Review: NSFW (Studio 180 Theatre)

NSFW

Studio 180 Theatre presents Lucy Kirkwood’s play NSFW at The Theatre Centre in Toronto

My companion for the evening and I agreed that the only problem with Studio 180’s production of NSFW was that it was just too real. By the end it was impossible for us to laugh at any of the humour because it was too sad, too personally affecting. This isn’t a criticism of the show; it’s praise for successfully portraying brutal truths about the depiction of women in mainstream media.

The first half of the show takes place at the office of Dog House Magazine, DHM, an obvious reference to FHM, a real life British men’s magazine. Two young men work there: Rupert (James Graham) is a spoiled trust fund brat, and Sam (Aaron Stern) is a sweet nebbish who wants a chance to write articles instead of fetching coffee. There is also a young woman, Charlotte (Jessica Greenberg), who is glad to have a job in the declining print media industry so she tolerates the male-dominated environment with only the occasional snark at the plentiful breasts in the pages of their product. Presiding over the staff is Aidan (Patrick Galligan), who is older, manipulative, and seems to be overly familiar with his one female employee.

Sam has picked a winner for the magazine’s amateur “send in your sexy photos” competition. The problem is, the young woman in the picture is only fourteen according to her angry father (Ian D Clark). In one very long scene, Aidan viciously attacks the father’s character, his morals, and his parenting abilities in an attempt to have him accept a payout instead of filing a lawsuit. Galligan is adept at performing this scene, but I was even more interested in Greenberg’s Charlotte’s face as she stands still and silent during the diatribe, which includes, and is indeed dependent on, some very sexist assumptions.

The second half of the show is set at a different magazine, Electra, run by and for women. The big boss this time is Miranda (Susan Coyne) and she is interviewing Sam, who has come looking for a job after losing his position at Dog House. Rupert is already working there, doing essentially the same thing he did at Dog House – namely put himself through various physical tortures – though called by a different name. And that, really sums up the point of the show: the men’s magazine doesn’t do anything that the women’s magazine doesn’t also do. They both exploit women’s bodies; they both reduce women to nothing but bodies.

And this is why NSFW ended up as a painful experience for myself and my friend: as fat women we are the bodies that the mainstream media deems unacceptable. We are what other women don’t want to be and what men don’t want to see (the mainstream also being heterosexist, of course.)

NSFW is a satire that bites into a culture that traumatizes women about their bodies. I’m glad it exists, and I’m even glad I saw it, but I can’t help but wish that it wasn’t quite so true. I felt unsatisfied with it in a way; I wanted Charlotte to re-emerge at the end to joyfully start up a feminist magazine. I wanted a happy ending to quell the anxiety of the body shame the play was dredging up. But happy endings aren’t realistic, and NSFW is brave enough not to give us one.

Details

  • NSFW, produced by Studio 180 Theatre, plays until November 30th at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West
  • Showtimes are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, with matinees Wednesdays at 1:30 pm, and Saturdays & Sundays at 2 pm
  • Ticket prices are from $15 to $39
  • To buy tickets call 416-907-0468 or purchase online

Photo of Aaron Stern, Jessica Greenberg & James Graham by Karri North

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