#MeToo story finds power in its normalcy

#MeToo story finds power in its normalcy
Anne van Leeuwen stars in "C mon Angie!" at the Assembly Theatre on Queen St. W. until April 27  (John Gundy photo)

Written by Amy Lee Lavoie. Directed by Cristina Cugliandro. Until April 27 at The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W. .

The majority of #MeToo stories we hear about unfold over newsfeeds in a combination of headlines and hot takes in the comment section. Of course, underneath those public scandals are far more private stories that remain behind closed doors. Even those that reach the mainstream begin there, in secret, intense and immediate and complicated.

The strength of Amy Lee Lavoie’s 90-minute two-hander drama about a complex sexual encounter, C’mon Angie!, is not necessarily in the arguments it makes — anyone who’s been paying attention to current debates about consent and call-out culture will be familiar with the points laid out in the conversation between Angela, an urbanite in her 30s (Anne van Leeuwen), and Reed, an older married acquaintance (Ryan Hollyman) — but in the dynamic that lays them out. Vancouver-based playwright Lavoie has constructed a believable relationship that’s theatrically rich in perspective, one that finds power in its normalcy, not in its extremity. It’s one of the more viscerally familiar plays born out of the #MeToo movement that this critic has seen, and that’s quite a few.

Montreal-based director Cristina Cugliandro helms the Toronto debut of C’mon Angie! in a production by Leroy Street Theatre and The Spadina Avenue Gang, and begins the story in an anxious place as the audience files in. Van Leeuwen, on a messy bed, sits hunched over in a bra, with her back toward us and a dark, dense humming in Tim Lindsay’s sound design blocks out any noise from the rest of Angela’s small condo. It’s a startling shift when the sound drops out, the lights shift, and a shower starts offstage while Angela dresses — but it’s also one that feels real to anyone with a pressing issue on their mind.

Another element to Lavoie’s script that rings true is how close the entire play comes to not happening at all — van Leeuwen’s strained smile and subtle deflections towards Hollyman’s blissful morning routine and continuing come-ons are passive tactics towards the easy route of avoiding confrontation altogether. It’s only as Reed persists that she brings it up, “Are you aware that you assaulted me?”

Reed, a successful chiropractor with a wife and a daughter, knows guys who are sexist and abusive — he isn’t. “If I was the kind of person who would do this,” he repeats. Lavoie’s script does fall victim to a common issue in plays like these that unfold in real time; in order to keep a revelation for a more dramatic moment later on, the conversation must beat around it for most of the time. It does get frustrating waiting for Angela to say what happened, but van Leeuwen’s anger and indignation at Hollyman’s obliviousness and shock does give some reason for this. It also gives Lavoie more room to talk about the issues surrounding consent, sexual assault, and the repercussions for both parties without getting into the explicit details. However, the script does get bogged down in stall tactics — like a dance break to a female musician playlist with Alanis Morissette and Kelis (“I can like this song,” Angela protests to Reed, as she dances to “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”)

Nancy Anne Perrin’s set deconstructs Angela’s condo like a crime scene, placing her outfit from the night in question against a white background, and placing the play’s props on small shelves live evidence exhibits. It’s suggestive of how all the circumstances around a sexual assault are imagined to have such inflated importance — What was she wearing? Why did they have cereal the next morning? Did she have her glasses on? — but ultimately, it’s the story that unfolds between Reed and Angela that drives the action forward.

This isn’t the first or the last play that will approach #MeToo in this style, but C’mon Angie! is notable for its ability to capture the intensity and difficulty of such confrontations without sensationalizing or relying too much on “He said, she said” intrigue. It’s informative for those who can’t relate, and empowering for those who do.
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