A man enters a room expecting to meet up with a very young girl – a prostitute – for a brief encounter and nothing more.
But what happens when the “transaction” doesn’t go as planned and one of them, perhaps both of them, struggle to justify themselves during an exchange that results in a constant shifting of power?
This is the scenario in which the characters in Sage Theatre’s upcoming production of Soliciting Temptation find themselves — an intense, emotional and moral battle that sees one character turning the tables, threatening to expose the other as a predator, resulting in both characters undergoing a psychological shift while exploring the topic of sexual tourism, class and privilege.
It’s a challenging production to bring to the stage, for sure, but one that Sage’s Artistic Director, Jason Mehmel, was excited to tackle.
Q: Sexual tourism is a very heavy topic to cover in a play. Were you drawn to the complexity of the subject matter or did you just feel that it was something that needed to be discussed?
A: It’s been a chance for me to explore privilege, gender and race and class, all these big messy subjects, inside the frame of a story that isn’t trying to provide a clear answer. Because I don’t think there are clear answers, I think the way through these issues is to grapple with them, to grapple with myself as I react to them, and to let the audience grapple with it too.
Q: This seems like an incredibly intense production for only two actors/characters to carry. Are you concerned that the message may come across as very “in your face?”
A: As an artist I’ve had an amazing time unearthing these characters. The actors are doing a fantastic job and although the situation they’re in is highly charged and even political, we avoid becoming pedantic or preachy because the characters aren’t trying to educate each other, they’re fighting for personal stakes that shifted the moment they entered this hotel room.
Q: Considering the recent controversy in Edmonton with the Walterdale Theatre — which came under fire for hiring a white, female actor to play the role of Othello — do you feel at all hesitant about attempting to portray a character involved in the sex trade?
A: One thing that I’ve noted is that our play doesn’t actually represent sex work authentically. The girl poses as a sex worker and has one perspective on it, the man has another, but neither of them are speaking directly from the point of view of that perspective. (This doesn’t feel like a spoiler, since that penny drops pretty early in the play!) So I’ve tried to own that choice, to accept the responsibility that our story doesn’t address that element and that we’re aware of that gap.
I could never have expected to be doing a show like this so close to the events in Edmonton, but it strikes me that it’s interesting for Sage to be grappling with this story so close to discussions around equity and diversity in the arts. It’s underlined the importance in both telling stories that expand our worldview and in working with artists who can best tell those stories.
Q: Am I going to get a headache from the intensity of this show?
A: Just from a story perspective, it’s been fascinating to play with the flow of tension and release. There are so many charged moments in this play. I’ve had to make sure that it’s not exhausting for the audience in terms of a held breath, and also making sure that the tension never dips to the point where we start asking “Why don’t they just leave this room?”
Soliciting Temptation is presented by Sage Theatre and runs Feb. 23 until March 4 at the Pumphouse Theatres. You can find ticket info on their website, sagetheatre.com.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of Fast Forward Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through her website, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.