2020 Wildside Recap: ‘Don’t Read the Comments’

Special Festival Coverage

Following its sold-out run at the 2018 Montreal Fringe Festival, a one-night-performance at MainLine’s FRINGE: Encore Series in 2018, and a 2019 remount at the Segal Centre, Sermo Scomber Theatre’s publicly and critically acclaimed production of Don’t Read the Comments is now revived at the Centaur Theatre’s 23rd Wildside Festival from January 14th to 18th, 2020.

Once conceived to be democratizing forces in the media, online comment sections have since become the toxic centres of the internet as cesspools of vitriol for the opinionated. Users freely engage in and disengage from polarizing discussion without consequence, bypassing social norms under the cloak of anonymity, and the discord never recoils through proper resolution.

Scrolling away from the digital thread of commentary seems a more than sound refrain.

And yet, it’s precisely the human conversations among the disconnected opposites that most need to be had.

Delving into controversial subject matter of sexual encounters and consent with humour and gravitas, Sermo Scomber Theatre’s Don’t Read the Comments brings face-to-face caricatured polars of the post #metoo age for a colourful debate on the “grey areas” of harassment and assault. Formatted as a live taping of a TV talk show, drag queen host Wendy Winfrey (played by Dakota Jamal Wellman) moderates a varied guest panel of commentators on the topic, which include an impassioned fourth wave feminist (Cara Krisman), a self-proclaimed male feminist and social media influencer (Gabe Maharjan), and a centrist New York politician (Joy Ross-Jones). Their conflicting arguments are as loud, outrageous, and archetypal as their appearances, but – without giving too much away – alarmingly not as removed from realism as one would imagine.

Performers and creators of Don’t Read the Comments: Cara Krisman, Gabe Maharjan, Sarah Segal-Lazar, Dakota Jamal Wellman, and Joy Ross-Jones (Image courtesy of Sermo Scomber Theatre)

The darkly comical art of bouffon clowning is here used to great effect to safely push the boundaries on the sensitive issue of, namely, boundaries. (The performing ensemble is evenly exquisite in their physical work.) Deliberately grotesque and hypersexualized, the extravagant characters hold up an amplifying fun house mirror in satirical exposition of our own startling spectrum of perspectives when it comes to consent. Questioning the very existence of the “grey zone” of coercion, their altercation is as amusing in its tomfoolery as it is revolting.

What constitutes a “yes”? Where do we draw the line? What is perfectly obvious to one may be quite thoroughly ambiguous to the other.

Two thirds-of the way in, the clown commentary is muzzled as a fourth guest, “Pamela” (Sarah Segal-Lazar), takes to the stage to share her personal story. The tone shifts. She stands and speaks alone. The last spotlight is hers as fiction makes way for a familiar reality and the “studio audience” is asked to cast a final judging vote.

(On what, I again don’t wish to spoil.)

Wittily audacious, Don’t Read the Comments is a stirringly provocative yet poignant piece on the complexities of power, intimacy, and sexuality. The sharp text and the original framing of topical subject matter by playwright-director Sarah Segal-Lazar makes this production as relevant as they come – and as brazen as they get at the Wildside.

In its ultimate aim to further engage conversation on consent, a public talk back is scheduled after each show and a counsellor is available for private consultation on site.

Content warning: this show contains mature language and content. Please be advised that the show deals with the subject of sexual assault.

The 2020 Wildside Festival presents Sermo Scomber Theatre’s
Don’t Read the Comments
January 4-18, 2020
Centaur Theatre | 453 St Francois Xavier St.
$16 Adults | $13 Students/Seniors/Under 30s
514-288-3161 | www.centaurtheatre.com

For more 2020 Wildside Festival Recaps, visit: 

Camila Fitzgibbon

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