With the world premiere of Elena Eli Belyea’s Smoke, Downstage is definitely living up to its tagline “Canadian plays that create meaningful conversation.”
In Smoke, the conversation onstage is between Aiden, and her ex, Jordan, about the allegation that Jordan sexually assaulted Aiden two years ago. Off stage, the conversation among the cast and crew, which will undoubtedly be echoed by audiences, is about gender roles, memory, and consent.
The real twist, though, is that Aiden will consistently be played by actor Chantal Han at every performance, while alternating nights will see Jordan performed by either a female performer or a male performer. Han sees a lot more depth in that decision beyond a simple gimmick: “There’s so many different implications,” Han says. “What does it mean when a woman does that to another woman? What kind of expectations do we have when a man does that to a woman?”
With the still-recent events of #MeToo, Smoke has a lot of contextual issues to operate in. Han suggests that a play like this is indicative of changing attitudes. “I wonder if, in a different era, this would never come to light,” she says. She adds that there’s still room for growth. “In general, we haven’t made space in our minds… for two women in a loving couple, and one of them [committing sexual assault] against the other. What is rape between women?”
But regardless of which night audiences attend—with Han opposite a male, or female costar—she hopes people are open to all possibilities. “My hope is that, in a time of polarization and extremes, the audience will make room in their heart for nuance and complexity,” she says.
Smoke is presented by Downstage Feb. 13–23 at the Big Secret Theatre. For tickets visit downstage.ca or call 403.294.9494Big Secret Theatre, Smoke