A COMMON MAN’S GUIDE TO LOVING WOMEN
by Andrew Moodie
Firehall Arts Centre
November 11-December 3
604 -689-0926 or www.firehallartscentre.ca
An evening in the theatre listening to men talking about women might not be everyone’s idea of a great time. But Andrew Moodie’s characters in A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women are uncommonly sensitive and intelligent. That all four happen to be black men is both beside the point and part of the point. The play only goes astray in its inability to decide whether it wants to be a sitcom or a dramedy.
Originally set in Toronto, the action has been relocated to Vancouver, with references to the Canucks, Langara, Grouse Mountain, and the Roxy providing plenty of local colour.
Wendle (Kwesi Ameyaw), a marketing director, owns the upscale Yaletown condo, elegantly designed by Derek Butt, where the four friends have gathered for a stag to celebrate the engagement of lawyer Chris (Awaovieyi Agie). When Chris’ fiancée breaks it off, playful Greg (Peter John Prinsloo) and Robin (Hayden Thomas) try to console him. Meanwhile, Wendle has problems of his own, having been accused of date rape and threatened with the loss of his job.
For much of the short first act we’re in sitcom land. Greg and Robin goof around, high five, play video games on Wendle’s big-screen TV, and generally act like guys in a beer ad. Except that every time Robin goes to the fridge for a beer, the others exchange significant looks. Robin’s vulnerability to alcohol will be explained in the high drama of the second act, which revolves around the question of whether Wendle was actually guilty of rape.
By far the most interesting aspect of the play is the debate about what actually happened the night Wendle had unprotected sex with his white girlfriend. It’s a complex issue involving gender politics—how far does a woman’s right to control her own body extend?—equity issues (the specific focus of Chris’ legal practice), and criminal law.
It’s also fraught with race. In her statement to the police, the woman who accused Wendle of rape said she “didn’t want to become another Nicole Simpson.” And Chris explains how his focus on equity resulted from the racial discrimination he faced in his law firm.
But playwright Moodie, a black man himself, glides past the racial issues. He lets the dark skin of the four men on stage speak for itself, and instead engages them in a passionate and complicated discussion of relationships between men and women. To its credit, the play also sidesteps all the many clichés it might have entertained.
Director Denis Simpson gets some strong performances from his cast, who all manage to convey characters of depth and complexity. Ameyaw gives Wendle great presence and Prinsloo makes Greg a thinking-man’s clown. Thomas pulls off Robin’s somewhat contrived set-piece trauma speech with real credibility.
The play’s comic ending is both sweet and a little anti-climactic.