MTYP's In This World offers a blunt look at teens, sex and consent
Hannah Moscovitch play tackles tough issues for young audiences but avoids easy answers
Teen sex, rape, racism and "slut shaming." The subject material isn't your typical fare for Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
But Hannah Moscovitch isn't your typical playwright, either. The 37-year-old is a genuine star on the Canadian theatre scene, with her latest victory being a $150,000 US literary prize.
So perhaps it's not surprising that In This World, her play for young audiences closing the season at MTYP (in a production from Montreal's Youtheatre), is atypically blunt for young people's theatre, provocative, and may set a new record for naughty words and discussions of sex acts on the MTYP stage.
The play opens with a literal bang, as high school students Neyssa (Bria McLaughlin) and Bijou (Hannah Whitmore) storm onstage in the midst of a fist fight at their elite private school.
The rest of the play sees the two of them waiting for their teachers to arrive to mete out justice or punishment. But the teachers never arrive — adults are, other than conceptually, absent from this play, leaving the teens to figure things out on their own, for better and for worse.
Michel Lefebvre's production is sharp and focused, as are the intense performances from McLaughlin and Whitmore. Véronique Bertrand's set pits the two at opposite ends of long, angled planks — it looks almost like a see-saw, and reminds us that these two young women are not on a level playing field.
But their verbal sparring takes a turn when the subject of non-consensual sex comes up, and the two teens have to decide how they'll respond to the situation.
No easy answers
Though written in 2009, the subject matter makes In This World hugely relevant right now, when so many of us — teens and adults alike — are wrestling with issues of sex and consent.
One of the few knocks against Moscovitch's play may be that it doesn't actually add a lot that hasn't been said before to that conversation. But that may be in part because it avoids easy answers — this play is tackling incredibly difficult questions, and Moscovitch doesn't pretend to have solutions, nor does she write characters who always make the best choices.
That grounded reality is the play's chief appeal. The characters talk like actual teenagers (and the language definitely makes this a show for the 13-and-older crowd). That drew some "oohs" and giggles from the high school audience I saw the show with.
But in the talkback session after the show, they also asked keen questions and made thoughtful observations about what they'd seen.
In This World suggests that perhaps doling out pat answers for the difficult situations teens face isn't the right approach.
But opening up honest conversations, however difficult, has tremendous value — and that may in itself be the best answer.
In This World runs at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until Apr. 29.