Monday, May 13, 2019


In 2015, prior to the fall of Weinstein, Cosby, and the agonizing exoneration of Ghomeshi, the prophetic Erin Shields wrote a play. Beautiful Man came out in a fury and Erin approached me to help get it to the stage as soon as possible. We pulled in all our favours, assembled a gorgeous cast and creative team, and six months later its first iteration hit the stage for a week at SummerWorks.

Andrea Donaldson, Director's Notes

There are times, during the approximately ninety-minute running time of this bold and brilliant show, when one might wonder where the dramaturgical premise is going, and when will it stop - kind of like being trapped in the middle of a mansplanation diatribe usually deployed by the testicular sex. And that is perhaps the point, and it is made to grand effect. There is plenty of ball and boner talk in this scathing #metoo infused play as Erin Shields turns the gender specific tables and has three women engaging in an at times bawdy, often eloquently written piece for these troubled gender divided times. 

A powerful set by Gillian Gallow creates a stark white, confined, and objectifying platform for the women to sit in front of, on stools, and create a distance between them and an impressive specimen of manhood that they seem to be describing, and yet setting him apart from particular narrative strains. 

A complex dialogue, part storytelling and part conversation/response ensues, creating a slight sense of The Vagina Monologues, but in Beautiful Man the performers are shuffling body parts and performative attitudes in order to show audiences what it might be like if we were used to hearing women talk about men in the way that some men talk about women. The effect is provocative and ultimately a hauntingly hilarious exercise in gender/sex politics.

...after growing up surrounded by theatre in Hamilton; getting introduced to Judith Thompson and Daniel MacIvor as a teen through an instructor at Theatre Aquarius (“You can write like that?” she remembers thinking after reading Thompson); and studying in a conservatory program at London’s Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama...

intermission magazine -


A mixture of Judith Thompson's seering social insights and Daniel MacIvor's immense talent for storytelling shines through as Shield's work reflects these mentoring forces from her early exposure to theatre. 

In Beautiful Man she makes these techniques her own in an intense and frequently electrifying manner, shot through with bold, elegant writing where each word, sentence, story, response are seamlessly representative of the controversial subject at hand. 
l-r Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez 
- Jesse Lavercombe above in 'white box'

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, and Sofia Rodriguez display impeccable timing and comic finesse as the triumvirate of conversational comrades who tell a story framed brilliantly by reflections of television violence and real life 'career/role' playing. As they do so a 'beautiful man,' played by Jesse Lavercombe moves through powerful and elegantly directed movement and emotions (Director - Andrea Donaldson) and becomes the exposed body that speaks very little, beguiling spectators in the end with a brilliantly performed background role and a mesmerizing extended denouement of sorts.

A slight problem with the extended final moment might be described as a paradoxical element that both draws away from and gestures toward all that has come before, and yet the high quality of the performance, introduced by three equally powerful performances, boldly carries one through to a gripping, open ended finale. 

Richard Feren's sound design and composition, with vague hints of a kind of Game of Thrones harrowing lyricism, effectively infuses the overall environment with a strong sense of just how high the stakes can become within otherwise domestically inclined relationships.
The piece could be trimmed by a quarter of an hour, giving all of the performers a little more breathing space from what at times becomes a lot of descriptive story/narrative that has been 'man'splained already. But of course, isn't that the nature of mansplaining - the menacingly shallow reiteration of particular points - and part of the point of a play that reverses roles and sheds light on gender inequities and aggravations? At least in the hands of a gifted playwright like Shields we can laugh wildly without being rebuked, condescend to (what have you) by some raging hunk, or lack thereof. 

When Lavercombe's beautiful man portrayal shares an example of this, from the perspective of an accomplished young woman, he does so through the dramaturgical format of a subtly layered and powerful climax. Rather than experiencing it, we are poignantly and powerfully told about the sheer frustration many of us may have felt in the presence of a marginalizing, mesmerizingly mind numbing storyteller in the throes of telling the feminine/feminized subject precisely what 'he' thinks. Lavercombe's presence (like Shields script) and his delivery manages to engage without overwhelming through the bland reiterative impulse that often comes with that ever so complexly gendered term 'mansplain.' This 'Beautiful Man' attracts without subjugating, bringing forth hauntingly layered and reflective gender moments and mishaps, within a powerful script, for both men and women to witness and to renegotiate. 


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