The Missionary Position is uncomfortable.

If you found this page while searching for advice on a sexual problem, let me pass on my best wishes for comfortable resolution, along with a link to the sexuality-information resource website Scarleteen, directed at young people but useful for anyone with questions or curiosity about sex.  This page is a good starting point, with lots of links elsewhere.  I’m sorry to detour you with my wordplay.

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The Missionary Position was uncomfortable.

But I’m sure that was one of the intentions of playwright Greg MacArthur, in developing the play The Missionary Position for the U of A drama department and the BFA class of 2013.  The preview performance of this world premiere was tonight at the Studio Theatre in the Timms Centre for the Arts on campus.

It didn’t make me cry.  But it definitely made me squirm, and I got the feeling it made a lot of the audience members squirm too.  It touched on disaster tourism, international adoption, various shallow or pathological reasons people would go on a mission trip, and the potentially tragic consequences of well-intentioned badly-planned gestures.  In the play, the visitors are Canadian (from Edmonton) and the country suffering after an earthquake and tsunami is carefully not identified, but I kept thinking, This is Haiti.  This is everything the Haiti activists talk about.  And in fact, in the theatre lobby at intermission I noticed a news article about the New Life Children’s Refuge case, which had some similarities to the story of the play.

It’s a horrifying compelling story, told in alternating scenes of the past and present.  In the present, the young people are being detained in some type of prison because of something about some children, while the scenes of the past and occasional video clips shown on a screen behind the stage develop the story of what happened and why.

The storytelling is much more effective on stage than it would be in a movie.  Because in a movie, they’d have to show the children, the people living under tin and tarps, the scenery, and the jail, rather than the way the audience of the play sees these things through the narration of the visitors.  “Like little brown dolls”, a character describes the children – and without real child actors to distract us, we are limited to this disturbing exoticised view.

There was some recurring imagery, in particular several sets of allusions to water.  A memory of baptism and a newspaper photo of a dead child underwater become analogous in a creepy way.  Glowing water is used in a story about visiting Chernobyl but also in attempts to evoke magical escapism.  And sprays of water pour onto the stage when one character takes a shower, and in another scene where I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be showers, tropical rainfall, or something more darkly symbolic.

The outsider character who seems like the most reliable narrator, the one through whom we find out the truth, is Ben Gorodetsky’s embassy employee, who is distracted by cocaine and celebrities and who also seems somewhat enthralled by Lianna (Lianna Makuch), the leader of the missionary group.  His partner Angie (Angelique Panther), a translator and aid worker who’s been in the country or the region for ten years (so she should know better), has her own smaller version of the tragedy arising through badly-thought-out actions from good intentions.

At the end, the audience didn’t start clapping right away.  Maybe people were sort of stunned.  Then I heard people around me discussing whether the results of the investigation were fair and how much responsibility people should bear for their uninformed parts in other people’s crimes.  Which was probably another of the playwright’s intentions, so I’d say he succeeded.

The Missionary Position plays until February 16th.  You can get tickets at the Timms Centre box office or through Tix on the Square.

2 thoughts on “The Missionary Position is uncomfortable.

  1. Pingback: Sia – painful but not unbearable story of the aftermath of war | Ephemeral Pleasures

  2. Pingback: Edmonton Theatre 2013 – what I remember | Ephemeral Pleasures

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