What We’re Up Against: the politics outweighs the art

Thersa Rebeck's What We're Up Against is playing at the Havana Theatre.

Natalie Moon’s Eliza is justifiably pissed. (Photo by Justine Warrington)

In What We’re Up Against, playwright Theresa Rebeck makes legitimate points, but the way she makes them is so boring!

Eliza, who seems to be near the beginning of her career, has been at an architectural firm for five months. Rebeck quickly establishes that Eliza is a gifted architect but, because she’s a woman — and because she’s capable of outsmarting him — Stu, the guy in charge, won’t let her do any real work. Eliza is forced to watch in frustration as Weber, a know-nothing blowhard who’s only been at the firm for four months, gets all the plum assignments. Janice, the other female architect in the office, counsels Eliza not to make waves: “Patience is, as we know, a virtue.” And Ben, the only other architect who knows what he’s doing, sees what’s going on, but fails to intervene forcefully on Eliza’s behalf.

So there we have it: the mechanics of the patriarchy clearly laid out — but they are so simplistically laid out they could be the pieces of a Kinder Surprise.

There’s virtually no nuance in the writing. Stu tells Eliza that she’ll get assignments if she shows initiative but, when she does, he calls her a manipulator and a cunt.

I’m not saying that shit like this doesn’t go down— of course it does and of course it stinks — but there are more interesting ways of challenging it.

On opening night, the production itself was shaky in the first act but strengthened, along with the script, in Act 2.

Under Bronwen Marsden’s direction, there’s a lot of generalized acting going on, especially in Act 1: Aaron McCallum’s Stu is generally macho and Seth Ranaweera’s Ben is generally anxious. Natalie Moon moves from a lot of one-note fury in the first act to more interesting strategy-making in the second. Throughout, Sara Bynoe delivers the strongest performance of the evening as Janice. Janice is a bit of a flake and could easily appear as two-dimensional as other characters do here, but Bynoe is a confident performer who endows Janice with vulnerable, responsive life. I remember a particularly alive moment in which Janice blushes with embarrassment and anger.

As imagined by designer Janet Mader and worked by director Marsden, the physical production involves a lot of unnecessary shifting of office furniture.

I’m a big fan of political theatre. The politics of What We’re Up Against would be more effective its theatricalization were more resourceful.

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST By Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Bronwen Marsden. Presented by PCM Productions. At the Havana Theatre on Tuesday, October 1. Continues until October 12. Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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