Incels, Money Scams, and Girls Like That at Tarragon Theatre

Nappoholics Anonymous is a weekly column featuring twelve random thoughts by actor Tony Nappo. Some are funny, some are poignant, some bother him, and some make him weep from sadness while others make him weep for joy. Here are his thoughts: unfiltered, uncensored, and only occasionally unsafe for work.

1. If you are involuntarily celibate and your solution is to murder random strangers, just do the world a favour and shoot yourself in the head instead. In terms of solving your celibacy issues, the results will be exactly the same.

2. This Toronto artist, Stephen Chmilar (@stevechmilar), used to be Kate’s next door neighbour. I love the sense of movement and story in this pieces. His use of darkness and light sometimes reminds me of Pieter Bruegel’s epic canvases. But it is his attention to and execution of detail that most excites me about what he does. 

3.

4. That last period of the Boston-Toronto series looked like a father-son peewee game where the dads were all ex–pro hockey players who resented having to be there and could not care less about their sons’ future self-esteem.

5. Retweet of the Week

6. That’s like me asking if I look like a guy who needs a veal sandwich. I may not NEED one but, just by looking at me, you can tell it’s only a matter of time until I’m having one.

7. Top 5 Toronto Theatre-Actor Pop Songs

5- Akin Breaky Heart

4- I Will Always Love Yoon

3- Mac the Fyfe

2- Dan Lett the Sun Go Down on Me

1- Here’s to You Karen Robinson

8. Cliff Saunders as William Hurt in The Outsiders.

9. Can’t wait to see her next move.

10. Flyer of the Week

 

11. I’m not opposed to the Dora gender-neutral category changes. But I do have a small criticism. Unless I have it wrong, fewer awards will be given out and fewer people will be nominated.

It’s not like winning the award really means anything, anyway. Any acting award, I mean—not just the Doras. I have just always seen it as an evening to celebrate our community. Now there will be fewer nominees and winners to celebrate. Just a thought.

12. SPOILER ALERT: If you are in Girls Like That and don’t read reviews, don’t read this.

The last thing I wanted to do on Saturday was spend an hour and a half with seven entitled private school teenage girls, but I thought Girls Like That, playing at the Tarragon, would be a good show for my thirteen-year-old daughter. What I saw was an incredible exploration of the female teen herd mentality and how cruel women can be to each other, as well as an examination of some of the many contributing factors that shape this behaviour. It is a very nuanced, intelligently written piece, wonderfully acted by all of the young cast and staged clearly and dynamically by director Esther Jun.

For the Globe to give it a half-star review is not only bullshit but completely irresponsible journalism. I’ve been doing and watching theatre for about twenty-five years in Toronto and I will confidently say that, by general standards, this is a four-star show at best and a three-star show at worst. I’d give it a four-star rating, personally—and I fucking hate direct address theatre which is probably 80 percent of this show. The Guardian’s review of the show (different production, obviously) was four stars and focused mostly on the script itself, as the Globe review did. What could possibly account for the Globe’s hack job, you ask? It seems the reviewer took issue with the fact that the play was written by a man.

Every single other person involved in the production is female. The director, entire cast, assistant director, stage manager, fight director, dialect coach, lighting, set and costume designers, choreographer, production manager, set and props painter. I saw it with my teenage daughter, presumably the target demographic for this show, who found it to ring absolutely true to life. The thing I am concerned with isn’t the reviewer’s opinion, because who gives a partial fuck what any reviewer thinks about any one given show—it’s just one opinion, which they are all absolutely entitled to—but I fear the ramifications may go beyond the review itself, especially in the present sexual political climate. If the message sent, whether intended or not, is that men are not allowed to write about women anymore without being entirely dismissed and derided no matter how true the material rings, the risk is that they may just stop writing for them altogether. Will that result in more female playwrights being produced? It’s possible but highly unlikely. What is more likely is that there will just be fewer plays and parts written for women by male playwrights, which is the direct opposite of a big part of what we have all been fighting and continue to fight for.

Written By

Tony is Italian, he’s from Scarborough, he’s an actor, he’s a father, he’s a really good house painter, and he doesn’t believe that most things matter, ultimately, at all.


22 Responses to “Incels, Money Scams, and Girls Like That at Tarragon Theatre”

  1. Couldn’t agree more… I saw “Girls Like That” with a fellow actor, who happens to be a women, and we both thought it was amazing. Brilliant work by very talented performers, put together by a group of accomplished artists. Can’t wait to see more work from all of them.

    • I haven’t seen “Girls Like That”, and unfortunately won’t because I’m still in Saskatchewan, but I’ve been reading with interest because there are some uber talented women I know involved. Those women, shout out to Esther and Lucy, and the almost entirely female team they are working with, seem pretty excited to be showing up at work on this piece, if fb posts are any indication. If your primary objection to the work is that it was written by a man, you are not only rejecting the idea that a man can write women with integrity, you are rejecting the idea that women can recognize themselves in a piece of writing and get excited about staging it.

  2. If you read my review, you’ll see that my objection is to the text itself–the fact that six young women are depicted as shallow, cruel and unintelligent. I love seeing complex, difficult, unlikeable women on stage–written by everyone & anyone–but these are hateful stereotypes of teenage girls. What do we gain by promoting this kind of caricature? Of course, I’d be equally upset if it had been written by a woman; it would just frame the critique a bit differently. It’s worth noting that many other critics have raised similar concerns about the cynicism in this play. For my part, I can’t see past cynical and one-noted depictions of women anymore, hence the half-star. And as for the 4 stars in The Guardian: Lyn Gardner makes it pretty clear that she thinks the current generation of teenage girls need a stern telling off! I think that’s brutally unfair. Esther and her team have every prerogative to recognize themselves in these characters, and I have every right to say these characters look nothing like the young women I respect and know and that giving them airtime on stage, and suggesting that they represent a cross-section of “girls these days,” does us all a disservice.

    • To Martha: is your job as a theatre critic to review the whole production, or just the script? If Lepage does this show with his usual high-level of production panache, is that still a half-star review?

      Serious question. Would love to know your thoughts.

      • Art is political. If someone sings an offensive song (be it sexist, racist etc), you don’t praise the melody–and I would challenge a critic who did. For me, it would be unethical to claim that the play promoted the worst stereotypes about teenage girls and then compliment the production values. It’s a matter of taking art and theatre and seriously–of taking depictions of young women seriously–and asking why the Tarragon chose this play. What do we gain by such a cynical, condescending portrait of this generation of young women?

        • It’s not a cynical condescending portrait of this generation of women at all – as most of the written reactions to your review that I have seen have conveyed. I take art and theatre very seriously or I wouldn’t have challenged you on this. I would have written another shitty Doug Ford joke or shit on the Leafs again. If you can’t separate the quality of a theatrical production from your own personal feelings towards a specific script, why are you even reviewing live theatre? You could have essentially given the exact same review without attending the show itself at all.

        • But how was the production? This is the major problem with theatre critics in Toronto. One noted reviews that focus on their dislike for the writing. Were there good performances? Set or lighting design? Or did you stop at writing? Because if you did I would say thats BS journalism. The fact you just gave it half is a slap to the whole production team, which, as far as I can tell, did a great job. And I’ve read your responses and they are complete BS. Ever listened to a catchy tune that you loved and then found out it used a slur? Or the writer had a different political view on something you find controversial? Do you bring the songs rating down because of that? I could pull something that would be considered socially irresponsible in so many plays. People depicted in ways that I don’t fully agree with. But my virtue has limits because otherwise I, like you are now, would be a hypocrite.

  3. I read your review. It’s bullshit. How could you possibly give that show a half star. To merit a half star, someone would almost have to shit on me during a show. First off, the text is not the only thing to review. Basically, you are saying you wrote your review before you saw the show. Secondly, these girls don’t represent any cross section of anyone. You are confusing the concepts of a cross section with one of diversity. These women all were in the same class in the same private school in England. Nothing could be less of a cross section unless they were related, as well. And, finally, have you met a group of teenage girls anywhere ever? Because the text is pretty accurate in depecting their language and behaviour and yes, they can be pretty fucking vapid and horrid AS GROUPS but individually, as shown in the play, those same groups can be made up of some pretty amazing individual minds and personalities. Boys are no better- but that’s a different play.

  4. Do you want to learn to play a recorder? Award winningly funny, universally understood. I love this column… Thanks Big Tony

  5. ANd Tony… you are totally fucking right about Girls Like That, and The Globe’s Martha Schabas’s unfair, unprepared review. She reviewed a play she thought she wanted to see, rather a script she thought she wanted to see performed, not the actual performance or the performers… sounds like a sure case of contempt prior to proper investigation. Carry on amigo.

  6. Fair. As I said, I’ve not seen the production, or read the play. The discussion I keep seeing is around the gender of the playwright, and I’m just not sure that’s the most helpful starting point.

  7. Martha, I have read your review and think you do a great disservice, not only to the play, but to all the women who poured their artistry into it. Your inability to see these girls as anything other than “shallow, cruel, and unintelligent” I think speaks more to your inability to see beneath the surface of these complex teens than it does about the writing. To describe these characters as unintelligent seems quite baffling to me as the ways in which they observe the world, how they often relate to it in poetic metaphor, how they attempt to unpack (often unsuccessfully) their internal feelings and impulses, the ways in which they manipulate one another, especially Scarlett, all display to me highly intelligent young women who are navigating difficult teenage feelings. Is some of what they do cruel? Absolutely. But there is great depth beneath that, explored quite beautifully, I thought, when the girls have private moments in their bedrooms, pondering their actions, questioning what is happening.

    These “characters” in which you take such offence against, were in many ways created by the all-female cast and director. Evan’s play notes that the show can be performed with anywhere from 5 – 19 actresses. The text itself has no character delineations, no one is assigned any “lines”. Instead, it’s one long stream-of-consciousness dialogue that a director and cast have free reign to mould and shape the world in which will be presented. These 7 specific characters you saw on stage are not drafted that way in the script, but were instead created over the rehearsal process. Yes, the text is still the text, but choosing who says what and when, matters a great deal, I’d say.

    I, personally, was deeply effected by the production and found it incredibly relatable. I didn’t go to a private high school in the UK, but quite the opposite, a rural high school in Saskatoon. Yet nonetheless I recognised my teenage self in many moments of the play. And even more staggering was realizing how much of this behaviour I watched from the outside looking in as queer teen in the closet, desperately trying to fit in with these hetero-normative teenage dynamics.

    To me, your review was not a review of the production but a review of the text and your inability to see past a couple key factors. Fair enough. But to give the show half a star does a grave disservice and is a slap in the face to the incredible actresses and creative team who do some truly remarkable work within that 1 hour and 45 minutes. Your glib write-off of the dance sequences shows your dance background bias and inability to see what those moments were supposed to signify. If you want to review the script, by all means do so, grab a copy, read it, and review the script. Otherwise, please take time to properly review a full production, rather than one facet of it.

  8. I have my issues with the script (halfway through I was like – GOD why are they hammering this home, it feels like a TYA play — and just now I discovered it is intended to be a TYA play, silly me). But the characters are not just a wall of vapidity – I saw the super smart girl, keeping her head down and getting through, the young innocent one who has moments of such clarity that she can’t speak aloud, the kind and dorky one who isn’t quite comfortable in her growing body, the earthy one observing power play in nature and in life and unable to do anything about it, the powerful one testing how to wield it. They could’ve been more sharply delineated, but they were there – which certainly drove home a lesson I’d already learnt in middle school – teenage girls on their own are a different thing than teenage girls in a group. I have a lot of respect for Martha’s writing, but that wasn’t a review – it didn’t engage with what the show was attempting.

  9. In my experience, whenever a critic gives a show a zero or a half star, that usually says more about the critic than it does about the show. A button has been pushed somewhere. I suspect this is the case with Martha, and an axe got ground, and then swung. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of an entire creative team. I haven’t seen the show, but have heard a lot about it – mostly positive – including how authentic it is feeling to teenage or early 20-something viewers. As Tony so beautifully puts it – for a show to actually merit a real half star, someone would have to shit ON the audience. Literally. But I hope the team can take such an extreme response as evidence that they have made something with the power to really really upset a critic. It generally means you are doing something right. I also hope Kelly (you reading this, Kelly?) writes about this thread Tony has started (and to which Martha has bravely replied) in his blog (as he did when a Volcano show – Appetite – got a zero in a beautifully savage review that – thanks to the public conversation around it – packed out the houses).

  10. Ross – You think I still have a blog?

    Interesting to learn that Appetite – which got one star, Ross, not zero! – packed out the houses back in 2009. Similarly, I’m sure Martha’s half a star review of Girls Like That is selling more tickets than a timid two-and-a-half star review that was “this play is intense problematic, but the all-female creative team and cast do a good job” would have. I know I’m going to catch up on the show.

    But we’re not here to sell tickets, obviously, but start discussions, and: Mission Accomplished, Martha. Other critics had similar problems with the play’s depiction of teenage girls (see Slotkin, Maga, Hoile), but through an artful use of a star rating, now we’re talking.

    Link below to the blog Ross is talking about, which quotes Daniel MacIvor’s blog (blog!) at the time: “[T]here is something positive in this kind of over-the-top negative reaction. Having lived and worked in cities that lack any kind of real critical eye in the press (“Good work all round!”) it becomes a bit of a you-win-you-lose situation. When all the reviews are good reviews they don’t mean anything any more”

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/nestruck-on-theatre/three-short-things-about-daniel-macivor/article4395835/

  11. Uninvited coprophilia still merits a star? Seems high to me.

    I dislike star ratings for art. Very much. I’m training the new dog to dislike star ratings. But the zero- or half-star review as audience driver seems like a new, attractive goal.

  12. Kelly, your timid 2.5 star review, with similiar moralizing did wonders for selling out Punk Rock…. or maybe it was the audience engagement that did that. Selling tickets is not your concern: page clicks, and relevance are. Critics can keep having their “is this really what we should be showing” discussion, and audiences will keep telling us they don’t want to be lectured at.

  13. I agree with you, Michael. A star rating quantifies a thing that is subjective and ever-changing. The star rating is antithetical to the intention to start a conversation. I personally have never been in a theatre where I haven’t taken something constructive away. I have never understood why, with theatre specifically, we reduce the experience to “like” or “dislike”.

  14. Out of town critic chiming in. Saw the show a couple days ago and I have no desire to comment on any of my hometown colleague’s assessment of the show. As I always say, remember folks, a review isn’t a verdict, its the start of a conversation. So while I have many issues with the narrow scope of the script (not the production, which I thought was superb) I must say that I was thrilled that this show sparked a rousing discussion amongst my group. All of us high school friends from way back. We talked about how we were once complicit in this kind of behavior. How we were actually more complex than the crappy stuff we did or were subject to back in the day. How we try to arm our children/young people in our lives with the tools to rise above this kind of nonsense.This show got us talking….and isn’t that what theatre is supposed to do?
    Was the show everything I wanted it to be? Hell, no.
    Did I find merit in it regardless? Yes.
    Do I believe that you should all go and see if for yourself and decide? As always, yes.
    So don’t hate on Martha …or show derision for those that loved the show. Each had their points from a personal point of view. Understand where they come from. Make up your own mind.

  15. Martha, I don’t know you but (for what it’s worth) kudos to you for standing your ground and responding thoughtfully and responsibly, despite some less-than-tactful replies… I may not agree with you, but I admire your class.

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