Review: Objections to Sex and Violence (The Sex + Violence Collective)

ZoeWe review a new Toronto production of Caryl Churchill’s play Objections to Sex and Violence

Objections to Sex and Violence by The Sex + Violence Collective, with the support of Fevergraph and Praxis Theatre, takes place at the Artscape Sandbox. The theatre’s name was more literal than I anticipated, because when I walked to my seat I saw that the middle of the room was a blanket of rough brown sand. I could faintly hear wind and the crash of waves, but I had the feeling that I wasn’t meant to be relaxed. Goosebumps rose on my arms and I waited for the lights to dim.

Jule, played by co-Artistic Director of Fevergraph Zoë Sweet, walked into the sand. She was soaking wet and in a two-piece bathingsuit. She slowly pushed her way to the front of the room, where the sand ended. The music swelled as she got closer and closer. She reached the edge at the lights flashed. Jule contorted her arms wildly. The speakers blared with noise. Then, it stopped, and the sound of waves returned.

Objections to Sex and Violence lulls you into a sense of relaxation, and smacks you right out of it. It may seem like a regular day at the beach, with ice cream cones and lying in the sun, but there’s always something to shake you out of that comforting feeling. Simple conversations take sudden sharp turns. Moments of sweetness turn bitter. A quiet moment is interrupted with the deafening blast of the speakers, flashing lights, and the actors twist their limbs painfully.

Caryl Churchill wrote Objections to Sex and Violence in 1974 about the tension of revolution and social upheaval in Great Britain. Michael Wheeler directs this latest Toronto production of the play.

Objections to Sex and Violence follows Jule who was recently released from jail after serving time for a trumped-up drug possession charge. Jule is believed to be part of a small group suspected to be behind terrorist plots. Jule, along with her co-revolutionary Eric, go into hiding and camp by a beach. To her annoyance, Jule is followed by loved ones who hope to sway her against her new ways, causing her to lash out even more.

Tosha Doiron, playing concerned older sister Annie, uses her size and quiet demeanor to show how lost she seems in comparison to the brash and confident Jule. Annie is exasperated, even with her docile partner Phil, to the point where she appears on the verge of tears at any moment. Doiron uses the character’s meekness to her advantage, making Annie’s bursts of anger and spite all the more brutal.

The illusion of sweetness is just as skillfully shown by Philip Graeme, who plays Annie’s plain, pacifistic partner Phil. Phil is seems like a sad puppy dog. Any time he said something simple, I could hear the woman beside me whisper “aww” in sympathy. Graeme plays him as harmless, almost dopey, which makes his own violent outbursts alarming.

Ben Sanders was incredibly aggravating as the co-revolutionary Eric. I wanted to silence his fast-talking, word-twisting mouth with a strip of duct-tape, which I think was the direction Sanders was going for. Sanders was antagonistic, obnoxious, and so full of arrogant energy that he started doing push-ups mid-conversation. I thought his characterization showed Eric’s insecurity, and even the insecurity of the revolutionary movement. It made me wonder how much was genuine, and how much was empty posturing?

Jamie Robinson has a short segment as Terry, Jule’s ex husband and the father of their child. He manages to bring a sense of normalcy into the equation, by speaking of responsibilities and mortality. It subdues some of Jule’s aggression, but also shows the reason for her rebellion.

In the end, Zoë Sweet as Jule is the star of the show. I have to admit, I wanted to shake the character. Out of all the characters, she was the most selfish, the most hypocritical, and the most frustrating. However, Sweet’s performance was strong. The character is not meant to be relatable. She’s meant to bring up questions that don’t necessarily have one answer. Is Jule a terrorist or a revolutionary? Is she living for “the cause”, or is she avoiding her old life? Are her motivations for society or for herself?

The actors were brimming with energy. The set designed by Shannon Lea Doyle was incredibly unique. Lighting Designer Kaileigh Krysztofiak and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne may have made me jump in my seat, but I was not upset about the reasons behind the scares. The play delves into complicated political situations and relationships. It also worked with movement, sound, and light, reflecting the tension between characters without words. This play was strange, thought-provoking and a completely one-of-a-kind experience.


Photo of Zoë Sweet by Laura Rowe