The dark world of the sex trade comes to light in Soliciting Temptation playing at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre
Soliciting Temptation, playing now at Tarragon, pits an aging business man with a taste for young flesh against a fiercely ideological university student, both from North America, in the slums of an unnamed developing country. The context is sex tourism, specifically youth sex tourism. The man has hired the girl for the night, believing her to be local and younger than she is. She is posing as a sex worker, and as underage, in order to torment whatever man engages her for the evening.
I wanted her to have some larger motivation. It didn’t seem compelling to me that she wanted only to harangue the man about the plight of women in the sex trade in poor countries, and threaten to out him to his company and family, without have any actual endgame. If she had wanted to extort money from him, I could understand that, or even if she wanted to kill him, but she seemed to want nothing more than to shame him.
Perhaps I would have bought into it if the rest of the play didn’t also seem to turn upon unconvincing moments and motivations. At one point she wants to recreate the moment she arrived. He doesn’t want to, but she yells a couple of times and he gives in, completely taking on the playacting. What changed his mind? I had no idea. The play seemed to want these two people to forge a connection enough to affect each other, but the dialogue never went there. The girl’s lines were all shrill condemnations, until all of a sudden they weren’t. The man always wanted desperately out of the situation, until all of a sudden he didn’t.
One nice moment, when the two ate some chocolate together, almost reached a point where they were actually communicating, but it didn’t manage to get there. It was also predicated on a very contrived plot point involving an allergy attack.
Which isn’t to say that the performances weren’t good: my companion and I felt that both performers were very competent. They certainly looked their parts, with Derek Boyes towering over Miriam Fernandes, seemingly twice her size. But, for all the height difference, Fernandes does not look like a child. She could perhaps be in her mid to late teens, but no younger than that, so the girl’s accusations of the man being a pedophile rang false. (He would be an ephebophile.)
These accusations could still certainly work for the girl’s character, for the beginning of the show at least – exaggerating to make one’s point is a known tactic amongst those with strong opinions and no sense of nuance. But she never developed any further understanding. Granted, the man’s arguments for the validity of sex work also only really applied to grown women, particularly in developed countries, proving him to be a hypocrite.
This play tackled a large, contentious topic, without delving into the complexities. Sex work is often voluntary, it needs to be legal to be a safe occupation, it’s a way for women to make money, women need all the ways to make money we can get as the world is still deeply rooted in patriarchy, developing countries have less safeguards for people in sex work, and the sex abuse of children for money does exist. All of these things are true and to deal with all of that requires hard, deep work. I don’t feel like this play tried very hard or went very deep.
The set was really great though. The bed was central, jutting out from the centre of the stage to feel dangerously close to the audience. Across from it was the door with no peephole, just a deadbolt, and the walls were all painted mud brown. A non-working fan and a non-working air conditioner loomed above the heads of the performers. This all contributed to the room feeling shoddy and also ominous.
The stage was also well set up for some lovely bits of staging that risked placing one or the other of the actors with their back to the audience. In every instance this worked very well.
Soliciting Temptation is not at all a bad play. It is just a play that takes a big juicy bite of a topic and then finds it has forgotten to put in its dentures.
- Soliciting Temptation is playing at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgeman Ave, until May 4, 2014
- Showtimes are Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm with Saturday 2:30pm matinees on April 12, 19, 26
- Tickets range from $21-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups) with $13 Rush Tickets at the door Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on
sale at 1pm)
- For tickets, call Patron Services at 416.531.1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com
Picture of Derek Boyes and Miriam Fernandes by Cylla von Tiedemann