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But I have a daughter.
It’s a phrase often used, as the ripples of the Harvey Weinstein and other sexual assault and harassment allegations continue to spread, to demonstrate a person’s inability to participate in misogynist behaviour or attitudes, as if empathy for women is automatically accessible through having one of your own.
Toronto performer and writer Adam Lazarus has a 6-year-old daughter, as well as a 3-year-old son, and when he started writing a new show about sexism two years ago it was driven by a particular question: how do we talk to, or prepare, our daughters to live in a world that’s not built to protect and empower them?
After diving into the subject, he realized how deeply internalized misogyny is; that, in fact, that very question plays into the sexism he was trying to expose by making it the girl’s job to deal with an inhospitable environment.
“Now I think the show isn’t about how we talk to our daughters; it’s actually about how we talk to our boys. There’s this weird way that we raise boys,” said Lazarus on a break from rehearsal. “There are these micro-aggressions that happen since we were children. Little boy, don’t cry. Buck up. Man up.”
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In Daughter, Lazarus uses a stripped-down solo performance — the kind of confessional, autobiographical play you might see at a fringe festival — to visibly demonstrate the thoughts, behaviours and attitudes that make cases like Weinstein’s, Brock Turner’s or any other headline-grabbing sexual misbehaviour possible.
Daughter opens next week at the Theatre Centre after a divisive premiere at the 2016 SummerWorks Festival that left audience members angrily inspired or just plain angry. Either way, no one was unmoved by Lazarus’s monologue, in which his character examines his relationship with his young daughter and extrapolates to his relationship with women in general.
“We did not know how rattled people would be by the show,” Lazarus said. “I think it’s an interrogation of a very systemic thing that maybe we’re not aware of. It’s like, ‘Why would I want some guy to talk to me for an hour about bad behaviour?’ And the answer is that we’re shedding light on a very sinister systemic issue that’s still happening. It’s not over.”
Lazarus has a background in bouffon, a type of clown performance that uses grotesque characters to reflect the dark side of humanity for the audience to laugh at. His Daughter character does essentially that, only without the trappings to differentiate him from the rest of us.
“I’ve always wondered if the satire really hits (with costumes). Intellectually you can be moved by it, but not truly because you don’t recognize that person. With this show, I felt like I was really pulling my punches so I really wanted to blur the lines. There’s truth and there’s fiction, and I won’t tell you the difference. It doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that talkbacks after the premiere of Daughter often had audience members blaming him personally for the actions of his character.
After what they learned from that first SummerWorks run, Lazarus, his director, Ann-Marie Kerr, and co-creators Jivesh Parasram and Melissa D’Agostino have been working to make the Man character less overtly villainous.
“We’re trying to refine it so that he doesn’t even know that what he’s doing is bad. He’s trying so hard, but he doesn’t have the tools to behave properly. He doesn’t even know he doesn’t have the tools. For me, that’s the most interesting core,” said Lazarus. “We can’t kill men, you know? How do you leave the space for men to learn, to listen and to be able to talk?”
Only one year after its premiere, the atmosphere around Daughter has changed dramatically, making it even more urgent.
“We live in a different world now. Trump is president. When we wrote the show two years ago we never thought he would be, we never thought the guy onstage would win,” Lazarus said.
The audience reaction might be stronger than ever or it might pale in comparison to the stresses of the real world. “I feel like it was a cautionary tale before and now it’s like a rally cry. Start fighting this thing.”
Benefits have already started to appear in our heightened awareness of misogyny in our society, he argues.
“I feel very lucky to be living in this time. It’s like, ‘Oh we’re cracking! Yeah!’” Lazarus said.
To help facilitate conversations after the play, there will be material on organizations like White Ribbon, which seeks to end male violence against girls and women, information on bouffon and maybe just a room where people can scream or break things.
But even after so much time dwelling on the darker parts of masculinity, Lazarus is still hopeful about our moment in time.
“Maybe it’s the last gasp. There’s more articulation around these issues; people know how to talk about it, the doors are opening, cracks are widening. It’s good.”
Daughter is at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Nov. 7 to 19. See theatrecentre.org for information.
Carly Maga is a Toronto Star theatre critic. She alternates the Wednesday Matinee column with critic Karen Fricker.