arrangement of the pillows, Skye notices marks on the baseboard and gets down on all fours to attend to that while Jamie offers that no one will notice. It’s obvious Jamie and Skye are really anxious to please Blaire. We learn later that Jamie has made two types of dishes to accommodate food concerns.

We first see Blaire off stage left, on her phone berating a woman assistant in the most condescending, bullying way. When she finishes, she gives herself one last smooth-down and they all shriek with glee when they see each other, all talking in a torrent. During the early part of the evening, Blaire will constantly check her cell phone and take calls from the assistant and talk to her in that same tone but out of sight of her friends.

When Blaire enthusiastically reveals her new ‘boob job’ her friends are horrified, especially Jamie. She says that Blaire has succumbed to the male idea of womanly beauty and the media’s obsession with body image and appearance. Blaire fires back that it was her choice and she had the money and the desire to do it. It had nothing to do with insecurity about her body.

The evening goes off from there. The conversation goes from hot topic to hot topic and gets more and more heated, usually with Blaire offering an opposing attitude to her friends and them being aghast that she could think that way. The consumption of many bottles of wine helps to reveal any secret thoughts the friends might have held back, which doesn’t seem to be many.

These friends reveal a deep resentment to each other. They are judgemental about everything and don’t hold back. They don’t like Blaire’s husband and tell her, which she seems to know. They don’t like her attitudes and ideas. They don’t like that they have not kept in touch. They don’t like Blaire’s life choices and wonder about a relationship with her boss. Blaire shoots back with her own invective.

After a short while the tone and level of sound is one of relentless shouting, with each friend trying to shoot down (shout down?) the attitudes and thoughts of the speaker. I would have thought that director Jill Harper would have had her cast of three vary and nuance the tone of speech so that the audience would listen to the argument. Rule of life and theatre, when you yell the audience stops listening.

In truth, there is precious little in the play that establishes why these women are friends at all. They express so few positive comments about each other after so much angry shouting. They do think wistfully on the times in their university days when they all got terribly drunk together but I don’t think that is a sound basis for a friendship.

All three actresses are stalwart: Suzette McCanny as Blaire, Sarah Naomi Campbell as Jamie and Hallie Burt as Skye, but they needed much more nuance and pacing in their performances to suggest a fully realized character. They only have what they are offered in a script, and while the script should be fleshed out, I think the director and actors could have brought out more of these women than just invective. At times it seems like reactive and not reflective speech. If it seems the characters are not thinking or listening to what is being said to them, or what they say to the others, then why should the audience think about and listen to what the characters are saying.

Comment. Playwright Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman and her collaborators have set out to write a play about “dildos, date rape and being a woman in 2016’ according to the press information. The impetus for the play was the Jian Ghomeshi case and the fallout from that. Indeed We Three seems to be a checklist of all the hot button topics facing women today: body image and how the media and others dictate what that should look like; date rape and sexual violence and how it’s useless to report it because the police won’t/can’t do anything and if they did the alleged perpetrator becomes the victim and the actual victims are vilified in court and in the media; subservience in the workplace and how that might manifest into bullying of others; how society is judgemental of women, etc.

These are all worthy topics to explore but Illiatovitch-Goldman and her collaborators haven’t done that aside from just throwing out the topics that each woman can get angry about. Their dialogue is less exploration and more accusation and condemnation. Anger and frustration rule these women’s lives. Jamie was sexually abused but didn’t go to the police because she says they wouldn’t do anything and didn’t want to go through the horror of a court case. She cites the Jian Ghomeshi case for her reluctance. She says that she blogs about it instead. But Illiatovitch-Goldman and her collaborators don’t put that in context. No reference is made of the stories of the three alleged victims in Ghomeshi case being more than 10 years old. No reference is made that at various times in the case the three alleged victims lied about details or mis-remembered them. No one counters Jamie’s concerns by saying that if no one stands up to declare an assault then of course the attacker gets away with it. Change happens when one person stands up and says ‘This is wrong.” I think this is a missed opportunity in the play.

I can appreciate that Illiatovitch-Goldman and her collaborators have made Blaire into the ‘opposition’. She thinks in a way that is different to them thus providing the opposition, the drama. She does believe in body image. She does give in to that notion that a woman has to look a certain way to succeed while her two friends are horrified. But again, that this attitude is not challenged and explored in depth to find out why Blaire thinks this way weakens the play. In place of dialogue there is invective and screaming. That’s not exploration. That’s just noise. And truth to tell, because we have so little information about these friends in their university days and why they are friends we have little to go on in taking them seriously now. The audience needs credible characters in order to believe these women would come up with the thoughts and attitudes they express here. Blaire, Jamie and Skye are not fully written enough. They are just screaming mouthpieces.

We Three reminded me of a quote from Lillian Hellman, the noted American writer and playwright “People change and forget to tell each other.”

The play ends on what seems a positive, hopeful note. The play does not support that ending. Another re-write and deeper thinking about those characters and their issues, please.

CUE6 Presents:

From: April 13, 2016.
To: April 23, 2016.
Cast: 3 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes approx.

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