Review – “Teach Me”: Newborn Theatre, Toronto Fringe

This afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing Newborn Theatre’s “Teach Me” at the George Ignatieff Theatre. My fourth Fringe show this year, and by far my favourite.

The show stars Mara Zigler as Stacey, Jessica Brown as Lauren and Robert Rainville as Mr.P, and tells the perverse story of two high school girls who catch their teacher masturbating in his car after school. A risque topic to be sure, but one that playwright Rachel Ganz approached with humour and sincerity in a way that made the story not just entertaining, but very real.

The play started a little slowly, with the two actresses seeming to struggle somewhat with their lines. Minimal movement meant that the focus was all on the dialogue, which was funny and well written, but came out a little jumbled at the start. However, the actors quickly grew into their parts, and by the time Rainville entered, I was completely enthralled.

I have tried with other reviews to focus on the acting and staging above the script or story, but in this case I don’t think I can do the show justice without including a few spoilers. For those who don’t wish to have the story given away, stop reading here and just know this is one show you should definitely not miss!

***SPOILER ALERT***

The ambiguity in this story is what drives it. It is impossible to be certain from one moment to the next who holds the power and who really knows the truth. This may be a frustrating show for some, because so many questions were asked, but the end comes abruptly, answering very few of them. When I first read this script months ago, my biggest worry was that the humour in the text could leave some people feeling that the issues of rape and abuse were trivialized, however, the cast’s acting ability helped to support what I think was Ganz’s intention; to show the complexity of these issues, rather than to focus just on sympathizing with the victims, or crusading against the abusers.

It certainly isn’t a show for someone with a weak stomach. Stacey’s detailed description of her own encounters with sexual abuse is raw and disturbing, especially as it comes in such strong contrast to her earlier, funnier remarks about men and sex. Watching Mr. P. try every tactic in the book to convince the girls not to turn him in, is equally upsetting, because until the very end of the show, I found myself sympathizing with him most.

Things take a bizarre turn after Stacey finally makes a move and angrily gives Mr.P. a hand-job – while this moment could ring as untrue, her earlier comment should be remembered here; “Nothing like a blow job to make a rapist forget he was going to rape you”. Given, it was a hand job instead (this is still live theatre!), but remembering that line makes the moment seem much less like a Lolita-esq move and more like a frightened girl trying to put on a brave face. Certainly disturbing. As Mr. P. falls to the ground and watches the girls, we see him take on a sort of animalistic transformation; his back to the audience, I was curious as to what was really happening, and this is one moment where I felt things could have been a bit clearer. When he drags Lauren to the ground for the very brief but upsetting rape scene, it is difficult to imagine what is going on in the minds of the characters. Lauren initially smiles, then cries out in a somewhat insincere voice; I am unsure as to whether this was a choice or just a weak acting moment. Mr. P. does not seem human in this moment, but rather just the “dog” Stacey had earlier referred to him as. Again, this is a moment where I would have liked to understand his change a bit more. Stacey is who carries in the scene here, as she switches from badass teenager to frightened child, calling out in a voice that made me almost sick. It was a very bold choice for an ending, and personally I left feeling a little ill, but leaving a show about rape feeling anything else would probably be more disgusting than that.

Despite a few slow moments at the start, and somewhat dull blocking, the text and the actors made this show one of my all time favourites. You will leave shaken and likely disgusted, but certainly not without something to say. A show that will get people talking this way is one that needs to be seen, and I would highly recommend it to anyone (except maybe children!).

-E.

SHOW TIMES
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 – 8:45pm – 9:45pm
Saturday, July 6, 2013 – 1:45pm – 2:45pm
Sunday, July 7, 2013 – 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Monday, July 8, 2013 – 10:15pm – 11:15pm
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 – 5:45pm – 6:45pm
Saturday, July 13, 2013 – 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Sunday, July 14, 2013 – 7:30pm – 8:30pm

George Ignatieff Theatre

All Fringe tickets are $10.

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