Emilia Di Luca
Taboos are no strangers to the stage, especially pedophilia. Questions of child sex abuse have been raised by a number of playwrights—Paula Vogel, John Patrick Shanley, Lara Foot Newton. The list goes on. At Tarragon Theatre, award-winning playwright Erin Shields explores pedophilia and sex tourism in the world premiere of Soliciting Temptation.
In an undeveloped country, a Western businessman and a mysterious young woman—aptly named Man (Derek Boyes) and Woman (Miriam Fernandes)—meet and conspire to have sex. However, when Woman arrives at the dingy hotel room, it is clear the two have different agendas. Man paid for sex with a young girl; Woman, not actually a child,wants to catch a pedophile. A conversation ensues, exposing contrary views on sex and sexuality.
The two-hander explores the minds of a pedophile and an activist. The play does not choose sides; it asks questions. Director, Andrea Donaldson echoes the many perspectives in her staging. With the audience surrounding three-quarters of the stage, spectators physically see the story from all sides.
The universality of Shield’s script cleanses the story of concrete locations, unique names and intricate back stories. Consequently, the play has relevancy and is open to interpretation. The story does not, however, grab its audience the way Vogel holds hers in How I Learned to Drive, a play also focusing on pedophilia. The difference is that Vogel gives a distinct flavour of the town, the people, the back-story. Without specifics, Shield’s piece becomes more like an experiment; there is something very hypothetical about Soliciting Temptation. Nonetheless, under Donaldson’s direction, the play grounds itself in reality.
Set and consume designer, Ken Mackenzie transforms the abstract work into something tangible—something the audience can see, taste, smell and almost touch. The space is already claustrophobic since the audience hugs the stage. Adding to intimacy, the bed spills off the stage into the audience. A musky scent invades nostrils; hazy incense clutters eyes, and sounds of furious traffic and crowded streets bombard the ears. Spectators can almost taste the grime and feel the heat of the hotel room. Besides the set design, Boyes and Fernandes’ acting also make the script appear more real.
Boyes as Man does not look so menacing until his partner, Fernades, Woman, joins him on stage. Seeing the two, side by side, jars the audience. Boyes appears almost three times the size of Fernandes and yet, throughout the play the power dynamic shifts. Man may be bigger and stronger, but at one point Woman wears the pants—literally, his pants.
Playing with power and perspective, Shields lends the stage a flexible script and juicy topic. Donaldson balances the abstract script with concrete visuals so that the story becomes real and the characters become human. Only with a sense of realness do the issues of pedophilia and love take hold of the audience.
Soliciting Temptation runs at Tarragon Theatre now until May 4th. For tickets, visit http://tarragontheatre.com/tickets/ or contact Tarragon’s box office at 416.531.1827.
If this production peaks your interest, check out The Theater Reader’s interview with Erin Shields to learn more about her and Soliciting Temptation: http://thetheatrereader.com/news.html.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann