Exploring the dark side of manhood and toxic masculinity, Daughter is on stage in Toronto
Daughter, onstage now at the Theatre Centre, dives into the dark side of fatherhood and manhood, ostensibly in a critique of toxic masculinity. It’s a compelling performance from Adam Lazarus, a well known figure in Toronto’s clown community. He’s also the writer, blending elements of autobiography into the story. The audience is supposed to be unsure at any given moment if we are hearing from Lazarus the man, or the monster he has created.
Which is my fundamental problem with the play as a piece of social commentary — it purports to be about, quoting the press release, “the ways misogyny is condoned and encouraged in society.” But what I saw was primarily either behaviour that is ok and condoned, or behaviour that is extremely not ok and is also not condoned.
There was one thing that is not considered socially acceptable, but only because of misogyny that the show seems to reinforce. As someone who is very supportive of sex work and sex workers rights, I was disappointed that the character’s downward spiral started with patronizing sex workers.
I hoped, at first, that it would go down a route of affirming that the stigmatizing of sex work is oppressive, not that sex work itself is. But nope — right away he contracted STDs (which should actually be called STIs, for Sexually Transmitted Infections) from the sex workers. And it all got worse from there, as if purchasing sex work leads to statutory rape leads to explicit violence.
The violence is my other problem with the piece, and it’s not because I don’t like graphic violence. (I’m a horror fan, bring on the gore.) My problem is that if you’re taking on toxic masculinity — again, that claim is directly from the press release — then you exonerate anyone who doesn’t engage in violence by bringing it out as the Very Bad Thing that results from toxic masculinity.
A father telling her daughter that he needs to protect her because she’s a girl is destructive. That destruction is not usually going to be physically beating another man — in fact, that phrasing is even more disappointing, as it posits that it is the violation of a man’s body that matters, not the undermining of a girl’s autonomy.
Which is possibly part of the point. My companion and I both felt that a lot of the character’s thought processes were utterly foreign to us, and perhaps we are just not the appropriate audience given that neither of us are straight men.
One thing I am is a parent and that also compromised my ability to commit to the play. I feel like a part of the experience is supposed to be wondering if any given story is Lazarus’ own experience or fiction, but my parent-brain refuses to believe anyone would publicly tell a story that might provoke a Children’s Aid investigation. I felt like each anecdote was either possibly true and not disturbing, or probably untrue because of the risk to Lazarus’ family.
Taken as a piece of of fiction, and putting aside any expectations of social justice values, Daughter is an interesting portrait of a horrible human being, and Lazarus certainly has the skill to keep an audience interested in a character sketch for 70 minutes. It’s half stand-up comedy act, half confessional story-telling, from a framework of exuberant physicality, as one would expect from Lazarus’ background.
There is one thing I am interested in, much more than the disgusting person Lazarus portrays, which is why would his wife stay with him? I’d love to see a companion piece exploring the character of the wife.
- Daughter is onstage now at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West, until November 19, 2017
- Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm
- Tickets are $30, or $22 Student/Senior/Arts Worker
- Tickets can be purchased online or at 416.538.0988
Photo of Adam Lazarus by John Lauener