The world premiere of Ron Elisha’s Unsolicited Male brings the #metoo movement to the workplace.
The cast of Unsolicited Male. Photo by Michael Teo.
Running from 7-10 March at Q44 Theatre, the world premiere of Ron Elisha’s Unsolicited Male brings the #metoo movement to the workplace. Forming part of the Melbourne Fringe, Suzanne Heywood’s direction and the experienced cast present a harrowing narrative of the interconnection between human relationships and gendered power dynamics.
Wendy (Kym Valentine) has been working for Zeke (Russell Fletcher) for two years. She is confident in her role and he shows his gratitude by taking her to dinner after a long work day. At face value, the professionals have an intimate meal of banter and warm conversation. But as professionalism slips into flirtation and boundaries are blurred, Wendy becomes vulnerable to her boss’ power. The evening’s events and repercussions are revealed through flashbacks and discussions with Zeke’s life coach Noah (Liam Seymour) and Wendy’s sister Chelsea (Gabrielle Rose-Carter). As the narrative progresses, Zeke grows increasingly self-assured while Wendy comes crashing down.
The dexterous production accentuated Unsolicited Male’s interrogation of a vehement social moment. The small stage framed by two level rows either side allowed the performance to occur within close proximity of the audience as well as making audience members face each other. Such intimacy was not jarring but an effective community building technique: it was an unexpected solace seeing people cry across the stage given the subject matter.
Heywood crafted the production with a clean proficiency which was not only engaging but allowed the play to experimentally shift mood and time. The stage’s floor fitted with a checked pattern resembled a chessboard where the characters strategically played on both the defence and attack. As players, the four main characters hardly left the stage, frozen when not in action. The light changed from different parts of the stage as Zeke and Wendy quickly swivelled their seats to and from centre stage, where they interacted, to private settings with Chelsea and Noah on the periphery. Chelsea and Noah’s opposing sideline presences physically embodied that Zeke and Wendy didn’t exist in a vacuum but in a complex, gendered world.
Supported by these production elements, the actors’ performances conveyed social structures which revolve around men’s ego and minimise women’s pain. Elisha’s rhythmic script didn’t skip a beat with a tempo destabilising Wendy and building up Zeke. Valentine and Fletcher’s credits rolling decades provided them with the maturity to intricately develop their characters. Valentine, especially, performed with piercing emotion which carried both strength and vulnerability. As the colleagues interacted with one another, with Zeke’s lack of self-awareness and Wendy’s forced politeness, they candidly echoed obstacles of human connection.
Rose-Carter and Seymour pulled the audience from this bubble by providing commentary on the growingly hostile situation. Their in-sync lines carried different tones and connotations from their gendered points of view. While Chelsea brought awareness to the consequences her sister would suffer, Noah amplified toxic masculinity which safeguarded Fletcher from blame.
Unsolicited Male was transfixing in its communication of the opposing outcomes for men and women when ‘the unspeakable happens.’ A lack of stereotyping a one-dimensional villain and victim gave way to nuancing both male and female perspectives – while arguing the former as fundamentally flawed. The production exposed the level playing field in the corporate sphere as a facade when men hold the power to devastate not only women’s careers, but their lives.
Although performed two years since the #metoo movement began, the world premiere of Unsolicited Male could not have been timelier. With Leaving Neverland and Guilty: the conviction of Cardinal Pell – Four Corners airing on Australian free-to-air TV this week, Unsolicited Male reminded audiences that sex crimes aren’t only perpetuated by society’s elite. Men’s abuse of power is a systematic issue trickling down to the status quo. By bringing it to the everyday level, the production leaned-in on damaging strands of human behaviour so ingrained we haven’t begun untangling the knots.
Between the expert production, layered writing and honest-to-life performances, Unsolicited Male paid heed to the complexities of real life by cross-examining players within a pervasive social adversity which destroys women and leaves men unscathed. It’s cutting delivery will remain with audiences as they leave the theatre and return to work, a mark of success if there is one.
Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★
Written by Ron Elisha
Directed by Suzanne Heywood
Wendy – Kym Valentine
Zeke – Russell Fletcher
Chelsea – Gabriella Rose-Carter
Noah – Liam Seymour
Marshall – William Atkinson
7-10 March 2019
Q44 Theatre, Abbotsford Convent Melbourne