Sun-Media, Canada
Toronto, January 14, 1999
Phew: Just when We Thought Canada had the Toughest Censorship in the World . . .
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Your t*x dollars at w*rk



ON Feb. 3 a new play opens in Toronto. It is called Shopping and The third word is used in full in the actual title of the piece and by the work's supporters. The play is hyped in promotional literature as a "controversial Canadian premiere" and makes no attempt to disguise the fact it is all about provocation. Genuine and constructive provocation, of course, consists of the presentation of truth in a challenging and mature manner. A press release says the following about this British import.

"In bedsit-land Mark, Robbie, Lulu and Gary struggle to define themselves in their world of junk food, junk culture, no jobs, phone sex, casual sex, rehab, shoplifting, club life and the temporary escape of designer jobs."

Fine. But can't they define their banal little lives without the support of tax dollars paid by people who are too busy making a living to waste their time on the above? You see, a full one-third of this play's costs have been paid for by you and me.

Both the Canada Council and the Toronto Arts Council fund Crow's Theatre, which is staging the play. So, in other words, while Ottawa cuts back on health care and Toronto experiences a crisis in homelessness both levels of government give money to a work such as this.

When I called the box office, where the title is again used in full, I was told "The play contains coarse language and graphic sexual imagery and may be offensive to some."

I'd like to meet the people who will not find it in any way offensive. Because according to Jim Milan, the artistic director of the company and director of this particular play, "There's gay contact implied or shown by some characters. They'll be presented within the realms of the law but as we're not on the air or anything I can tell you that there will be a representation of anal sex and of one man kissing another man's bottom for his pleasure. And lots of swearing."

There are posters advertising the play on walls around the city and on many of these a single asterisk will replace the second letter of the f-word.

"Tens of thousands of pieces of literature are crossing the city as we speak," explained Milan. "There'll be posters up in restaurants. Children will be there so we thought we would use the single asterisk."

Won't children be able to figure out what the word is?

"I guess we'll have to see."

I guess we will.

The point is that people swore a great deal in the time of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. But dramatists of the past possessed the ability to convey profound feelings without splashing around in the intellectual and moral gutter. Are we seriously going to believe King Lear would have been more effective if the old man's three daughters had taken their tops off?

The use of obscene language and gestures in such a manner is and has always been the preserve of the foolish. The teenager pretending to be an adult, the adult pretending to be a teenager. The drooping truncheon, if you'll excuse the phrase, of those who cannot express passion or anger in a more sophisticated way but are intent on beating us over the head.

"Yes but the f-word can still shock an audience," says Milan. "There are three flatmates who have an interchangeable sexual relationship. But you get the idea that it's a functioning unit. One of them is a recovering drug addict who takes up with a rent boy. It's about the lost boys and girls of our society surviving however they can. In a way it's like a fairy tale."

No comment.

He continues: "The play has some marvellous Chekhovian allusions." Presumably a reference to all the shopping that goes on in The Cherry Orchard. "And, yes, we will confront people's boundaries and challenge convention and provoke an audience."

And is he at all guilty at taking public money for such a project?

"Not at all. In no way. I'm sure there's a much greater return on this than on all these grants to small businesses."

I'm sure there is. Just as I'm sure there are asterisks in the word garbage.

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