by Lynn on May 14, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Erin Shields

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set by Gillian Gallow

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound and composition by Richard Feren

Cast: Ashley Botting

Jesse LaVercombe

Mayko Nguyen

Sofía Rodríguez

Erin Shields not only turns the table on stereotypical behaviour between the sexes, but also she tips the table over in this bracing play given a striking production.

The Story. Three women on a night out go over the latest episode of a TV show with their favourite character, a hard-nosed woman cop who takes no prisoners in the job. Waiting at home is her accommodating boyfriend who is cooking them an anniversary dinner. The cop forgets it is their anniversary and goes to a bar for a drink to relax after a hard day of law enforcement. The cop in turn watches a TV show at the bar that takes place a hundred years before or even more that depicted women to be subservient and compliant. Nothing seems to have changed over the years. When the cop finally gets home and her boyfriend quietly, perhaps a touch hurt, wishes her a happy anniversary the cop realizes that she forgot the anniversary. Athletic sex ensues. Another story of gender attitudes and stereotypes follows which really ‘tips over the table’ of stereotypical gender issues.

The Production. We get a flavour of the evening by the rock music that plays as we ease into our seats. “Raw” would be putting it mildly. Lyrics such as “fuck-screw the world” One woman sang with and edge:  “Screw me and I’ll screw you too.” One man seductively wanted to “stick my tongue all over you.” “Sex is power. I do it all for fun” sang another woman. I think my favourite is sung by another woman, “Imagine your tongue in between my thighs.” That should get us in the mood. If you flinch you’re a wuss.

Three bar stools are positioned in front of a raised stage with three walls enclosing a room with a window and a door. At the beginning of the production three well dressed women in black and heels sit on the stools facing us. They riff on the TV show with their favourite female cop. Each woman delivers her lines in a quick breathless, confident way. Director Andrea Donaldson keeps the pace of the delivery at rat-a-tat speed, like a machine gun firing one-liners. The women occasionally look at each other but most often they look forward.  The characters’ names are listed in the program but never refer to each other by name. The actresses who play them: Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen and Sofía Rodríguez, are assured, confident and have an almost condescending attitude to anyone around the lady cop. They comment on her physicality, confidence, attitude and bearing etc. They talk about her as a man might talk about a woman in what we would consider a pejorative way, but they do it as women and don’t assume a man’s stereotypical ogling attitude, with crotch grabbing and scratching etc.

They comment on the TV show that the TV cop is in turn watching, again, commenting on the characters. At various points in the dialogue, the women seem to get aroused at what they are watching. Donaldson does a devilish bit of staging for Sofía Rodríguez who gets off her stool and seems to writhe, doing mini push-ups on the stool, with one leg slowly thrusting out behind her. That’s quite a definitive expression of controlled arousal, lemme tell ya.

While the three women are sharing their observations, in the raised room behind them Beautiful Man (that’s how he’s listed in the program) (played  with quiet understatement by Jesse LaVercombe) is doing extreme push-ups and then leg lifts. He is dressed and fit. He wears a full apron. When he speaks, saying “Happy Anniversary” to the unseen lady cop the voice is soft, non-accusatory and rather wistful. In other words what the three women are watching, is the television show with the cop, but what we are seeing is the cop’s boyfriend, the Beautiful Man, at home waiting for her to return.   As the women continue to speak Beautiful Man slowly takes off his clothes. At the end of that segment he’s naked. Blackout. The women take a bow, holding their high heels. They are animated and make moments of flipping their shoes so we get how important those shoes are. They are put on the stools.  LaVercombe comes out in the raised room and takes his bow. Yes he’s fully clothed.

Then something strange happens. Rather than ending the show there, it continues with Beautiful Man telling the audience, quietly, almost demurely about ‘her’ life. Beautiful Man is not transgender. Rather Erin Shields continues to disrupt furniture, this time upending that turned table completely. Beautiful Man is speaking as a woman and reveals every insecurity, every doubt, every attempt not to offend that a woman has ever expressed. ‘She’ talks of dressing carefully for a party, perfect clothes, shoes, make-up, lipstick. When ‘she’ is challenged by a man at the party about her abilities as a trained sommelier ‘she’ is demure and polite rather than being blunt, direct and hard hitting (as the cop in the TV show might be). She feels diminished by the clod but does not retaliate in kind. After all, what would people think of her if she did retaliate?

When ‘she’ is walking home alone ‘she’ sees a group of men on a street-corner and begins to imagine all manner of trouble that might happen to her because she’s a woman alone on a street. Her mind does tricks to make her feel inadequate. Erin Shield’s upends the table again by revealing what the men are really thinking of seeing this woman alone on the street and it’s nothing close to what the woman is thinking.

Comment. I saw the first part of Beautiful Man at SummerWorks in 2015. The impact of that first section is funny, very perceptive and eye-opening. If anything the point is stronger in 2019, certainly after #MeToo.  Erin Shields adds more pop to her exploration of gender attitudes with the man having a monologue as a woman, complete with insecurities about her looks, or abilities and how others perceive her.

Shields takes every stereotype about the sexes and makes us examine them afresh because of who is expressing them.

Beautiful Man is a terrific play. I love its big squirm factor.  

Factory Theatre Presents:

Began: May 4, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running time: 90 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.