Right-wing men often criticize feminists for existing inside an ideological bubble – for not listening to the other side of the story. “Culver“ is a dramatic evisceration of this critique. Far from shying away from the male perspective, writer-director Julia Weisser gives ample space to the abysmal opinions of “men’s rights activists,” while effectively demonstrating just why those opinions are so harmful. It’s a harrowing piece of work and necessary viewing for every man who’s ever thought to himself that feminists take things a little too far.
Set in fall 2017 as the Weinstein allegations are breaking, the play chronicles the disintegrating friendship of co-workers Kelly (Vanessa Lazare) and Brad (Shaun Orbin), who are driven apart by their opposing reactions to the Me Too movement. The two frequently meet on their lunch breaks at work to share fries and swap small talk – a pleasant routine, until one day Brad asks if Kelly has been following the Weinstein news. In the days and weeks that come, Brad gets more and more defensive of men like Weinstein and Kelly questions whether he’s hiding something from his own past.
Weisser’s writing is clever and empathetic, if occasionally a bit stilted. Some of the script’s more symbolic digressions don’t quite resonate – Brad has a heavy-handed dream featuring the dead bodies of his former selves – and the dialogue can feel like it was directly copied from comments sections. But then again, that’s part of the point. Though at first Kelly and Brad seem like one-note characters standing in for their respective identities, their backstories are eventually fleshed out to reveal a complex and disturbing dynamic between the two, urgently conveyed by Lazare and Orbin. Weisser expertly builds the tension between them to a climax that is both shocking and inevitable, and left me reeling in my seat.
The set and lighting are spare enough to let the actors do their thing while adding emphasis when needed – when Brad really begins to descend into “red pill” rhetoric, a blaring red light floods the stage. The costuming seems slightly on the nose when Brad and Kelly begin to dress in red and blue, respectively, but then for their final outfits the colours are interestingly swapped. It’s a nice choice that reinforces the messy nuance of their relationship: even as Brad expresses appalling views and becomes more aggressive towards Kelly, she still cares about him, whether or not she wants to.
In this way, Culver is an excellent exploration of the ways that the personal and political are inextricably intertwined. What begins as a conversation about the news becomes a painful dissection of a toxic friendship and a toxic man. Weisser allows Brad to be a real person without ever siding with him or letting him off the hook. The play also features one of the best elucidations I’ve seen of the difference between opinions and beliefs, when Kelly yells at Brad that his so-called “opinions” enable real violence.
Culver may feel hauntingly familiar to any woman with male friends – I definitely had some dispiriting conversations with men I trusted when the Me Too movement first unfolded. It’s a tough watch for this reason, triggering in all the ways you’d expect. But it’s also validating, like when a friend hears your fears and tells you you’re not crazy. Weisser’s writing nails the impossible position of being friends with a Brad, of being the person who men like him want to confide in, and the guilt and shame of asking yourself: why me? This is a play about friendship, but more importantly, it’s about the trauma women go through just for having men in their lives, just for being willing to listen.
“WHO IT’S FOR”
Anyone seeking a high-intensity political drama, or an articulate examination of toxic men. Make sure you have the strength for it, though – as the program notes: “This play deals with difficult subject matter. Please take care of yourselves, and of each other.”
Humanly Possible Productions presents “Culver”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 7 – 16, 2019
Venue: 03 – Le P’tit Impro
3713 Saint-Laurent #202, Montreal, H2X 2V7
Admission: $8 – 10 | Ages 16+
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from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!
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