Don't Look [a play about incest] (Performance Review)

Note: This is yet another article for my campus newspaper. I was sent to a review a performance by a UofT alumni and interview them afterward. I don't anticipate anyone to find their way to Toronto to watch this performance, or even for anyone to care for that matter. But it's still a review, dammit!

Don't Look

It could be argued that in today's ever progressive society, all manner of taboos are being shattered as if there is a high score to be achieved. It all started with those damn hippies a generation ago, and now prime-time animated irreverence is attempting to break down walls on an almost weekly basis. While socially accepting what was once a forbidden subject might seem like a step in the right direction, you have to keep in mind that a veritable well of comedic material is dried up every time the masses decide that bizarre fetish #4082 is appropriate. What's the next taboo on the chopping block? Incest (or in this case, 'Cousin Couples').

Remember that scene in the last episode of the second season of Arrested Development where George Michael and his cousin passionately kiss? Well of course you don't because no one watched the show and it ended up being cancelled. But for the few of you who do know what I'm talking about, just imagine that scene supremely exaggerated and about an hour longer, and you have a good idea of the "Don't Look" experience.

"Don't Look" is a refreshing incest comedy/drama conceived in part by UofT alumni Rebecca Applebaum, who also stars in the play as Ariella, a young woman with a lifelong and socially crippling crush on her cousin.

At the funeral of their late Aunt some ten years ago, adolescent cousins Daniel and Ariella decide to act on their burgeoning feelings for each other in the basement of the reception. Mistaking the sound of footsteps for their racing hearts, the two cousins are oblivious to the impending humiliation associated with knowing all too late that someone is about to walk in on you. Severely traumatized after that fateful night, the two stayed away from each other and attempted to move on with their lives while trying to come to grips with what they see as "perversions."

There are only two actors in the play, both playing their main role as well as occasionally donning an extra bit of clothing (such as a pair of glasses or a jacket) to portray a secondary character. In the meat of the play, the design is such that one cousin will always be on stage while the other plays their current romantic interest. This arrangement is easily reversed to focus on the other half of the story, which is where the parallel narrative aspect comes into effect. This element works very well and is executed seamlessly. Not only that, it creates a tight pace and makes boredom an impossibility.

Speaking with Rebecca after the performance, she admitted that her theatre experience was rather limited while at University College. She was a member of the varsity swim team, and only pursued drama on the side, occasionally attending the odd workshop and eventually working with the drama society. There wasn't much outside of that, although she does wish she had done more.

Her feelings towards the subject matter? "It's all exaggerated," she said. "None of this is based on our experiences, and it's really interchangeable with any other taboo." Indeed it's not that difficult to imagine a different taboo or shameful experience standing in for a moment of incest. Since a debilitating humiliation is what ties the narrative together, to substitute kissing your cousin with being addicted to geriatric porn or picking a terribly inconvenient moment to pass wind does no real harm to the play itself.

"Don't Look" succeeds largely on what a harmless spectacle the whole affair is. In fact it's far more charming and benign than it could ever be perceived as vulgar or gratuitous. The enthusiasm of the actors and the sincerity of the script really engages the audience, and these considerations alone should alleviate the discomfort one might have from seeing a close relative in a romantic or sexual light. The occasional plot convenient incongruity is a minor storm to weather for some of the sharpest writing around.

"Don't Look" is at the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) on Friday January 16th at 9:30PM, Saturday January 17th at 5:30PM, and Sunday January 18th at 7:30PM. A great little show that's definitely worth checking out.

An interesting and enjoyable read, as always.

Good review. I would like to say I've seen every episode of Arrested Development. I love that show.


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