Beautiful Man reveals ugly truths about gender stereotypes and exploitation

BEAUTIFUL MAN by Erin Shields (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to May 26. $20-$50. See listing. Rating: NNNNErin Shieldss.

BEAUTIFUL MAN by Erin Shields (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to May 26. $20-$50. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Erin Shieldss Beautiful Man is a razor-sharp satire that hilariously skewers the tropes of female characters in film and TV.

The play opens with friends Jennifer (Ashley Botting), Sophie (Mayko Nguyen) and Pam (Sofia Rodriguez) discussing a TV cop drama focused on a female detective, Rosie, who is obsessively investigating the case of a psychopath murdering angelic, handsome men. As the women comment on the victims beautiful, mutilated bodies or how Rosies husband is so needy for wanting to have dinner on their anniversary, it becomes clear Shields has flipped the script.

In the show, directed by Andrea Donaldson, the way we talk and portray women and men in pop culture is reversed: the women are smart, serious protagonists. The men are nameless plot devices that propel the female leads forward.

As the women perch on stools at the front of the stage, an attractive man (Jesse LaVercombe), poses in an illuminated raised box. He slowly moves around the white box (lighting design by Jason Hand), becoming a proxy for the male characters the women are gossiping about and stripping off clothes like hes a powerless object on display. Hes mostly silent throughout, punctuating the womens comments with one-liners or deep sighs.

Although Botting, Nguyen and Rodriguezs characters dont develop as individuals, and at times feel interchangeable, theyre hysterically funny during their rapid-fire exchanges.

As the play becomes more meta, it barrels into the absurd, making it easy to lose track of the fictitious characters and plotlines the trio are dissecting. While it may be confusing, it also feels like an intentional statement on our rabid consumption of media and how easy it is to become numb to the constant objectification of women. And the ending is a brilliant, brutal reminder of the realities of being a woman in a society that values beauty and compliance.

Workshopped at SummerWorks in 2015, Beautiful Man was written before the rise of the #-MeToo movement, and the focus on gender equity in Hollywood during awards season. There are nods to a Harvey Weinstein-type director pressuring men in hotel rooms and questioning why her victims didnt come out sooner. But shes just such a good director, one of the women gushes, echoing the excuses for the Woody Allens and Roman Polanskis of Hollywood.

Its remarkable and equally troubling how Beautiful Man was so prophetic that, four years later, the issues it tackles feel just as resonant and even more urgent.


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