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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: What We’re up Against shows there’s no expiry date on sexism

Theresa Rebeck’s dark comedy will contort your comfort into the hammer needed to obliterate the glass ceiling.

While set in the 90s, the brutality of Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against feels as fresh as word of another Weinstein allegation.

The performances are incisive, the writing is crisp, and the subject matter is horrifyingly current with its piercing insight and powerful confrontations.

Eliza (Natalie Moon) is a freshman architect searching for a path past the old boys club barring the way to the work she wants to do. From gaslighting, threats, and smug, public humiliations, Eliza endures a cavalcade of familiar abuses to fight for the right to work. In the end, even assumed allies are revealed to toe the party line in an incendiary takedown of male and female complicity.

Natalie Moon’s performance as Eliza is award-worthy with caustic disbelief that sets your skin on fire. Aaron McCallum’s Stu is a spectacle of ruthless behaviour whose mean drunken tirades feel as exhaustingly familiar as they are disturbing to hear aloud in 2019. The supporting cast has some standout moments with Seth Ranaweera’s (Ben) faltering support and Sara Bynoe’s (Janice) surprising third act defence providing two highlights of the play.

Director Bronwen Marsden sets a blistering pace with a sense of ever-rising toxicity that never abates. Janet Mader’s production design is a well-wheeled exercise in moving tables, but which makes smart use of the thin playing space at Havana while Ira Cooper’s sound design creates an odd counterpoint to the content with a compliment of girl power pop tunes.

What We’re Up Against will make your skin crawl with its unabashed portrayal of toxic masculinity, but the skill of Rebeck’s script lies in the breakdown of unconscious complicity in the supporting characters.

It is a tensely spun, aggressive little play that refuses to back down from the big questions. Are we still fighting the same fight in 2019? Go and see it for yourself.

What We’re Up Against by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Bronwen Marsden. Presented by PCM Productions. On stage at Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until October 12. Visit for tickets and information.

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