Amy Lee Lavoie’s new play in Toronto feels like a #MeToo era response to Mamet’s Oleanna
It’s been almost thirty years since David Mamet unleashed Oleanna on the theatre world. Amidst the burgeoning #MeToo movement, I’ve recently wondered what a female playwright might do with a similar set-up. And here, presented by Leroy Street Theatre, is Amy Lee Lavoie’s C’mon, Angie! right on cue!
In the early ’90s, Mamet warned against the potential dangers of political correctness gone awry, though he came uncomfortably close to vilifying his female character. Lavoie shows considerably more emotional and intellectual restraint. In what feels like a companion piece to Oleanna, she manages to flip the script without showing contempt for either character. Taking that play’s he said/she said scenario out of academia and placing it in a cramped bedroom after a sexual encounter, the story posits that political correctness is no more insidious than the white male entitlement it challenges.
We open on Angie (Anne Van Leeuwen) and Reed (Ryan Hollyman) in what seems, at first, to be just an ordinary scene of awkwardness following some casual sex. Even this early on, before the stakes are revealed, Reed is somewhat exasperating in his reluctance to take a hint. Angie offers all the non-verbal cues necessary for him to make his exit yet he stubbornly demands attention.
And then, the scope of her patience suddenly exceeded, she blurts out the word “assault.” From this jarring accusation, the play takes off like a shot and never lets up for the next 85 minutes.
It takes its time revealing the precise nature of the assault, adding a sense of mystery as the tension mounts. Is this just a simple misunderstanding? As the events of the previous night are brought to light, misunderstandings certainly abound, but that doesn’t remove responsibility from either character. Quite the opposite, misunderstandings demand heightened awareness and consideration.
While the play presents male entitlement as a problem—the way he congratulates himself for just listening to her is particularly telling—it doesn’t ask us to shame Reed. And Hollyman is exceptionally disarming with his silver fox persona, consistently making himself vulnerable even in his most defensive moments. In fact, it’s that intense likability and his show of being accommodating that makes it hard for both Angie and the audience to properly pin down the problematic aspects of his behaviour.
Van Leeuwen’s Angie is a compelling portrait of patience and generosity of spirit as she tries to shape her anger into constructive provocations. She has her human faults too. Her pot shots at his affluent lifestyle, though funny, are unfair and spiteful.
Director Cristina Cugliandro maintains an exciting ebb and flow to the tension as she allows us little glimpses into the possibility for mutual understanding, though a quiet antagonism still lurks even in those gentle moments of levity and affection.
Nancy Anne Perrin’s partially stylized set is very striking, but I’m not sure I appreciated it in the context of the play’s sharp realism. The interlocking white lines connecting all-white furnishings on a black background contrasts sharply with those shades of grey in the human drama that unfolds. For me, though, it felt too conceptual for such a grounded and naturalistic performance.
C’mon, Angie! feels disconcertingly true to life in its refusal to provide a comfortable resolution to Angie and Reed’s situation nor the larger discussion of consent at its core. An intense, gripping production from start to finish!
- C’mon, Angie! runs until April 27, 2019 at The Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen Street W.)
- Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm
- Tickets are $20 to $35,
- Tickets can be purchased online through Brown Paper Tickets
Photo of Anne Van Leeuwen and Ryan Hollyman by John Gundy