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Aug. 17, 2019 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Shaw review: Sex in all of its fluid forms
Diana Donnelly as Margy LaMont in "Sex" at the Shaw Festival. (David Cooper/Supplied)

REVIEW BY MIKE KEENAN, SPECIAL.

As an adolescent in simpler times, sexual appetite was limited to an either/or scenario – heterosexual versus homosexual. You were straight or queer. However, culture evolved to politically correct complexity with an additional both/and dimension.

Thus, we have a lesbian/gay dichotomy, a bisexual category akin to baseball switch-hitters, transgender aficionados who live as a member of a gender other than expected based on sex or that assigned at birth and the aforementioned queers who seem to cover the entire waterfront in order to encompass a complex set of sexual behaviours and desires.

Little wonder with the emergence of LGBTQ classifications that cerebral Doug Ford experienced trouble with public “health education.”

To further complicate matters, my favourite director, Peter Hinton, now hyphenates his surname to Hinton-Davis, and to introduce sexual fluidity, he employs a female to play a male (Julia Course as Jimmy), and vice-versa (Jonathan Tan as prostitute Agnes) in presenting Mae West’s “Sex” at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre. One yearns for ancient Greek productions whose characters wear masks. And yes, we know that Shakespeare employed men to play women.

West became a much-quoted bombshell of a movie star thanks to being jailed for this play, offering sexual musings such as – “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad I’m better; I’ve been in more laps than a napkin; I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported;” and “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”

The latter quote and dragging sex into the modern era seems the intent of Shaw’s production, but in a world that features readily accessible internet pornography, wealthy men sexually molesting adolescent girls, priests abusing boys, never-ending school massacres and a shameless, licentious American president who appeals to neo-Nazis, good luck to Hinton-Davis.

As for plot, Shaw’s promo reads, “Mae West created for herself the role of Margy LaMont (Diana Donnelly), a quick-witted, sharp-tongued prostitute in Roaring Twenties Montreal who is looking for a better life. When she meets a rich and ardent young lover (Julia Course), she seems to have hit the jackpot… Can she keep her secret? Should she?” West was locked up in 1927 for “obscene, indecent, immoral and impure drama.”

Eo Sharp’s costumes are terrific; her set employing mug shot height poles and suitcases, which Donnelly and roommate thug, Rocky (Kristopher Bowman), live out of, the most interesting component of that metaphor, their ability to find items in just the right luggage.

In his program notes, Hinton-Davis suggests, “The title implicitly demands the subject be addressed, discussed and celebrated.” Accordingly, in this Canadian premiere, he views sex as a triptych – as an act, a power relationship and commercial exchange.

Does Shaw’s sexual fluidity reflect current world attitudes? The 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup champion soccer team led by celebrated lesbian star Megan Rapinoe indicates yes. Her lesbian teammates include Kelley O’Hara, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, and coach, Jillian Ellis.

Donnelly excels as the prototypical hard-nosed, soft-hearted prostitute and the supporting cast is superb, particularly Tan as a sick sex worker and Fiona Byrne as Clara, a bored, wealthy sexual voyeur.

I enjoyed it, but perhaps the best thing I might say is that I experienced sex for 2.5 hours one afternoon in Viagra-on-the-Lake. An achievement indeed!

“Sex’’ plays at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre to Oct. 13, shawfest.com, 905-468-2172 or 1-800-511-7429.

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