Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review: (Toronto) Behind Closed Doors (Fringe)

The Complexity of Abuse
by Lisa McKeown

Written and directed by Adam Bryan, this show is about a dancer who is in an abusive relationship, and the reactions of those around her as this secret gets revealed. 

The motivation for the story is coming from the right place - that is, the desire to expose the nature of abusive relationships, and cultural reactions to them. Unfortunately, the way this piece paints the abusive relationship within it is awkward and two-dimensional. The show could be best described as an after-school special meets Disney musical. 

The couple in question goes from being happy to fighting almost in the space of minutes, and the man begins bullying the woman almost out of nowhere. The rape scene also seems to come out of nowhere, escalating from zero to a hundred in the space of seconds, as they go from bickering to his screaming at her and leaping on top of her. (And the rape trigger warning is there, just unfortunately at the end of the show where they suggest that anyone triggered by that scene talk to the Rape Crisis Centre in Toronto - er, thanks guys). 

And this is not to say that there isn't any truth in this representation. Some abusive relationships might look a bit like this. But the complexity isn't there - there is no exploration of real gaslighting, or what real incentive the woman has to stay (incentive which is often insidious and complex), nor is there any real explanation given for why she finally decides to leave him in the end, except that someone in the background is singing that she's 'stronger than she thinks'. Ok, that might be true, but what is it in her experience that finally pulls her back into herself enough to gather up the courage to leave? That's where the really important, interesting stuff is, and we don't get to see that. 

Instead we get treated to a bunch of clich├ęd songs about how lonely Baby, the main character, is, how she's swept up in something bad, and how she's strong enough to get out of it. While the score of the piece is well-written, and the singing is all right overall, the lyrics were unsophisticated and, as the friend who came with me mentioned, it made you want to ask whoever wrote them to please, please put down the rhyming dictionary, and back away. Slowly. 

This kind of show is important, but while they have the right idea, the execution is disappointing and frustrating, because it is important to educate our imaginations as to what real abusive relationships are like, and why they are often difficult to recognize and to eradicate. This play, however, needs a lot more work and reflection before it will be able to do that kind of thing effectively. 

July 3 - 13

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