Review: Dissolve by Shameless Hussy Productions
Everyone should go see Dissolve. Not because it is entertaining, moving, or funny (though it is all three) – but because it shines light on a prevalent, terrifying societal problem; and does so in a way that illustrates both how ubiquitous it is and how easy it is to be unintentionally complicit.
The show’s subject is drug-assisted sexual assault. Meghan Gardiner created the one woman show from her own experience as a UBC Theatre assignment and premiered it at the 2003 Vancouver Fringe. Over the past decade she has toured the work across North America, performing it hundreds of times for high schools, sororities, night club employees, medical associations, and more.
Yesterday evening Gardiner passed the torch to actress Emmelia Gordon, who became the first woman to inhabit its array of characters other than the author. In a whirlwind 45-minutes, Gordon mercurially transforms from bouncer to bartender, club girl to nosy neighbour, best friend to walk-in doctor, and- in one of its most poignant scenes- a pair of teachers, separated by 30 years of history. The pair speak about the pharmacological promise and criminal damage of GHB and rohypnol. Chillingly, they use the very same speech, but for a few substituted words.
Between these transformations (which are brilliantly and seamlessly facilitated by Stephen Bulat’s sound and Matthew Norman’s lighting design) she returns to an enthusiastic young woman getting ready for a night out, mouthing along to misogynist rap as she primps in front of a mirror.
Gordon manages finds a human core in each of these animated, exaggerated characters. The result is that while they are funny and entertaining, they are also deeply relatable. Audiences have known every figure on that stage and have probably been one or two at some point in their lives.
This experience of having something so familiar cast in a new light created enormous insight for the audience. This became especially apparent during the post-show talk back (a key component of each performance) as well as in the lobby afterwards. Individuals and groups could be heard sharing and revisiting experiences from their past, questioning their actions or judgements at the time, and making promises to act differently moving forward.
In this way, Dissolve is a shining example of what theatre is so uniquely positioned to accomplish. Through its combination of well-researched facts, compelling narrative, and empathetic impact it is a perfect tool for addressing a problem and working toward change. Speaking for myself, Dissolve has fundamentally altered how I will perceive the wider world moving forward.
With the tragic stories of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd in our news cycles and social media facilitating unprecedented bullying and (to use an ugly term) slut shaming, it is a sad reality that the play may be more needed today than when it was first written. One can only hope that more compassionate, engaging experiences like Dissolve will shift these broken paradigms and create the kind of change that is so badly needed.
Dissolve runs until May 24 at CBC’s Studio 700. Click here for tickets & info. The production is also available for tour bookings at ShamelessHussy.com.