This play could have been more than it is.
In Meghan Gardiner’s Gross Misconduct, Deke, who’s been in jail for a long time—and who, incredibly, seems to have had a two-bunk cell to himself for years—finds out that he’s got a cellmate all of a sudden: a young guy named Corey who’s scared shitless and won’t shut up. Deke is reading a book in which a woman named Abby recounts how she was raped as an adolescent.
Onstage, we see Deke and Corey in their cell together. A guard named Gareth shows up from time to time. And, in director Kayvon Khoshkam’s in-the-round staging, Abby circles the men.
The respect that the company members have for the material is palpable and there’s an undeniable sense of integrity about the production. Ian Butcher’s performance as the often-menacing, sometimes-tender Deke is a study in containment. And the way that Mike Gill traces Corey’s transformation from chatty goofball, to victim of prison violence, to a harder version of entitlement is winningly subtle.
In some ways, Gardiner’s writing is persuasive too. In the most successful device, Corey and Deke bond by talking about hockey. As prisoners in a corrupt institution, they’re under extreme threat, so their indirect tenderness with one another is touching. And Gardiner has a nice eye for detail: as Abby clumsily pursues a guy she has a crush on, we hear about her jelly shoes and a rival’s candy necklace.
Blessedly, humour bubbles up. Corey decides he should take a prison name, for instance—maybe Shogun.
But there are problems in the writing, too. Gardiner lingers far too long on establishing Abby’s innocence and the centre point of that story, the rape, is inevitable. Gardiner also overplays the cliché of Corey’s chattiness.
And many of the major plot points—including the guard’s peddling of an inmate’s ass, solicitation to murder, and the warden’s highly traceable plan for revenge—are contrived and melodramatic. These crude mechanics undermine the underlying passion of this project.
From where I was sitting, the in-the-round seating didn’t work. Set designer Markian Tarasiuk has created an overly large playing area so, instead of claustrophobia, there’s vacancy. The dialogue is often hard to hear, the sight lines are problematic, and, for the most part, Abby’s endless circling feels pointless.
Under Khoshkam’s direction, Sereana Malani, who’s playing Abby, overacts.
I’m also suspicious of the play’s attempts at thematic complexity. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say: Watch how it deals with its rapists.
GROSS MISCONDUCT By Meghan Gardiner. Directed by Kayvon Khoshkam. A SpeakEasy Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Friday, March 15. Continues until March 23.Tickets.
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