Tackling taboos

Tara Bradbury
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Theatre company explores society’s darker side in play ‘Rabbit, Rabbit’

A goal of theatre, like most art, is often to provoke thought or dialogue. When you choose to produce a play exploring themes of child prostitution and pedophilia — and you present the play in a hotel room — there’s no doubt you’ll do just that.

Poverty Cove Theatre Company is opening its long-awaited production of Canadian playwright Amy Lee Lavoie’s “Rabbit Rabbit” April 30, at the Guv’nor Inn on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s. The play stars Meghan Greeley as Britney, a 16-year-old prostitute working for a fetish escort service, and Darryl Hopkins as Larry, a pedophilic birthday clown, and explores the tension between the two. Lavoie, has described the play as a “very complicated love story of two forgotten, lonely people.”

It’s a piece Poverty Cove founders Megan Coles and Shannon Hawes have wanted to do for the past five years or so, recognizing the subject matter is uncomfortable but relevant, given the development of St. John’s.

“We’re kind of in a boom time, and sometimes the underbelly of your city becomes revealed, or it takes on new characteristics that you’re not familiar with, one of those things being a booming sex trade,” Coles said. “I think (pedophilia) is a very taboo subject in our culture. We often try to distance ourself from things that are taboo, in that we kind of mythicize the person or the perpetrator into a monster, because that gives us the distance we require to feel safe. But in creating that distance, we avoid dealing with the subject at hand, and therefore no solution or recovery can be made, because we’re not actually facing the issues.”

“There are people in our society whom we often tend to demonize,” added Hawes. “This show takes a heightened approach which allows us to have this dark, comedic side, and reveals an alternate perception; that perhaps people are not demonic.”

Both “Rabbit Rabbit” actors are well-suited to their parts, which they earned through an open audition in December: Greeley, based in Toronto, but coming home to star in the play, explored themes of inappropriate relationships with her own play, “Kingdom,” which ran at the LSPU Hall in 2012. Inspired by a number of real stories, Greeley starred in “Kingdom” as Nora, a teenager kidnapped at age five by a man who has kept her alone in a small room since then. Hopkins, who starred for eight years in Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador’s run of “Tempting Providence,” acted in one of Poverty Cove’s previous productions, 2011’s “The Battery,” as a character named Bobby.

“He’s been to some dark places with us in the past,” Coles said of Hopkins. “There are no villains or heroes or heroines in any of our plays, but if you had to look at something on a surface level, Bobby would be the bad guy in that particular script. He does have some very violent tendencies and Darryl met that, though he is a lovely, charming man. We’re very aware that this is someone who can handle very heavy subject matter.”

Coles and Hawes, who met while attending the National Theatre School of Canada (and met Lavoie there, too), formed Poverty Cove in 2009, noticing the impact a shortage of venues was having on the local theatre community. Their goal, they decided, would be to present site-specific theatre; plays in non-traditional spaces, like a hotel room.

“The Battery,” co-produced with the RCA Theatre Company, was performed in a vacant downtown bar, while 2013’s “Our Eliza,” co-produced with the Arts and Culture Centre, was presented in a library, as well as community centres, Lions’ Clubs, and school gyms in central Newfoundland and on the Northern Peninsula.

“By taking the play out of the theatre, it opens itself to a larger audience who otherwise might feel intimidated or that they don’t have a place, and it kind of neutralizes the venue,” Hawes explained. “It also helps us in that we get to adopt or draw from the environment, which is often connected to the play.”

“Rabbit Rabbit” represents a turning point in Poverty Cove’s development, since it’s the first solo production the theatre company has done — something Coles and Hawes said has provided its challenges, but has benefitted their creative partnership.

Coles, who was recently presented with the 2013 Rhonda Payne Theatre Award, wrote “The Battery” and “Our Eliza,” and Poverty Cove’s next production will be another of her plays: “Bound,” about people struggling with mental illness and a lack of social services. Written in 2010, Coles and Hawes decided to leave it until they had a few other productions under their belts to tackle, since it has a larger cast and requires a more extensive set.

The pair doesn’t actively seek out social justice plays to present, but it just seems to happen that way.

“I think as individuals, that’s the kind of thing that interests us,” Hawes said. “We often find ourselves having these kinds of discussions in normal conversations with our friends.

“I don’t think it’s our intention to affect the audience in any way. What we’re interested in is creating a dialogue about these issues. It’s to open the floor to these conversations.”

Directed by Hawes and produced by Coles, “Rabbit Rabbit” runs April 30 until May 4 at

8 p.m., with a pay-what-you-can matinée May 4 at 2 p.m. (as with Poverty Cove’s previous shows, proceeds from the matinée will be donated to charity). Tickets are $25 in advance and are available at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531, or online at www.rca.nf.ca.



Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Cove Theatre Company, Guv’nor Inn, National Theatre School of Canada RCA Theatre Company Rhonda Payne Theatre

Geographic location: Elizabeth Avenue, Toronto, Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Quien
    April 25, 2014 - 16:28

    Mental health, much like taboo's, has some pretty strong stigma's attached to them. And former Olympian, Clara Hughes is on a mission to tear those walls down. She's taking her bike charity bike ride to St. John's Sunday and hosting a cocktail party to speak out about it. You can learn more about the planned events at https://livingalpha.com/journal/olympic-champion-clara-hughes-will-roll-into-the-city-of-saint-john-s-on-april-27th