Lauren Allen

“Statue of Limitations” Took Me To My Limit

* 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 She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival...

Crushin’ On Crushed

CRUSHED (Photo shameslessly stolen from Facebook promotion)

* Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

We’ve all seen at least one: the autobiographical Fringe play! An hour-long recap of some significant moment(s) in the playwright/performer’s history. In Crushed, we watch Caitlin move from relationship to relationship and learn just how painful being big hearted can be.

This was the first play I saw at the Kingston Fringe, before I knew that I would even have a platform on which to share reviews. With the passage of time and the 16 shows I’ve seen between now and then, I fear that I won’t be able to do the play justice in this writing, but I will do my darndest!

Something I always appreciate in this format is an actor who doesn’t simply lecture me about themselves – I like to watch them perform. When Caitlin takes on the role of her middle schooler self, I am absorbed watching her body language. She becomes sort of ageless in the show, as she makes me believe so strongly that she is that young woman again. I wish she had performed more as the other characters in the play though, instead of representing them through voice overs and other sounds. And I wish that she had been able to look her audience members more directly in the eyes, instead of sort of around us. In an intimate space, it’s little details like that that makes the difference in keeping us engaged in the world that is being conjured.

As the play progresses, some of Caitlin’s relationships get worse. I have known what this is like – I feel a real kinship with her as she talks me through what she experienced, and I feel proud when she doesn’t put her dreams on hold for a shitty dude who is afraid of her success.

I wish most cis hetero women did not have these stories. I wish we all had great relationships where men don’t hurt us so much and so permanently. While the play did not revolutionize me or the way I think, it did comfort me to know that I am not alone, and that there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Caitlin is a sweetheart and I loved learning about her through her play.

“Crushed” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based theatre artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival…

“Once You’ve Found It” Finds Good Stride

Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

Has the darkness ever spoken to you?

In a new play by Donovan Jackson of Reverie Theatre, darkness comes to life to speak to Bruce, who is dealing with the painful loss of his grandmother. Through movement, art, mask, projection, and music, we watch Bruce and wonder if he will let the darkness consume him.

This production is a truthful, touching view of what it’s like to live with a little darkness monster inside you. Jackson gives an earnest and engaging performance and adapts large and expressive choreography to the intimate space very well. It is difficult for one person to carry a show for sixty minutes, but because there was so much for him to play with it felt like a full team was on stage with him. As soon as one premise becomes comfortable, we move on to another, and this momentum kept me very engaged right to the end. I personally loved the video projections- one in particular reminded me of the people in my life who mean so much to me, and I left the theatre with a full heart and a big grin for having been reminded that love is beautiful, and the darkness doesn’t have to be your only friend.

If you love your grandma, see this play.

“Once You’ve Found It” continues its run in Venue #1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based theatre artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival…

There’s A LOT Going On “In Ireland…”

Nathan Coppens & Lauren Allen in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” (submitted photo)

Much like the play’s title, “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” attempts to fit an awful lot into relatively little time and space – and it’s mostly worth the effort…

There are two stories intertwined here, one being a fun and versatile vehicle (pun fully intended) enhancing the accessibility and pathos of the other. The first is a contemporary comedy, centred on a couple’s trip in Ireland, with each on their own particular quest while there. The second slyly uses the first to delve into some of the country’s dark history, as well as its relevance to us today – especially as playwright Rod MacPherson neatly ties it all up in the end.

Nathan Coppens carries much of the load, flipping between one character and another – each distinct and memorable. His strong physicality serves him well throughout, and adds significantly to the comedic surface of the piece. Lauren Allen has a strong presence as well, but presents in a quieter and much more controlled manner, perfectly suiting her primary character while also serving to ground the overall production. There are a number of interactions between the two as a married couple that make it clear that they share a special chemistry that is essential to pulling off such a whimsical stage partnership. While much of the action is frantic, they each do have some very subtle, touching buttons where they could afford to take an extra beat or two, and allow the audience to settle in, share, and appreciate the moment.

The production is harried from the outset, and director Andrew Johnston’s use of the stage and placement of props and costumes initially felt messy, with set pieces apparently pulled from corners of this church venue, all contributing to a distracting level of discord. This, however, bothered me less and less as the show progressed, and as Coppens and Allen owned the space, finding and replacing each piece with an ease only available through muscle memory and confidence. The energy in this high-octane romp started to flag as they rounded the bend on the home stretch (particularly noticeable in the surprisingly anti-climactic realization of Tom’s “quest”) – but Coppens left enough in the tank to deliver a closing that was not only satisfying but impactful for an appreciative audience.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” is a quirky little show, well-suited to the character and pace of the Fringe. It is a production that entertains while offering many laughs, a few touching surprises, and a dose of reality, too.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival