THE SAFE WORD (The Forthcoming Collective) 2011 SummerWorks Review

A safeword, a concept popular among people who enjoy erotic roleplay or dominance and submission games, is a word that – when uttered – stops all the action immediately so everyone can regroup. Conversely, it frees the participants to use words like “no” and “stop”, in their roles, without fear that their partners will actually stop.

THE SAFE WORD, the SummerWorks play presented by The Forthcoming Collective, touches briefly on this concept but honestly, there were several times during the play I would have used a safeword if I thought it would make the production stop and regroup. The play wasn’t awful – in fact, it had some transcendent moments – but it seemed at intervals to have forgotten itself, or simply lost its way.

Bios in the program follow the format of an online profile, so I’m not sure which of the people listed as “actor” played which role, though I do know that one of them had his first kiss on a bus, in the 4th grade. Like the program, I found the production suffered from unevenness. In some moments, real and focused truths are portrayed, but generally the plot, centering on three roommates and one of their online hookups, fails to deliver. The issue was compounded for me by the performance of the actor playing the young male roommate, who I think was aiming for sensitive but came across as rather aimless instead.

The young male roommate and the young female roommate spar and spat throughout THE SAFE WORD, broken up by direct-address monologues to the audience and the folksy Ukranian wisdom of the third roommate, an older gay man. While I got what the various people were supposed to be conveying, I didn’t feel the playwright left the audience anything to do – I would have vastly preferred to consider and discover. Instead, I had the experience of feeling lectured to by one-dimensional stereotypes of people wounded by love, which is not my favorite flavor.

There is one blisteringly good scene, in which the woman who is the online hookup details to the young man exactly how she wants their night of illicit sex to proceed. I won’t spoil the details, but her requests are delivered pitch-perfect to the scene, with a shimmering combination of vulnerability and hunger. The actor utterly nails every nuance, and should be very proud of her performance. It left me breathless.

The play crashed back to earth again after that scene, unfortunately, and finished in a way that to me was less an ending and more a stop. I seriously considered on the way home whether writer Nicholas Billon had first envisioned the hookup and then written a play around it, but was ultimately unclear – much like I was about most of the play. There are some real kernels of truth in this piece, but in my estimation too much chaff still obscuring them.


THE SAFE WORD plays at Theatre Center, 1087 Queen St West

Saturday August 6th 12:00 PM
Sunday August 7th 5:00 PM
Monday August 8th 7:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 10:00 PM
Saturday August 13th 2:30 PM
Sunday August 14th 10:00 PM

-All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, by phone at 416.504.7529, in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., One block North East of Bathurst & Queen W. M-F 12PM-7PM, Weekends 10AM-8PM) (Advance tickets are $15 +HST and $1 service fee)

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows