BWW Reviews: Tarragon's SOLICITING TEMPTATION
By Evan Mackay
Sex can be a touchy subject, something many people have trouble talking about. The topic can get messier when discussing sex as a profession and, more so, the murky industry of sex tourism in which privileged westerners exploit the egregiously disadvantaged youth of the third world. This is the subject of Soliciting Temptation, the newest play by Governor General's Award winner Erin Shields, a two-hander now having its world premiere at Tarragon Extra Space.
The atmosphere is thick, with artificial smoke, lighting (designed by Kimberly Purtell) which somehow looks unclean, and sounds of heavy traffic (sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne) outside the seedy hotel room where sweaty, middle-aged, North American businessman Derek Boyes (featured in The Norman Conquests and other Soulpepper productions) complains of the broken ceiling fan and air conditioner, and of odours within and without the room. The realistic set conveys dinginess and simplicity (set and costume designs by Ken MacKenzie). With a knock on the door the man has been anticipating, in comes a petite and waifish southeast-Asian girl (Miriam Fernandes) in a sarong-like wrap, who equals the man in height only when she stands on the single bed. But she equals him in self-assuredness and argumentative verve from the moment she speaks up to put him in his place. They think they have each other figured out, but they don't even have themselves figured out.
Tarragon's Assistant Artistic Director Andrea Donaldson directs. Although at times the dialogue and delivery are somewhat stylized, and Shields' script occasionally bulges with talking points, both characters are believable and sympathetic, and the 80-minute real-time conversation is compelling emotionally as well as intellectually. The man repeatedly asks, "How old did you say you were?" He is considerate and gentle, speaking respectfully and offering her water, but after he defensively claims, "I've never done this before", his assertion that he is "not a bad man" is an attempt to persuade himself as much as her.
Unexpectedly, what was to have been a typical, economically imbalanced encounter of the sort that must happen every minute of the day in seedy hotel rooms the world over turns into a pointed debate about the rights, autonomy, and safety of sex workers, and exploited youth who are forced into prostitution by coercion, manipulation, or desperation. Surprising reversals and shifting dynamics bring both characters to striking realizations.
Soliciting Temptation doesn't attempt to resolve issues, but it illuminates a number of them for discussion. It takes an often polarized debate about the morality of prostitution and presents a spectrum of interwoven aspects to be considered. A more comprehensive treatment of the subject matter would require more time and more characters; a narrower focus, with characters displaying a greater degree of ignorance, might have allowed deeper levels of emotion to be reached. Working with the parameters the playwright set out for them, Donaldson and her cast have rendered a production that hits the head first and the heart second. Despite some theatrical excesses which diminish the essential realism of the piece, the idea of a young third-world prostitute daring to challenge the western John's entitlement and hypocrisy is a striking premise. Giving in to the temptation to see this play was the right thing for me to do.
Soliciting Temptation runs to May 4
Tarragon's Extraspace, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto
Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
Saturday 2:30pm matinees on April 19, 26
For tickets, call Patron Services at 416.531.1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Andrew Mackay writes theatre reviews for Post City Magazines. He is currently seeking a publisher for his first novel and is further developing his latest play, Father Hero Traitor Son (2013), about a war hero with a traitorous son, (not as many laughs as the play about colorectal cancer which he co-wrote and performed in at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival). Evan writes drama, prose and humour in any form, and he is a journalist of culture and social justice. Also, he is obsessed with languages.* He has been a regular contributor to Post City Magazine and Nikkei Voice, national newspaper of Japanese Canadians. Raised in the Maritimes, he tends to live in Toronto.