Plays set in Restoration-era England generally don’t attract much of a crowd nowadays. It takes a masterful playwright to deliver a riveting story past the often condescending note to their niche flavour.
April De Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures breaks down the pompous guise that we uncultured viewers interpret as characteristic of plays in a Shakespearean setting. De Angelis’ fluid and light-hearted language is easy for viewers of every college to appreciate and enjoy while keeping alive the Victorian feel.
Chock full of profanity, poetry, allusions and necessary social commentary, Greystone Theatre’s all-female cast delivers a delightfully punchy performance. Self-aware, Inception-style theatre is hard to come by, teetering on the edge of a confusing and unconvincing plot, but these actors execute the play-within-a-play format beautifully.
The set pieces, props and lighting do a near-perfect job of distinguishing for the audience when the characters are themselves and when they are performing.
This play’s two-hour runtime juggles its diverse themes flawlessly. The feminist commentary, heavy subject matter and snarky comedy are handled delicately, allowing a colourful but balanced palette of stark contrast to flourish.
Possibly the most notable part of Playhouse Creatures is the historical aspect. Each of the characters we see on stage either existed in real life or was inspired heavily by other female actors of the past. Paige Francoeur, who plays Mrs. Farley, described this as her favourite part of the play to the Sheaf.
“We get to channel spirits of people who were real,” Francoeur says. “The show becomes a tribute to all that they did to allow me to continue doing what I get to do.”
It’s no secret that harassment and mistreatment are ingrained in the treatment of women in the entertainment industry. And even that is putting it extremely lightly.
The audience gets to witness a recounting of tales of abuse, of trauma, of the ruining of lives, all by the hand of unseen men. These women struggle to survive, to thrive, while pursuing an underpaying career in an industry that views them primarily as sex objects.
While the exact details of the scenes we are privy to in this performance may not be exactly reflected today, the mistreatment of women within the industry is all too present.
Women are given expectations of how to act, how to look and are abused incessantly if they deviate. This disgusting reality can be seen all over, with society taking direct offence to women who refuse to adhere to their objectification, covering them with slander and verbal abuse.
At multiple points during the play, unseen male characters impose toxic influence over the women. Be it sexually abusive comments from male patrons beyond the dressing room door, flippant discarding of one woman when she is no longer as convenient as another, or simply underpayment, the men of this play assert their toxic dominance and ideals at every turn.
While this is thankfully not the constant reality of Greystone’s actors, it certainly is for women in other corners of the world.
“Because of where I am, I may not experience it,” Francoeur explained. “But to ignore it and shy away from it is doing a disservice to the women who lived through that.”
The feminist message De Angelis rooted into her story is, at times, hard to digest — intentionally so. Commentary such as this arises from a need for change, and the contemporary status of this play, written in the 90s, proves that these issues are far from eradicated.
Francoeur describes that “if we surround ourselves with things that are only filled with privileges we’ve become accustomed to, we are neglecting so much of what the reality of life is.”
It is our duty as scholars to learn about the state of the world, about historical issues, about people, about ourselves. To truly be immersed in creating change, we need to seek opportunities to be educated. Go learn and enjoy incredible theatre while at it.
Playhouse Creatures is on at 8 p.m. every night until Nov. 30 in the John Mitchell Building on campus.
Photo: Heywood Yu