Lauren and Gideon have just broken up and they’re tearing their friendship group apart. After torching all of her ex’s things, Lauren decides to funnel all of her destructive energy into writing the next bestseller, Things Not to do After a Breakup, full of rules and advice to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself, or break the law, after your own breakup.
It’s clear this is a production that attempts to examine the modern dating scene in a snappy and humorous way but to say it missed the mark would be an understatement. A heterosexual couple breaking up because of the man’s fear of commitment is a stale and overdone impetus for a story and the consequences of a woman writing about her failed love life? Sex and the City has done it, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has done it, He’s Just Not That Into You, anyone?
An innovative plot isn’t the be all and end all of an engaging production if it instead introduces charming or troubled or interesting characters. The friendship group of Things Not to do are aggressively stereotypical caricatures of teenagers in their immaturity, insensitivity, and total inability to step outside of their self-interest. While there is little context provided in the script to account for the characters’ ages, stages in life, or history as a friendship group, the snarkiness and downright rudeness with which they speak to each other is unbelievable in relationships after high school. The humour, banter, and heart to heart discussions seemed forced and unnatural the majority of the time, sacrificing genuine conversation for cheap laughs and put-downs that didn’t land.
Again, a bad script can be redeemed with careful direction and delivery. In addition to being caricatures of people, these characters were overacted to the extreme in what appeared to be an attempt at adding weight to loose motivations and actions. This was counterbalanced by moments of connection where characters attempted to explain themselves or apologise that came across as insincere and empty of emotion. When two bros speak to each other dead-pan for a few minutes and then laugh and exit, you’re left wondering, were they speaking to each other or just reading lines and hitting cues?
Otherwise, comedic timing of punchlines was monotonous and did a disservice to the humour to be found in the script. Especially in the monologue interviews where each character recounted past breakups in unnaturally consistent beats. There is some context of research provided for these breaks in the group narrative but to hear a stream of stories about before the action of the play that have no bearing on the show we’re currently watching was ineffectual and unnecessary. The final few scenes of emotional vulnerability, where nearly every character experiences their entire arc in a few seconds while confessing their mistakes and asking for forgiveness, were cringingly ernest and completely disconnected from the vapidity of the previous hour and a half.
The true failure of this production, what takes it from ‘fluffy but funny’ into ‘truly bad’ territory, is how completely out of touch with the current world and current discourse it is. The script is blatantly, unavoidably misogynistic and sexist in that nearly every woman on stage or otherwise mentioned is a “crazy ex-girlfriend” described and portrayed as clingy, needy, hysterical, and unbalanced in gross misogynistic tropes. It’s unfathomable that in 2018 it needs to be explained that a story about your ex-girlfriend attempting to kill herself in your house is not a joke. It’s not edgy or raw, it’s inappropriate and tone-deaf. Then, the absurd amount of slut-shaming in this production where women are regularly and repeatedly referred to as “sluts”, “whores”, “molls”, and “skanks” (keeping in mind that not even one man who is having sex with these “sluts” is similarly described or shamed) makes you wonder if you’ve fallen into the 80s. One character, Sarina, completes the opposite end of the virgin/whore dichotomy as a fully grown woman who lacks the self-esteem to even consider that the man she likes wants to go on a date with her. And there you have it: women.
While the male characters aren’t subjected to the degradation or belittlement that their female peers are, they also don’t escape questionable standards. There is a lot of emphasis in this production put on the difference between men and women when it comes to sex and relationships. Unfortunately, this means none of the men are allowed to be open, honest, or even very discerning about their feelings towards women or each other. When Jay betrays his best friend and sleeps with his ex-girlfriend, the excuse given is literally that she’s hot and he’s a man. Again, is this the 80s? The character Damian, played by writer and producer Wayne Tunks, is Lauren’s best friend and a large, loud camp presence throughout the production providing the majority of the risqué humour, crass and rude jokes, and overly sexual innuendos. This is all well and good until he is given his turn being interviewed about past breakups and proceeds to tell an incredibly uncomfortable story about taking advantage of his neighbour and sexually assaulting him while intoxicated. Hilarious, right? None of these men are safe from their hyper-sexual, hyper-masculine, and predatory characterisation.
Things Not to do After a Breakup is immature and out of touch on every level of production. In 2018 the standards and expectations of our theatre makers are much, much higher than this and it is disappointing to see a company not even strive to be better.
Things Not to do After a Breakup is running at the Depot Theatre from June 1st – June 16th.