Wednesday, July 8, 2020

An Unsafe Space takes your bias and stuffs it

What happens when a push for social justice, and comedic one-liners tips the scales so far that liberalism becomes equated with conformity and close-mindedness? Have the snowflakes or the capitalists taken over? Is it even possible for an attitude of inclusion, protection and service to become oppressive and regimented? When pushed to the extreme some would argue that this is the case, and the well-developed script for “An Unsafe Space” written by Richard Klagsbrun explores exactly these questions and more.

When I read the catchphrase used in the play’s marketing materials, I got a specific impression of what to expect when I attended the performance of “An Unsafe Space” at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. Called, “a play about racism, romance, jealousy, identity politics and censorship…or just another day at the university,” I expected a somewhat preachy narrative and thinly veiled expectations of how one should think in 2018. Not to say that I wasn’t extremely intrigued and interested in the subject matter, but I kind of expected an echochamber filled night at the theatre. What I didn’t expect was to have every belief, understanding and default thought-pattern challenged in such a funny and in-your-face way.

Clockwise from left: CHANAKYA MUKHERJEE as Jamal Mohammed; PRECIOUS CHONG as Joanna Whitney; JANE SPIDELL as Lindy Little; JOHN JARVIS as Patrick McConnell; JENNY WEISZ as Lisa Cooper CRAIG LAUZON as Oliver Waterman.

The play takes place at the home of Joanna Whitney (Precious Chong), Assistant Professor of Political Science, where she has invited a core contingent of socially active colleagues and students to discuss an impending multi-million dollar donation to the department from a conservative benefactor. Joanna coordinates the impromptu meeting with a date with her new love interest, an aboriginal lawyer named Oliver Waterman (Craig Lauzon). To the surprise and consternation of Joanna’s colleagues, Oliver expresses strong opinions which contradict the expectations of what her colleagues believe a First Nations person would and should hold, and the outrage that Oliver instigates at the meeting leads to clash after clash. The events leave the characters confronted with the unexpected necessity of having to examine their own outlooks and prejudices, which in turn causes the audience to do the same.

Precious Chong as Joanna Whitney and Craig Lauzon as Oliver Waterman in An Unsafe Space.

Incredibly well-acted, timed and written, “An Unsafe Space” challenges our thought-processes and preconceived notions in a way that is both liberating as it is intelligent. The play tackles diverse issues in a captivating and humorous way that leaves you feeling lighter and more open-minded than when you arrive. “An Unsafe Space” is a relevant and funny evening of theatre that is not to be missed.

An Unsafe Space runs until until January 20, 2019 at the Tranzac Club, 292 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

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