Sexual assault stories matter – the stories we tell and the stories we don’t.
When a woman is sexually assaulted, she walks down the street looking over her shoulder and wondering. Will the attacker return for another beating?
Over the past two decades, women have spoken loudly about the extent of sexual abuse and much is known about what female victims endure. But what about male aggressors? What do we know of the thoughts and emotions they convey?
Workshop West Playwrights’ Theater has partnered with Theater Yes to produce Michelle Robb’s introspective take on relationships re-examined through sexual misconduct. The world premiere of Tell us what happened May 11-22 at the Gateway Theater.
“This piece does not pose easy answers. He does not take sides. It does not provide solutions. It’s tempting as a writer to wrap a room in a pretty bow. But this play throws the characters out into the open with far more questions than answers. As a community, we need to move in a direction where women can disclose sexual trauma. It’s a safe space to ask questions and explore,” Robb said.
A former University of Alberta BFA theater student, she received one of two Novitiate Prizes in the 2020 Alberta Playwriting Competition as a playwright who has not still mounted from professional production. Tell us what happened was originally slated to debut in 2020 when the pandemic shuttered cinemas around the world.
The timely play, directed by Heather Inglis, is a fast-paced drama that concocts a modern brew about sexual assault, internet addiction, and how information posted online stays there forever. In a surprising way, this shows how we can know someone while remaining strangers.
The 90-minute one-act play kicks off as Charlie and his housemates lead Tell Us What Happened, a secretive online girl group with 400 members. Charlie started the band years earlier out of his own trauma.
Tensions escalate when Leah, 17, a university student, posts that she was sexually assaulted after a party by a man several years her senior. Subsequently, others post having been sexually assaulted by the same man. When he is identified as Josh, Charlie’s best friend, everyone’s world fractures.
“Parts of me are in all the characters and the relationships. At the time I wrote the play, I had a mild internet addiction. I find it intriguing, especially for the female characters, to see how they define their worth and their relationships through the internet. I’m also perpetually intrigued by how women talk to each other online — how sweet and supportive or downright scary they can be,” Robb said.
Treading the troubled waters of drama is a cast of five: four women and one man.
“My four wives are wild. They eat things, throw things, chop things, come home drunk, and go on emotional tirades. But they are roommates and close friends. They have a bond that can be frantic, but they know they’ll still be there at the end of the day.
Each woman brings a different essence to the room. Charlie (Connie Ings) is a leader – cool, smart, logical and caring. Zoe (Michelle Diaz) is rather loud, passionate, intelligent and manipulative. Piper (Gabby Bernard) the artist is frenetic, frenetic and generally a mess. Leah (Jameela McNeil), the youngest, is eager to fit in. She is intuitive and behaves with dignity.
Robb describes Josh (Matt Dejanovic), the serial abuser, as “super charismatic, smart and encouraging. He has deep emotional intuition. He has an abysmal track record, but he’s funny, charismatic and wants to help people.”
Dejanovic, who grew up in St. Albert and graduated from Bellerose Composite High in 2016 and now lives in Vancouver, was asked to audition for the role in December 2021.
“Heather sent me the script and I started reading it. Usually I take breaks, but I read all 90 pages. When I finished it, my heart was racing,” Dejanovic said. .
As the antagonist, the actor landed a golden role about a man preying on inner demons unleashed by the patriarchy.
“His ego is shattered. Many men have accepted it, especially since it was catalyzed by the Me Too movement.
Josh has many redeeming characteristics, but his actions outside the home are abhorrent to victims. Dejanovic was asked how, as an actor, he deals with this.
“It’s my job. I like a challenge. You learn something from every part you do,” Dejanovic said. “By committing a sexual assault, Josh can never take back what he did. Men don’t want to think of themselves as rapists Most criminals want someone you love a best friend a lover As a system men don’t hold themselves accountable and have conversations If I can represent it , I hope he can reflect on the men in the audience.
Dejanovic adds Tell us what happened is the type of production he always wanted to see, a live show seen with actors standing a few feet away to unleash its full power.
“The game is really raw. It’s not an easy piece and it shows an accurate representation of how things are going. There’s something about all that human energy in a room that can’t be replicated online.
The Gateway Theater in Workshop West is located at 8925 Gateway Blvd. Tickets start at $20 at www.workshopwest.org.
To complement the production, Workshop West is hosting three Talkback sessions: May 14 is a Talkback on justice/restorative justice; May 15 is a Talkback on the Tragedy; and May 19 is a Talkback on Sexual Assault.