THEATRE REVIEW OF NEW PLAY BY ELLIE MOON AT TARRAGON
This Was the World, Ellie Moon’s new play at Tarragon Theatre, is based on the simple premise that some very smart people can do some really dumb things. The setting is a faculty of law somewhere and the central character is John (R.H. Thomson), a professor of Constitutional Law and Aboriginal Rights.
The professor has been hauled into the Associate Dean’s Office (played by Kim Nelson) over comments he made in class that may have been insensitive or offensive. He was talking about intersectionality and managed to give offence and bring in his daughter Ava (Rachel VanDuzer) as a means of illustrating what he meant.
I found myself behind the eight ball, as they say, because I had no idea what he meant. My adeptness in the use of Google gave me this definition of the word: Intersectionality is a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of one’s social and political identities (e.g., gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.) might combine to create unique modes of discrimination. Well, that’s perfectly clear and helpful!
The professor attempts to defend clarity of expression, respect for spelling and the use of correct grammar but he is told that those may be colonial constructs. Really?
He reminds us or is reminded of section 35 of the Canadian Constitution but we are not given much information about that either. Dei gratia and Google, I find out that it deals with the recognition and affirmation of existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.
The professor’s problem aside from his incurable foot-in-mouth disease is that the law school has hired a new faculty member who is an aboriginal woman. He expresses his disapproval none too subtly and none too privately. He talks about his daughter’s mental issues with Niimi (Dakota Ray Hebert), an indigenous, bright, articulate and ambitious student who is also his mentee.
He believes, quite genuinely I dare say, that there should be more indigenous people involved in our legal system but he feels that the new professor who was hired after proper vetting is just not up to his standard. He does not stop there and goes on to give an example of a bright man doing something stupid and much worse than that.
In the end, he has a breakdown, quits or is fired from his job and becomes an Uber driver. Ava has a breakdown as well and drives off with his Uber car and her friend Tanya (Brittany Kay) and ends up picking up Niimi. The scene that develops is too melodramatic for words.
The play lasts about eighty minutes. Most of the scenes are played in front of a mirror so that we see the front and the back of the players. There are scene titles projected on a screen.
We have a professor and very attractive women and no sexual interest at all. Forget Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes and Oleana. The issues that Ellie Moon touches are just as or more serious.
The performances are outstanding. The five actors give it their all and the play’s virtues shine in the cast. It has some fine moments but unfortunately the play has some serious weaknesses as well. To put it simply, it creaks. We have the mentee with issues with the professor, the daughter with her mental issues and the setting of academia and private life that do not meld into a focused drama.
This is Ellie Moon’s third play and she continues to show great promise. We are waiting for its fulfilment.
This Was the World by Ellie Moon continues until March 1, 2020 at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com