I went to see Infinitheatre’s Unseamly the afternoon after I saw the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. This is not particularly relevant, except to illustrate how bad a day it was for my inner feminist.
Oren Safdie’s Unseamly (dir. by Sarah Carlsen and Guy Sprung) exposes the sexual harassment that goes on in Some Unnamed Clothing Line (coughAmericanApparelcough). In it, a young woman approaches a lawyer to initiate charges against Ira Slatsky, a CEO and her former boss. This was a difficult play to sit through, and an even more difficult play to review. While the play in itself was lacking, the emotional reaction it elicited was intense and gut-felt. Should art be judged for itself or for the reaction it elicits? Should the reaction to art be judged by nature, or by intensity? I don’t have the answers (should art be judged by its ability to create questions or answers?).
Unseamly was rated R. The nudity and explicit sexual content really made me squirm. There were vivid details of exactly what went on in the bedroom between Ira Slatsky and our heroine (don’t look at me for details – suffice to say, it was nasty). By the end of the play, I felt so dirty, I couldn’t wait to get home and shower. So if art is all about the audience’s emotional reaction, Unseamly was an undeniable success. On the other hand, I must be frank; I did not enjoy Unseamly. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, and I would not hesitate to erase the memory of it if I could. If theatre is about making your audience feel good, or satisfied, or at least in some way more complete, then the play was a massive fail.
On an intellectual level, however, I was definitely not satisfied. The play focused on the main character’s victimhood, playing up the kaleidoscope-image of the harassment victim as a virgin/whore. All of the sex and nudity seemed like easy ways to make an old, overused idea seem more edgy. Saying that sexual harassment is an awful, messy business is a particularly easy thesis in that no one can disagree. There are so many more controversial questions about the American Apparel phenomenon. By spending money, people decide which businesses stay afloat, thus, the businesses that form our society are chosen democratically. Is American Apparel proof that this system is faulty, or is it in fact what people want/are willing to tolerate? Is sexual harassment a product of the seemingly innovative easygoing work environment? Is the CEO an evil mastermind, or dealing with deep-seated emotional issues (neither would surprise me)?
The acting was brilliant. Ira Slatsky played by Jonathan Silver particularly brought a manic energy to the role. The set was fantastic with projections were cunningly woven through the play, and mannequins in the background creating an eerie atmosphere. I liked how the bookcase swiveled around to become a vertical bed against which the actors could stand for the naughty bits – an innovative solution to the problem of horizontal-ness.
I’m not really sure how Unseamly tallies up. To make a final assessment of this play, you would have to first define art, and I’m not stupid enough to open that can of worms. I’m more than happy, however, to join in a two-fingered salute to American Apparel and its CEO – that’s one thing I’m definitely not ambivalent about.
Unseamly plays at Bain St. Michel (5300 St. Dominique) Tuesday-Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. until March 9. $25/20