Beautiful Man

Reviewer's Rating

Friday evening, glass of wine in hand, what an exciting novelty it feels to take a seat in a full auditorium! Audience full of anticipation and a contagious buzz, Pi Theatre’s Beautiful Man (Part of The Cultch’s Femme Festival) certainly makes for a raucous and fun production to welcome audiences back to in-person theater. Full of wit, angst, visceral rage and absurdity, Erin Shields’ play explores a world where female objectification in popular culture is flipped on it’s head, with hilarious and thought-provoking results. 

Through an inception-like narrative, Melissa Oei, Tracy Jennissen and Ivy Charles dominate the stage and provide an animated commentary on well-known film and television tropes of various genres. However, their commentary exists within a subverted universe of reversed gender stereotypes, where men are flippantly referred to as objects of cheap desire, recipients of twisted violence, and name-less props whose purpose is to bolster an engrained narrative of female power. Above and behind the three women is our male figure (Richard Meen) who remains silent throughout, fluidly responding to the dialogue with movement alone until his 15 minute monologue which serves as the play’s finale. Exposed both in terms of stage positioning and lack of clothing, he laments the female experience with compelling vulnerability and detail, adding another dimension of nuance and exploration to the production, particularly as the final scene explores the cross-section of multiple perspectives. 

Shield’s innovative and fiery writing leaps off the page and viscerally packs a punch, with further credit to the wonderful and passionate acting from the entire ensemble. However, the dialogue was at times so fast-paced that the narrative was difficult to follow, particularly as the narrators jumped from one idea to another, and the simultaneous cognitive acrobats of gender subversion. And while the play raises some important questions while being blisteringly entertaining, the rapid pace of progression and discussion around gender in Western society left some aspects of this play feeling potentially redundant. Yes, the tropes that the cast satirize are real and dangerous, but how helpful is it, in 2022, to simply flip damaging stereotypes upside down rather than break them down and rearrange creatively? At the same time, Beautiful Man excels in how it demands hysterical laughter, uncomfortable squirms, shock, reflection and empathy from it’s audience – a testament to the importance of theater in analyzing and understanding the human condition.