I love seeing a show that when it is over you have so much to talk about that you have to go and get hot chocolate immediately afterwards. And that is exactly what happened after watching Those Who Can’t Do at Theatre Passe Muraille’s BackSpace. This play has so much content that includes so many points of view, that I firmly believe kids, parents and teachers should watch this show, preferably all together and then go away and TALK!
Erin Fleck who wrote and performed this one-woman show got off to a bit of a slow start, perhaps because she starts with the character of the Principal rather than the central character Ms. Lillian Campbell. However, we quickly learn that this English and Ancient Civilization teacher has been asked to teach sexual education, with a curriculum that hasn’t been updated for 12 years.
Through a series of awkward teen flashbacks and seeing her through the eyes of her mother, it becomes apparent that she might not be the best person for the job but she does have an ability to talk to the 14 year old girls without condescension.
We meet two very differing girls, Nora and Taylor. Nora’s boyfriend Matt, Taylor’s Father, Nora’s mother and even the school coach. These are all expertly played by Fleck who moves effortlessly into each character on her minimal yet effective set; a blackboard, which serves to introduce characters as well as a desk and a chair. The show is also cleverly lit by David DeGrow’s lighting and brought to life by Todd Charlton’s sound design.
The show begins with some funny moments and I think that is Fleck’s way of easing us into this somewhat difficult subject matter. In the playwright’s notes Fleck refers to it as ‘Our crazy odyssey of shame’ and really that is what it all boils down to. How, through mostly lack of communication, these girls and boys don’t know how to behave or what to do with their growing sexuality and through Fleck’s writing she begins to dissect where that comes from and why.
It made me think about how difficult it must be for parents who at some point seem to forget what it was like to be a teenager with all those hormones swirling around and fail to recognize it in their own children who are figuring out their boundaries.
The show builds as Ms. Campbell tries to help the girls, but discovers there is a club formed where the girls get safety pins for their sexual acts. It is shocking and scary and all too real. Fourteen-year-olds thinking they know what sex is all about and a 27-year-old teacher who still isn’t sure. Parents and the children come at her for all different reasons and she has to try to do the right thing. And I am still not sure if she did, though I understand her reasons why.
This play also reminded me of the video that has been on Facebook recently, Miss Representation about the portrayal of women in the public eye. This documentary serves us another harsh reality about women and we need people like Ms. Fleck and Shari Hollett, the director, to continue to be the women who can stand up and be clever, who can challenge others and in this case begin to start this essential dialogue; the need for teenagers to have sexual education and for people around them to be open for them to talk about it because it is the shame that starts when we are young, which can haunt us well into our adult years as Ms. Campbell can surely attest to.
Fleck does a wonderful job of presenting all sides of the argument, she creates real characters who have real problems and she let’s them have their say. I was thoroughly engaged with the play and my theatre date and I talked for a long time after the show, propelled by the subject matter. I was particularly drawn to the character of Taylor who believes she has power in what she does only to end up on the floor just needing her Daddy.
I don’t know if the BRAVE (you have to see the show to see what it stands for) system exists anywhere but it should, it talks about parents and teachers having those dialogues, about bringing sex into the open without shame and allowing teens to make their choices with knowledge.
I want to say bravo to the whole team behind this show for making theatre that matters. As my friend said, this show should be touring schools talking to girls and boys just like in the piece. See it and then have a good old talk about sex. No matter how old you are or whether you are a boy or a girl I strongly believe we could all do well to listen to the wise words of Salt N Pepa.
Those Who Can’t Do is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille BackSpace
October 6th – October 29th. Tue –Sun at 7.30pm and Sat Matinee at 2pm
Call the Arts Box Office at 416 504 7529 or order online