Gross Misconduct is sharply written with plenty of suspense and superb acting

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Gross Misconduct | SpeakEasy Theatre | Gateway Theatre | March 14 – 23, 2019

Meghan Gardiner’s sharply-written Gross Misconduct is a difficult yet important story about sexual assault that explores the complex consequences and repercussions for all involved.

In a stark jail cell with two white boxes serving as beds and harsh fluorescent lighting, Deke (Ian Butcher) enjoys his silence. He tells the guard, Gareth (Scott Bellis), “I haven’t had a cellmate since —…” The unfinished sentence begins to build the suspense as we wonder why Deke is in prison.

Deke is joined by Corey (Mike Gill), a young, privileged guy in his twenties who fills the silence with constant chatter, much to Deke’s dismay. The two develop a friendship, and their superb acting really makes this script sing. Through their banter and Corey’s constant questioning, we learn more about both of them. Meanwhile Deke reads a book that was sent to him, narrated by Abigail (Sereana Malani) who circles the jail cell set telling her story.

Abigail’s story begins rather innocuously. She describes summer in a small town, worrying about what her crush thinks, and her many encounters with him. With each description of their encounters, the suspense builds. We wonder what Abigail’s story about a teenage crush has to do with the two men in jail and why Deke would be reading about this. Then she is alone with her crush for the first time, on a nighttime walk through the forest to a beach, and the story takes a dark turn. We realize why Deke’s sentence was extended to life after his initial misdemeanour for drug possession.

But it’s not only Abigail’s sexual assault that is explored. We find out why Corey is in jail: “I had drunk sex with a girl who actually liked me, and now I’m a rapist.” Corey faces his own torture of being sexually abused in prison as Gareth watches and doesn’t try to stop it. Gareth attempts to sexually assault corey, but in a tense, thoroughly engrossing scene, Corey calls out the abuse he figures Gareth suffered during childhood — it catches him off guard enough that he doesn’t sexually assault him; instead, he brutally beats him to release his anger.

Despite the heavy material and brutal content, Gardiner has managed to include many moments of humour. When Corey first arrives, he implores, “I’m lactose intolerant!” And Gareth yells back, “Not in prison!” Corey decides he should come up with a tough prison name, and asks Deke for his opinion. “Tell me you didn’t introduce yourself as ‘Hardcore’,” says Deke.

Butcher and Gill really steal the show, and Bellis is convincing as the psychologically disturbed guard, but Malani tends to force her role a bit. Her emotions felt inauthentic at times and her delivery could have been more varied.    

In the end, we see how Abigail became an invisible victim and it’s a lesson in listening to survivors and respecting their wishes. It’s also a lesson in the long-term trauma that a survivor of sexual assault can endure, while a perpetrator may never fully realize what they have done.

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