Review: Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes (Tarragon)

Image - Alice Snaden and Matthew Edison sitting on a rug talking in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Normally I see plays on opening night, but for a variety of reasons, I saw Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes at a Saturday matinee at Tarragon. It’s a different feeling, a different audience; a lot more people my age (middle-aged plus). The standing ovation felt genuine rather than obligatory. It was certainly well deserved.

The plot is familiar, even clichéd. It’s 2014. Jon (Matthew Edison), a 42 year old professor and best-selling author, has an affair with Annie (Alice Snaden), a 19 year old student. We can predict the story. Right?

Wrong. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch isn’t going to serve us something predictable. She tells the story from Jon’s point of view. For most of the play we learn almost nothing about Annie.

When Jon is alone on stage he speaks in the third person about his life, the novel he’s working on – he calls it ‘the lumberjack book,’ his recent separation from his (third) wife, about how he’s feeling, his life in general. It’s very literary. It’s like listening to someone read aloud from a book.

When he and Annie are together he’s much less sure of himself. His speech is more hesitant, more colloquial.

Edison is wonderful as Jon. He portrays the mix of self-awareness, obliviousness, power and vulnerability so well. His facial expressions and his body language work to convey emotions that the character thinks he’s hiding. In the end, I couldn’t help but find Jon endearing, idiot though he was.

Initially, Jon thinks of Annie as ‘the girl in the red coat.’ For about the first half of the play, she’s a cipher. We really learn nothing about her other than that she’s 19, loves Jon’s work, and is a first-year student taking one of his English courses.

Snaden plays Annie perfectly. She shows a combination of a 19 year old’s bravado and vulnerability the first few that they talk. She’s the one who seeks him out so she can tell him how much she loves his work, but then she’s almost inarticulate as she stumbles through the conversation.

Annie relaxes as the affair progresses, but they never really talk to each other, never really get to know each other.

The chemistry between the two actors is almost palpable, even in the later scenes after the affair has ended.

Moscovitch saves the best for last, but you’ll have to see the play for that. I’m not going to spoil it by telling you the ending here.

This is a play about power and perceptions and how they shift. Moscovitch knows how to use humour to defuse tension, and the play is very funny, bellylaugh funny.

Director Sarah Garton Stanley has done an amazing job of making it look as if this all happened magically.

I loved everything about the play. Before it even started my friend Marg and I admired the geometric perfection of Michael Gianfrancesco’s set. Red walls on either side of the stage, each with four doorways, angled to the back, creating the illusion of a long hallway.

I loved Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design. At one point the doors were closed, but the light was coming through around them. It was beautiful. There was a scrolling electronic sign above the stage – Laura Warren’s design – and when the stage was dark between scenes, the name of the scene would run across the sign.

And the lawnmower scene! The perfection of the sound. Kudos to Miquelon Rodriguez.

Everything about Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes was perfect. I loved it. You should go see it.

Details:

  • Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is playing until February 2 at Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
  • Performances are 8:00pm Tuesday through Saturday with matinees at 1:30pm on Wednesdays and at 2:30 on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Tickets prices range from $29.00 to $70.00
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.531.1827, and in person at the box office

Photo of Alice Snaden and Matthew Edison by Jim Ryce

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