Review: “The History of Sexuality” a candid look at power dynamics through a queer lens

Talking Dog Productions revives hit 2017 show at Place des Arts at the 2018 Pride Festival

The cast of “The History of Sexuality” (Image from the 2017 MainLine production)

After having first premiered at the quaint MainLine Theatre in September of 2017 to public and critical acclaim, Montreal based theatre company Talking Dog Productions‘ inaugural piece returns for an encore presentation at Place des Arts as part of the 2018 Fierté Montréal Pride programming.

With queerness still often being portrayed on stage as sensationalized spectacles on exhibit for sheer onlooker entertainment, the rare committed effort at a humanized, non-stereotypical representation strikes all at once as exquisitely refreshing.

Anchored in the true stories of queer Montrealers and the influential works of philosopher Michel Foucault, “The History of Sexuality” brings academic critical theory into the real world in an intriguing production that is as sharp as it is sensitive and as sexy as it is smart. Inspired by the late French historian’s touchstone book of the same name, the modern piece examines themes of identity, sex, and power with a bracing sincerity, laying bare lived experiences of real people grappling not only with non-normative expressions of sexuality and gender, but with the broader challenges of aging, race, disability, unemployment, oppression, harassment, and mental health.

Oliver Price as Martin and Trevor Barrette as Craig explore a polyamorous dom-sub relationship in “The History of Sexuality” (Image from the 2017 MainLine production)

Conceived, written, directed, and produced by Talking Dog Productions founder and 2018 IPC International Puppy Dane Stewart, “The History of Sexuality” brings audiences to the classroom (and the bedroom) as five students enrolled in a grad seminar study the philosophy of Foucault, whose post-structuralist theories sought to address the relationship between power and knowledge and their use as mechanisms of social control. As the young scholars’ discussions of his controversial ideas begin to heat and boil over into their personal lives, their own complex struggles are progressively exposed.

Integrating audio recordings and using a method of “fictionalized verbatim theatre” to transcribe dialogue from interviews directly into the script, Stewart’s rigorous research and unique creative process has allowed for a layered narrative and an intimate, honest look at the lives of queer Montrealers. The writing methodology takes seriously the ethics of representation, and it comes through in the agility, tactfulness, effectiveness, and empathy of the piece in demystifying the likes of kink, BDSM, polyamory, human pup play, and sex work. The prime acting from the ensemble (Kayleigh Choiniere, Trevor Barrette, Darragh Mondoux, Melissa Toussaint, David Hudon, Jazmin Illidge, Renée Hodgins, Oliver Price, and Katharine King) proceeds to honour the core commitment to authentic storytelling.

In response to the rise of the #metoo movement, the refurbished production features a new scene based on an interview with a sexual assault survivor. The victim’s account is given form by Katharine King (pictured), whose monologue is a high point of the narrative.

The 2-act “The History of Sexuality” is verbose and analytical, certainly (and more intellectual discourse than actual history lesson) – but still largely digestible in steering clear of “coming out” clichés and grounding itself on portrayals of factual, everyday living. The mosaic of different character relationships and dynamics at play are widely compelling; however, in an inclusive effort to give voice to a myriad of personages, the text does tend to spread itself too thinly, expanding no single storyline to great length or depth. Theme-driven as opposed to plot-driven, the piece presents itself as a collage of snapshot statements and testimonials.

Bringing their marginalized stories to the fore, however, “The History of Sexuality” is a love letter to Montréal’s LGBTQ+ community. A fascinating examination of power structures within the context of queer sexual and romantic relationships, the play is a highlight among the handful of theatrical offerings at the Pride festival this year. It runs for four performances only through Sunday, August 12th at Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle.

The 2018 Fierté Montréal Pride presents Talking Dog Productions’


August 9th, 10th, 11th, & 12th, 2018 at 8pm at Place des Arts – Cinquième Salle
Admission: $25 (General) | $20 (Students)

Content Advisory: This play includes verbal descriptions of sexual assault. It also includes onstage representations of violent sexual acts within a consensual BDSM framework.

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