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HomeCultureTheatreSexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes
Writer: Hannah Moscovitch
Director: Petra Kalive
Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir
June 2 – July 10, 2022

You may hesitate to leave your warm home on a very cold evening to go to the theatre but you will be well rewarded if the production is Belvoir Street’s Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s engaging script charting one young woman’s reversal of the embedded gender power imbalance underlying our everyday transactions is superbly performed and stylishly staged.

Marg Horwell’s set and costumes work with the script to enhance its meaning visually. The almost bunker-like set can at one time reflect the fortress of the male’s impenetrable ego or at others become the institutional architecture that underpins the institutional gendered authority. With a simple change the set becomes the front lawn of a suburban house in need of a motor mower suggesting the unexceptional ordinariness – the unconscious and daily assumption of gender inequity.

When we first meet the casually tousled Jon (a sublime Daniel Spielman), “rock professor, popular lecturer and successful novelist”, we know him. The boyish charm of the almost 40-year-old – the crumpled jacket, the untucked linen shirt, the sneakers – is disarming, as his true confessions are intended to be. His third wife has left him, he is experiencing writer’s block and he feels “restless”, and his restless eye has been attracted by the red coat and an apparently “sexual pencil-in-the-mouth” of 19-year-old student, Annie (a lovely Izabella Yena).

Annie happens to be his neighbour and awkwardly approaches Jon, a man who represents a world to which she would like to have entry. She writes, of course, but is reticent about it. Jon’s soliloquising shows the extent to which Jon’s gendered, privileged view of the world is reality for him and after indulging in rationalisations cannot resist youth and admiration in the one attractive and – yes, flirtatious, and why not – package. An out-of-depth Annie accepts sex – possibly “love” – as the price of mentorship.

However, a meeting with his wife prior to his affair with Annie, has created a problem. He discards Annie who is about to sit for an examination but then he must unburden himself to square his conscience as he chooses the option which now suits him best. Apart from bravado, we don’t know how Annie deals with Jon’s dismissal, but then we don’t know much about Annie (and neither does Jon) other than is beautifully conveyed through her posture, her silences and a single moment of rebellion. We meet her again twice and each time her costume and manner of approach reveal her progress. At her second interview, she is wearing the pants, and unapologetically takes Jon down in speaking (performatively) truth to power.

We might like to think that abuse stemming from the assumption of gender-based privilege is of the past but unless you are a privileged person yourself, it is not. Despite the “me-toos” the change is cosmetic. The reality for many young and older women is that unconscious assumptions still prevail.

theatre@ssh.com.au

 

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