Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Far Is Too Far?

Last night I decided to venture off the beaten path. I had been to most of the major Broadway/Off-Broadway shows that I wanted to check out and so decided it was time to venture into Indie/Off-Off-Broadway territory. Through a variety of links and connections I decided on Ghosts in the Cottonwoods written and directed by Adam Rapp and produced by the company The Amoralists.

I wish I could tell you the risk paid off but unfortunately that is not the case. Not the case at all. I left the theatre – for the first time in my life - so angry that I almost demanded they give my $40 dollars back. I almost didn’t even clap. But then I realized what the actors just went through on stage and thought better of it. It wasn’t their fault that the writer/director chose to put, in my opinion, highly objectionable content stage. And, so I clapped. A bit. What, might you ask, made me so angry?

Well, let me first start with a small story. Before I left for Toronto I was having a conversation with a friend and colleague and I don’t know how or why – it might even be because we were discussing Red Light Winter (another Rapp play) – but we were discussing the question: How Far is Too Far? In Red Light Winter two characters practically have sex on stage. I’ve never seen a production so I’ve no idea how it would be done on stage and I’m guessing the explicitness of the act would depend on the production and director.

And, god knows, I’m no prude when it comes to the stage. From “sexually explicit” to “nudity” we’ve done it on the Twenty-Something stage. I’m all for provocative.

To a point.

So, how far IS too far?

Well, if I recall this conversation correctly I think me and my friend were sort-of joking around and I think I might have said something like “people actually having sex on stage. Oh wait, that already has a name. Porn.” and then there were a few more jokes and laughs and then she paused and said quite seriously something along the lines of “any kind of simulated rape/violent sex act would probably not be cool". To which I certainly agreed.

Well, ladies and gentleman, that was exactly what I saw on stage last night. In full view, and under full lights, a gratuitous violent simulated rape scene took place on stage that could have only been made worse had the actor actually penetrated the woman.

That my friends, in no uncertain terms is WAY TOO FUCKING FAR.

Pardon my French but I’m way beyond angry to a point where I don’t even have the proper words and only F—K seems to really convey how I am feeling in this moment.

In the words of another controversial playwright:

(This is not a comment on the actor. This is purely for text only as I'm in New York and had no access to the actual text and couldn't find it online but I did find this video)

I don’t care what kind of point you are trying to make or what kind of “artistic statement” you might be trying make, what happened on that stage last night was NOT okay. It would not be okay for someone to put any kind of “simulated” violent sex act perpetrated against a child on stage. So, what in God’s green earth, makes it okay to put any kind of “simulated” violent sex act against a woman on stage?!

And to make it even worse, I’m not even sure there was a point or an “artistic statement” because the mandate of the company is as follows: “a theatre company that produces work of no moral judgement”.


The Amoralists. Amoral: 1a) being neither moral nor immoral: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgements apply 1b) lacking moral sensibilities 2) being outside or beyond the moral order or a particular code of morals.

This just pisses me off even more. So basically, if I am correct, the argument here is that because this company places no moral judgements on human beaviour they are basically absolved of any responsibility for putting on stage gratuitous violent rape scenes.

Not in my books.

So, I was curious to see if anyone else had even blinked an eye at the sexual violence on stage so I looked up a few reviews. And...some people mention it, some people don’t and most are not in the least shocked by it or care.

Slant Magazine referred to it as “a very violent and grotesteque 10 minutes or so of wordless action” but overall gave it a rave review. A review from Backstage Magazine actually refers to the act itself stating that “suddenly a second filthy man emerges from the floor…and proceeds to rape Bean on the kitchen table” and calling the whole thing ‘funny’. WHAT THE F—K? A comment on another blog review thankfully acknowledged this fact by saying “The Backstage reviewer saw Ghosts in the Cottonwoods as a black comedy. I find it creepy that someone could ‘have a blast’ watching a show with an on-stage rape”. Thank you. I think Charles Isherwood from the New York Times puts it best when he says “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods feels like a series of lurid set pieces stitched together, a hoedown of misbehaviour that strains so hard to shock that it leaves you numb.” And I would add appalled.

Maybe it is me. Maybe I’m not New-York-gritty-shocking-and-perverse enough. Which is just fine by me. I like my morals just the way they are, thank you.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

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