Pictured: Guy Massey and Mary Cross | Photo by Jonathan L. Green.
By Tonika Todorova
SOMETHING CLEAN, the joined effort by Sideshow and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, is a production with emotionally messy material to tackle, but this superb ensemble handles the task with extreme tenderness, intensity and attention.
Playwright Selina Fillinger has found a strong advocate in director Lauren Shouse for her words. The story echoes the familiar high profile case of Brock Turner, a college athlete whose over-consumption of alcohol is stated as the excuse for an assault of a campus woman behind a dumpster. The interesting perspective here comes from the lens of the rapist’s mother (a poignant and daring portrayal by Rivendell ensemble member Mary Cross) while she attempts to atone for her son’s sins by volunteering at an abuse shelter, consequently forming a friendship with co-worker and survivor Joey (a brilliantly funny and authentically moving performance by Patrick Agada), whilst losing intimacy and faith in her marriage to Doug (an honest delivery swiftly wavering between cluelessness and despair by Guy Massey).
The importance of this work raises a bigger question than that of our individual responsibility to how we behave. While it’s easy for us to throw around the guilty verdict, pitch it in someone else’s backyard (because, after all, you would never raise a monster in your family) the character of Charlotte all too well portrays how this can occur to the best of mothers, rearing the best of children. When confronting her husband about what could have gone wrong in their parenting and sex education (or the lack thereof), the question that rings loudest is “When was I suppose to tell him?”
Not about sex. About consent. In a society that convinces young boys that the world is theirs for the taking, to “get up and be a man” in the face of suffering, to flaunt and spray their masculinity as a form of desirability, we largely create punishments for sexual abuse, but hardly solutions. Our girls grow up learning about sex and relationships through Disney films and our boys educate themselves watching porn. The lack of knowledge creates dissonance and unhealthy relationships with sex, including guilt, shame, and nonconsensual harm. Our girls grow up expecting Prince Charming and our boys think girls should act like adult film stars. This gets exponentially harder for our LGBT youth and children dealing with gender identity and lack of support within their familiar units. An issue that the character of Joey delivers with heart-wrenching results. Sexual assault goes unreported more often in cases that aren’t heterosexual, or white, or affluent. We fail the victims and we fail prevention in potential perpetrators. The conversations have to start at home. We can drop the puritan act, tell our children all about sex, and stick to the truth — the ugly parts as well as the good. Start with the fact that sex isn’t a purely procreational act, but that most folks engage in sex for pleasure. Consent will be easier to discuss that way. The “when are we supposed to tell them?” becomes as easy as soon as they start to get curious.
On my way, home, my eight-year-old son who often accompanies me to my review assignments and had patiently sat through the 80-minute adult content emotional production asked me what rape was. So I told him.