FEBRUARY 2022 | Volume 212


Production image

Tracy Jennissen, Richard Meen, Melissa Oei & Ivy Charles. Photo by Sarah Race.

Beautiful Man
by Erin Shields
Pi Theatre
The Cultch Historic Theatre
Feb. 24-Mar. 5
From $26 or 604-251-1363

Erin Shields’ Beautiful Man is a very funny, sometimes illuminating, sometimes shocking feminist satire of gender, violence, and the male gaze in TV and film—and maybe theatre, too—produced by Pi Theatre as part of The Cultch’s 5th annual Femme Fest.

Three women (Ivy Charles, Tracy Jennissen, Melissa Oei) begin discussing a cop show about a tough detective and a serial killer. Soon they are improvising more and more elaborate plot and character elements. The consistent common denominator is that all the protagonists are women, while the victims, the secondary characters, the pretty faces and bodies whose names they can never remember are men. The men, dead or alive, are usually beautiful and frequently naked with large, prominent “boners.”

The erotic fantasies the three women spin are intertwined with violence. They especially enjoy one sequence about a ball-crusher. But it’s all very matter-of-fact: the nudity, violence, boners just “make the whole thing more real.” The inverted pop-cultural “reality” they describe also requires that all the actors be light-skinned and all the men young.

As the women create their storyline, a man (Richard Meen), upstage and behind them, silently enacts the scenario in a mime/dance that becomes increasingly erotic until he strips down to his underpants. At that point, about three-quarters of the way through the show, he has a long monologue in which he speaks in the voice of a woman about her perceptions of her body and her fear of walking alone at night past a group of men on a dark street.

The acting is excellent across the board, and director Keltie Forsyth keeps things moving and visually interesting on what is essentially a bare stage. The three women—ironically nameless themselves—finish each other’s sentences and sometimes contradict one another as they develop their fe/male fantasy, and manage to be very, very funny in the process. Meen moves with the grace of a pole dancer and looks very much like he’s trying to live up to the description of a boyfriend early in the play: “you sort of want to slap him and you sort of want to lick him.”

I very much enjoyed the first half-hour of this 65-minute piece, laughing out loud at the details of the gender-reversal. But the play lacks any kind of shape or arc, and in the second half revelation becomes numbed by repetition. Not many playwrights can do the full Caryl Churchill, as Shields is attempting here.



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