Excerpted from On freedom of choice and an age of consent, by J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail:
We are living in an age of consent. That is to say, in our secular society, the open-minded among us rarely look to abstract or religious definitions of right or wrong when judging an activity, but instead ask: Did the people involved agree to this? Did they make the choice?
Three new shows at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto interrogate that ideology and explore the limits of consent – and two of them, at least, are extremely troubling in what they suggest about who is really in control when we choose.
Anton Piatigorsky’s Breath in Between begins with a simple, chilling and sadly not at all far-fetched premise: Roger (Paul Fauteux) posts an ad on the Internet looking for someone to kill. Two people – Maxim and Laura – answer it, come to his basement and are willingly murdered. Or is that an oxymoron? Perhaps what takes place is a pair of assisted suicides.
Many plays arrive onstage with labels such as “dark” and “challenging,” but Piatigorsky’s extraordinary piece of writing heads into genuinely tough territory – as theatre must in a world where Luka Rocco Magnotta is a household name and snuff videos go viral. It doesn’t feel gratuitous, but necessary.
Breath in Between focuses less on the killings than on the aftermath of them – and how they affect the withdrawn Roger’s romantic relationship with a twisted woman named Amy (the always impressive Amy Rutherford).
When Amy learns of Roger’s Internet-assisted killings, she doesn’t report him to the police – instead, she becomes jealous of the intimacy her lover had with his two victims.
Amy coerces a reluctant Roger to engage in role play (using two shocking masks designed by Richard Feren) in an attempt to bridge the breath-sized gap between the two that even sex can’t fully erase. (“I think when I shouldn’t,” Roger says in one of his statements that makes him uncomfortably relatable. “It’s an unforgivable thing.”)
Piatigorsky’s play is a primarily philosophical piece about human connection that digs deep into the crevices of our morally relativistic society. One provocative question it asks: Is a world where nothing is sacred the same as one where everything is sacred?
In one bizarre turn in the plot, Roger is haunted, perhaps possessed, by Laura, the second person he killed; while he may have held her life in his hands for an instant, she now exerts a power over him for the rest of his days….
Works like Breath in Between and Maybe If You Choreograph Me You Will Feel Bettergo beyond an opinion and shift the ground beneath you. They make you second-guess the certainties of the age of consent.