Review by Anja Bless
In the age of ‘Me Too’, what can the benefit of hindsight bring to problematic relationships? Is consent enough when the power dynamic is skewed, who’s side of the story should be told, how, and by whom? These are some of the questions Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Canadian playwright, Hannah Moscovitch explores.
Currently showing at Belvoir St Theatre, Moscovitch’s play follows Jon (Dan Spielman), an award-winning writer on the cusp of the failure of his third marriage. Among the students of his undergraduate course on creative writing, Jon finds Annie (Izabella Yena) and the chance of rediscovering his zest for life. Annie is young and admiring, a fan of Jon’s writing and smart and tenacious to boot. She is seemingly too tempting for the lost and longing Jon.
Whip-smart at 80-minutes in total, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is a deftly written two-hander, giving insight into the mind of a well-respected and esteemed man who can’t seem to resist his desires. Moscovitch also grapples with the trope of the young love interest, keeping Annie both shallow in terms of character depth, whilst also giving her the opportunity to speak to her own conflicting emotions as she matures and moves through the relationship. This show leaves everyone in the audience talking. We’ve all been there or seen it, the affair that shouldn’t happen but does, and the aftermath it leaves in its wake. Rather than reaching for answers, Moscovitch leaves the problem sitting in its complexities and unreconciled emotions.
Spielman and Yena bring just the right amount of chemistry to the stage for the subject matter, raising the sexual tension when needed (assisted by intimacy coordinator, Michala Banas), and also sitting just long enough in the ‘icky’ parts. The direction by Petra Kalive helps both actors make good use of the space (designed by Marg Horwell), seamlessly transitioning in time and place when needed, and seeming at home with their surroundings for the more intimate scenes.
Yena is almost too convincing as the 19-year old Annie, her immaturity and naivety almost grating at times, but she also matures Annie well as time goes on, giving her depth not necessarily provided in the script and capturing her moments of confusion and defiance. Spielman is also convincing as the somewhat bumbling writer who seems to accidentally walk into an affair with a student. However, his Jon was perhaps a little too endearing, the crassness and lust of his character not entirely convincing alongside his haplessness.
While the tale of a lauded writer trapped in the throes of relationship mishaps and a prodigy student who proves irresistible may have all the markings of a cliché ridden story, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is anything but predictable. Moscovitch tells the story we all know well, but also as we may not have heard it before. While arguably too much of the ‘Me Too’ discourse is dominated by middle and upper class stories of sexual harassment and assault, the conversations this show will start amongst its audience members are still undoubtedly worthwhile. Moscovitch leaves the question hanging in regard to right and wrong, whose story should be told and why, how we end up in these sticky situations, and what should be done about it.