Rhubarb!'s new roots
Buddies in Bad Times' fest of cutting-edge new works has nurtured lots of hit plays and artists. The 27th edition kicks off this week with everything from clown to a naughty gay opera. Here are some highlights. By JON KAPLAN
RHUBARB ! A festival of new works. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Opens Wednesday (February 2) and runs to February 20, with weekly program changes, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm (some productions begin earlier). $15, week pass $20, festival pass $40, late-night events $5. 416-975-8555, www.buddiesinbadtimestheatre.com. Rating: NNNNN
A young female student fights with a male prof. If that sounds like David Mamet's Oleanna, it's also the starting point for Hannah Moscovitch's Essay, which adds a second teacher to its discussion of the inter-relationships of feminism, education and power.
"The whole discourse about acceptance and inclusion that's going on now also enters into the picture," says the playwright, a recent grad of the National Theatre School, who began Essay in the writing/producing group Absit Omen.
The student in the play, assigned to write a piece on an 18th-century military leader of her choice, selects a woman and thus upsets her tutorial leader, who then brings in a senior prof with his own ideas not only about the topic, but also about the student and her sex.
"The TA is a bad feminist who patronizes her, but the professor is even worse," explains the writer. "As the men fight over her and her essay, she and all that's important to her - including the reason for her choice of topic - get lost.
"It's often men who make decisions about issues and events related to women. Here, the teachers, themselves in hierarchical positions of power, argue about feminism, and the woman herself is sidelined. It's like the time when men voted on whether or not women should be allowed to vote."
When the piece was presented at Lab Cab, Moscovitch - whose play Giving It Up was staged at SummerWorks 2003 - was gratified when viewers laughed a lot.
"I wasn't sure whether they'd find it funny or just uncomfortable. I'm glad the audience got what I thought was funny about it: the irony that a man would tell a woman she was a feminist."
The playwright has no intention of writing a piece that offers neat answers to the questions she raises. While viewers may know where the play is going and what Moscovitch thinks about the issues, she still wants them to have something to debate after the show.
"This is a play with a true conflict, with no absolute right or wrong in it. I hope the audience will find themselves switching allegiance throughout the piece."
ESSAY by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Michael Rubenfeld, with Claire Jenkins, Jordan Pettle and William Webster. February 9-13 at 8 pm.