* Review Contributed by Lauren Allen
I want to preface this by saying that I am a white woman, and in my life, I carry that privilege with me everywhere, no matter what I do.
As a white woman, I don’t feel that my voice on racial issues is necessarily important, other than to be actively anti-racist and call out racism when I see it, especially in my own white communities. But what I can talk about is theatre, and what I saw when I attended Statue of Limitations at the Kingston Storefront Fringe.
Within the first ten or so minutes of this play, I was tempted to start shouting at the actors. Being a “good” audience member, I restrained myself. This progressed into fifty more minutes of restraint, which developed in me a resentment towards the whole production. This is not about the actors at all- we cannot address anything the actors did or did not accomplish in the play because the material they were working from gave them nothing to go on. The argument they had to play for an hour seemed to have no highs, lows, or breaks. Either that, or the director missed absolutely everything the playwright put in. But I believe the main problem here is the text.
The play intends to present both sides of the argument surrounding statues commemorating confederate generals/soldiers/etc. in the United States. The argument from one side is that the statues are an important reminder of the history of America, the other that keeping the statues is offensive and perpetuates further oppression of black people in the U.S. The play presents both sides through the lens of a white man and a black woman who are a couple living in “the South” contemplating toppling a particular statue on their two-year anniversary.
This intent may seem well meaning, but in practice, is offensive. There is not an argument for preserving confederate statues as they are that is not firmly rooted in white supremacy.
Beyond this obvious offense in the premise, many more offences are made along the way.
I was immediately made angry not by any particular conversation about race, but by subtle and pervasive misogyny displayed by the male character. His girlfriend, whom he professes to love, has called him to “their place” on their anniversary and he is eager to find out why. When she tells him that something happened today that she needs to talk to him about, he interrupts her multiple times to guess what it might be. He guesses things such as having sex in this public park. He is clearly not listening to her, and indeed it is questionable from the get-go if he cares for her at all if he can’t be bothered to let her talk and didn’t pick up on her obvious agitation and distress. It would be less offensive as an audience member if we could see the woman react to what he is doing, if it bothered her in any way or she displayed an active sort of patience to imply that he gets excited and does this a lot and she is okay with it. The fact that this behaviour is simply accepted without question and the woman never stands up for herself or asserts in any way that what she has to say is important and that he needs to stop interrupting her, is very telling for the rest of the story.
A black woman discovers that the statue in front of her most frequently visited place, the library, is of the man who owned her family. She intends to destroy the statue and wants her white boyfriend to help. He refuses. What should happen at that point, is she should accept his decision and destroy the statue anyway. This play should be over in ten minutes. Instead she gives him fifty minutes to plead his case, which, to reiterate, he does not have. There is not an argument that would be valid.
Something that utterly terrified me was the use of a bat on stage. Giving anyone on stage a weapon is serious. I find most people are flippant with them, especially when there are not resources to engage fight captains or other outsiders to discuss weapons etiquette. But a plastic gun, while potentially triggering, does not present a “real” physical threat. A metal bat, however- that can do some damage. Intentional or otherwise. So when a large, white man picks up a metal bat (you can hear that it’s metal, not wood or plastic), in the middle of an argument with his small, black girlfriend, for seemingly no reason, I get a bit concerned. Then, when he forcefully swings the bat towards the audience, I get real scared real fast. If that actors’ hands were the slightest bit sweaty, his grip not just so, his arm not tightening at the right time, he could seriously injure someone. There was not any reason for this character to do this at this point in the play. It seems that he is just playing around while he listens (or maybe doesn’t!) to his girlfriend try to have a serious conversation about how she feels knowing that the statue in front of her owned her family. Other audience members have voiced their concern over this moment. Staff have apparently voiced their concern over this moment! If this picking up of the bat and forcefully swinging it was a choice made by the director, it serves no other purpose than to intimidate and frighten the marginalized, or really anyone who happens to be sitting in the audience. It was terrifying and it was unnecessary. They should be taking this out of the play immediately for the safety of others, and the director and stage manager should never have allowed this to happen in the first place.
It would be one thing if the playwright presented us with common arguments as used by confederate supporters, and used his apparently intelligent, well-researched black female character to knock down each and every one. If he could show them as the pitiful white nonsense that they are. Instead the play asks us to sympathise with this white man. To understand his perspective. To see it from where he is standing, to understand his struggle, it’s his identity too, his history too, blah blah blah. His perspective is unimportant, just as the white, male playwrights’ perspective on this is utterly unimportant.
It would be one thing if the dynamic of the relationship between these two people was clear. If her hesitation to tear down the statue came from a place of not knowing how to act without her boyfriend’s approval. But this is not possible for the character I have been presented.
It would be one thing if we got to watch this unimportant, entitled, whiny, man change his mind and grow to understand his girlfriend’s perspective. He does eventually join her in destroying the statue. But we do not get to see his arguments fall away, indeed, he quite possibly holds the exact same beliefs as he always did, but he jumps in to destroy the statue because his girlfriend’s life is now in danger because she is being threatened by police.
It would be one thing if the character’s arguments followed logic- when she discovers that the statue is of not only her family’s owner, but of her boyfriends ancestor, and that her boyfriend’s ancestor likely raped her ancestor, it baffles me how she does not immediately conclude that they might be related, and perhaps should look into how close they are in their family trees before agreeing to continue their relationship. If his great great grandfather raped her great great grandmother, is it far enough back in their lineage that they’re okay with having sex now? Instead they move on, and I waited for the whole play for them to realize that they might be related at all, even distantly enough that it no longer mattered.
Maybe I am too sensitive to go to the theatre anymore. Maybe, at 26, I have lived enough and seen enough in the world to make me afraid and angry and I should just quit now and stop participating in society, if this is what going to a play is going to do to me. Perhaps my sensitivity comes from being threatened with violence from white men with weapons. Perhaps it comes from being talked over all the damn time. Perhaps my sensitivity comes from the fact that Scott Moe, the premiere of Saskatchewan, my home province, mere days ago, did not see a problem with sharing images featuring the confederate flag on Twitter. Maybe my sensitivity comes from knowing that a friend of mine was called a n***er on the streets of Saskatoon last week. Maybe I am too sensitive, and it was really a great show, because how often do I get to see a black woman on stage at all? I guess I should be satisfied with the crumbs of representation and progressivism laid before me and ignore the dangerous things they do to me and perpetuate on others in the meantime.
There are so many ways this play could be made less offensive. It could not make inaccurate and horrid comparisons between the civil war/U.S. and the holocaust/Germany. It could not have a white asshole who treads on everything his girlfriend says and cries that she doesn’t care for him. It could have a black woman stand up for herself. It could have her name used more than the mans’ (she says his name a lot, but he does not say hers enough for me to remember it). It could have her talking more than he does.
There are so many ways this play could be made less offensive, but there is never a way to make an hour-long argument about this issue worthwhile. There is no argument. Tear down the statues. Change them. Put them in museums next to plaques that read “this man was a slaveowner and a traitor to the United States. He is part of our national shame.”
Let women speak. Let black women speak. Particularly when it’s about their own lives.
“Statue of Limitations” continues its run in Venue #2 of The Storefront Fringe Festival…
* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based Theatre Artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and BroadwayWorld.com. She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival...
Wow. Theatre can really touch a nerve. I didn’t have the same response as you to this piece, thinking that it really illustrated the kinds of discussion that people might be having on both sides of the statue/race issue. I actually welcomed hearing both people express their thoughts about it and really didn’t take sides although I was glad at the end that they seemed to be united. I am very much aware of my “old white man” privilege and am often struggling to know how that is influencing things that I do or reactions that I have.
I liked the show and actually found it thought-provoking and not offensive.
I agree that the bat swinging was a bit scary from an audience perspective and that it might have presented a safety issue. Sweaty hands on a metal bat could be slippery.
It is cool how the same piece can bring different reactions from different folks. For example, I found Horseface disturbing from an older white male’s perspective. I was a bit offended by it as I felt like it was attacking me, almost personally. Not all men are like the men that are described in this piece. My female friends found it differently as did some of my male friends. But for me, it touched a nerve that felt unpleasant and threatening (and, I hope, not deserved). I have ruminated on it quite a bit and talked with friends about my reaction so, in that sense, it was good theatre. I love it when art makes people think and react.
We have been lucky to be able to see lots of shows this week that have touched us in different ways. And sometimes I think that when a piece evokes so much reaction, it is actually doing its part to foster discussion and reflection on the issues.
Let’s talk about this over a beer!