What does the word Polytechnique mean to you?

0 Posted by - November 18, 2014 - Features, Performance, Reviews

The Anorak, written and performed by Adam Kelly Morton, goes beyond the pat answers and media sensationalism around the Polytechnique massacre and examines what made Marc Lépine a killer.

Exceptionally well-researched, Morton’s text looks critically at the myriad factors that anti-feminists have attempted to derail the public discourse with, from an abusive childhood right through to violence in films and the media. Each of these episodes ends with Lépine blaming various women for his misfortune, indicating that none of the issues raised, however valid they may be, preclude misogyny as the driving force behind the attack.

Morton’s performance as Lépine is chilling, despite some unevenness with his accent. After many years of performing the role, Morton has mastered a sociopathically detached affect and an ability to completely negate the very presence of women in his audience, for the most part refusing to address them, and looking through them in a way that consumes them as a mass to be discarded rather than individuals worthy of eye contact.

Morton also displays an expert ability to roll with the disruptive punches that come with performing in small, independent venues. Where another performer may have tried to ignore someone slipping into the room to retrieve their coat midway through the performance, Morton managed to turn that moment into an accurate reflection of the casual, everyday sexism that upholds and ultimately justifies the virulent misogyny behind these kinds of hate crimes.

Having seen this performed several years ago, again by the playwright, I already knew about a surprising device right at the start of the performance. Without spoiling anything, because it is still effective, I will say that it was far more impactful when performed by Morton as part of a direct address to the audience in the early part of the performance than it is now, executed by the stage manager as part of the pre-show announcements. The latter makes it just another bit of business that comes with theatre-going, while the former highlighted the ideas being discussed and emphasized the play’s main argument: That the Polytechnique massacre was ultimately a hate crime targeting women. In addition, men in the audience may not be as sensitive to the nuanced dynamic created by this device without their attention being called to it as part of the text, and this is arguably an essential part of the work’s activist aspect.

Twenty-five years after the Polytechnique massacre, with people in the audience who actually did not know anything about the attack, it seems more urgent than ever to emphasize The Anorak‘s message over anything else. With similar hate crimes, violence, and death threats hiding behind flimsy diversions about journalistic ethics and armchair psychiatry, and with the step-by-step dismantling of gun control laws starting with the disappearance of the long gun registry created in the wake of Lépine’s attack, it’s a matter of time before this happens again. Case in point: The recent threats issued against Utah State University if Anita Sarkeesian, the target of #gamergate’s hate, went through with a planned speech, explicitly cited Lépine as a hero and promised another “Montreal Massacre”.

It may not be the most uplifting piece of theatre you’ll see this year, but it is an important work on an important subject, and Morton makes a point of hosting an open talkback forum after each performance. Given the intimate nature of the venue, it should make for some interesting and enlightening audience discussions.

The Anorak runs Thursday-Saturday until December 6th (the 25th anniversary of the massacre), at Montreal Improv’s B Space, 3713 boul. St-Laurent. Tickets available here. A portion of all proceeds will go to Shield of Athena, a non-profit organization for victims of family violence.

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