FREE OUTGOING by Anupama Chandrasekhar (Nightwood). At Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to February 16. $25-$45. 416-504-9971. See listings. Rating: NNN
It's easy to see why Nightwood chose to produce Free Outgoing, a play about what happens to a single mother and her family when a cellphone video of her teen daughter having sex goes viral.
It's by a talented female playwright (Anupama Chandrasekhar). It's about the unfair treatment of an openly sexual young woman in a conservative culture (a Tamil community in the Indian city of Chennai). It puts the spotlight on a prodigiously gifted actor, Anusree Roy, as the girl's mother - all in keeping with Nightwood's mandate.
Roy gives a masterful performance as Malini, the cash-strapped mom first in denial, then completely desperate. Watch how she uses her body as she finally watches the video.
When daughter Deepa, an excellent student, is expelled from school and her boyfriend and his family disappear, leaving Deepa's family to cope with the outraged neighbours gathered outside their house, Malini is forced to make difficult choices.
As her son, who suffers the fallout from his sister's actions, Andrew Lawrie conveys both anger at being collateral damage and panic at having to grow up too soon. Sanjay Talwar is suitably weaselly as Malini's sketchy colleague.
Though this sounds like a play ripped from the headlines, those headlines are from 2007 in India. Of course, cyber-bullying is still an issue here, and recent teen suicides prove the devastation it causes. But in Canada a principal would be more likely to descend on the kids sharing the video than to throw the victim out of school. A cautionary ad aimed at high schoolers about sharing material like the kind in this play aired during the Super Bowl. Talk about mainstreaming. All this doesn't make the play irrelevant, just location-specific.
And Chandrasekhar's decision to make Malini entirely friendless feels like a plot device.
But more problematic is the playwright's decision never to have Deepa appear onstage. This does keep the focus on a mother's dilemma, but the strategy, seen by some as a brilliant move, sends the wrong message. Presumably, Chandrasekhar doesn't want to exploit Deepa's image, but her attempt to avoid re-victimizing the teenager renders her invisible.
As it is, the play unfolds as just a first act, making me long for a second in which I can hear Deepa's own voice.