How We Are challenges Toronto audiences to get close to an important, uncomfortable subject
Mikaela Davies and Polly Phokeev Productions presents How We Are, a challenging and complicated show that unflinchingly explores the aftermath of sexual assault. It’s the kind of show that has me still mentally unpacking and thinking deeply about what I had seen long after I exited the performance.
How We Are is a site-specific show where audience members are invited to sit around the bedroom of Jess and observe what occurs after a sexual encounter with her close friend Cassandra. What at first appears to be a consensual interaction is quickly put into question as events of the past few hours is revealed over the course of the production.
This show demands a lot from its actors and even more so when the audience is sometimes seated only centimetres away from the action. A lot of the complexity of the play rests on the closeness of the relationship between the two characters. Fried and Griffith, who had previously worked together on Obsidian Theatre’s charming Up The Garden Path, matched each other moment for moment.
This show also demonstrates how creating theatre for a non-theatrical site can really add to the artistry of a production. By removing as much of the barriers between audience and performer as possible, we are physically confronted with an issue that is often questioned or dismissed as a private affair. Director Mikaela Davies also makes great use of her limited spacing – every look, every gesture and even every lighting change heightened the emotional stakes of the show.
I am a straight-identified woman and to my knowledge I have never been sexually assaulted. I can only talk about the content of the show from my perspective as a friend of survivors of sexual assault, and also as a fat woman of colour whose body is often up for public mockery and disrespect. All I feel qualified to say about the content of the play is that there were moments when playwright Polly Phokeev’s words hit uncomfortably close to home.
The one thing that gave me a bit of a pause was the inclusion of an unseen male character. While I can see how the character functions as a plot device, I wonder whether it was really necessary to insert a man into the story in order to make a point about a female character’s sexuality. This is a situation where I think the show would have really benefited from including a talk back.
How We Are is a raw examination of our attitudes towards consent, sexual assault, and sexual identity. We must face the reality that sexual assault is not something that we as a society can or should ignore or relegate into the realm of a private act in the bedroom. In How We Are, we are all in the bedroom and we all must bear witness.
- How We Are is playing until October 15th at a site-specific location (259 Palmerston Avenue)
- Performances run every night at 7:30 pm and 9:30 PM
- Ticket prices are $20-$25 and can be purchased online
- Seating is limited
- Doors open 15 minutes before the start of show. There are stairs into the venue and no latecomers are admitted
Photo of Virgilia Griffith and Sochi Fried by Dahlia Katz.