BWW Review: SAFE AND SORRY is a Funny, Frightening Examination of Dating and Pick-up Artists
The internet today is like a modern-day wild west, with billions of people constantly connected to each other through their phones and computers. For those familiar with online communities, there are a few rules that are followed to keep one's self sane: don't look yourself up, and don't read people's comments related to a controversial topic.
SAFE AND SOUND is the exploration of what happens within a niche community when it gains traction in the pubic eye, and it's centered around a pickup artist who leads a dating seminar rooted in ethics and personal growth. While the work is still in development, it was presented as part of this year's SummerWorks Lab programming. Produced by Lester Trips (Theatre) under the direction of Chelsea Dab Hilke, the hour-long presentation touched on consent, relationship ethics, assault, and the nastier side of online forums and communities.
The story follows Keith Much (Lauren Gillis) as he works with his students, a group of men who struggle to meet women with the intention of being in a relationship - or at least, with the end goal of hooking up. Gillis starts as the steady, assured instructor whose confidence in his advice seems unshakeable, and does a great job of laying the groundwork for a potential collapse through Keith's retraction and correction of statements from previous seminars. Her subtle work during scenes where the focus is placed on the comments in his forum (video and lighting design by Wesley McKenzie) is very effective in showing the tension and stress that comes from being a public figure.
Fulfilling the roles of every other character in the story, including shy Stu, overconfident Mike, inexperienced Daniel, and volatile Brandon (Alaine Hutton), Hutton does an amazing job of developing unique and memorable characters, even when they're only part of the show for a few minutes. Her fast-paced flipping between Stu and Mike is impressive to watch, as she changes with the removal or addition of a baseball cap and drops some of the funniest moments of the night in the first few minutes. Her performance as Brandon sets real stakes for Keith, and their scene debating the ethics of relationships and the rights of women regarding dating is frightening in that it's completely believable. People like Brandon exist, and their rage and unhappiness can be enhanced by their online communities.
The fact that some men feel entitled to relationships, obedience, and sexual gratification from women is nothing new, but it's certainly not less frightening to see it play out on stage. SAFE AND SORRY begins as a comedy by presenting endearing, bumbling guys who just want to have a conversation with a girl, but by the end of the one-hour preview it's a reality-based horror - a plot change that's enforced by escalating movie trailers shown between scenes (film design by Peter Demas).
While the current "end" of the show is a sharp turn into the abstract and doesn't really connect to anything seen previously in the play, it suggests that there's certainly more to Keith - and the story. SAFE AND SORRY succeeds in its ability to make its characters incredibly real - everyone knows someone like Mike, Daniel, or Stu, and there are certainly people who hold similar ideals to Brandon's character. Even in its early stages of development, it's incredibly timely and unsettlingly honest.
SAFE AND SORRY ran through August 16 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, ON.
For more information, visit http://summerworks.ca/artists/safe-and-sorry/
Main photo credit: Peter Demas