t*x dollars at w*rk
BY MICHAEL COREN
ON Feb. 3 a new play opens in Toronto. It is
called Shopping and
F...ing. The third word is used in full
in the actual title of the piece and by the
work's supporters. The play is hyped in
promotional literature as a "controversial
Canadian premiere" and makes no attempt to
disguise the fact it is all about provocation.
Genuine and constructive provocation, of course,
consists of the presentation of truth in a
challenging and mature manner. A press release
says the following about this British
"In bedsit-land Mark, Robbie, Lulu and Gary
struggle to define themselves in their world of
junk food, junk culture, no jobs, phone sex,
casual sex, rehab, shoplifting, club life and
the temporary escape of designer jobs."
Fine. But can't they define their banal
little lives without the support of tax dollars
paid by people who are too busy making a living
to waste their time on the above? You see, a
full one-third of this play's costs have been
paid for by you and me.
Both the Canada Council and the Toronto Arts
Council fund Crow's Theatre, which is staging
the play. So, in other words, while Ottawa cuts
back on health care and Toronto experiences a
crisis in homelessness both levels of government
give money to a work such as this.
When I called the box office, where the title
is again used in full, I was told "The play
contains coarse language and graphic sexual
imagery and may be offensive to some."
like to meet the people who will not find it
in any way offensive. Because according to
Jim Milan, the artistic director of
the company and director of this particular
play, "There's gay contact implied or shown
by some characters. They'll be presented
within the realms of the law but as we're not
on the air or anything I can tell you that
there will be a representation of anal sex
and of one man kissing another man's bottom
for his pleasure. And lots of
There are posters advertising the play on
walls around the city and on many of these a
single asterisk will replace the second letter
of the f-word.
"Tens of thousands of pieces of literature
are crossing the city as we speak," explained
Milan. "There'll be posters up in restaurants.
Children will be there so we thought we would
use the single asterisk."
Won't children be able to figure out what the
"I guess we'll have to see."
I guess we will.
The point is that people swore a great deal
in the time of Sophocles, Shakespeare,
Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. But
dramatists of the past possessed the ability to
convey profound feelings without splashing
around in the intellectual and moral gutter. Are
we seriously going to believe King Lear would
have been more effective if the old man's three
daughters had taken their tops off?
The use of obscene language and gestures in
such a manner is and has always been the
preserve of the foolish. The teenager pretending
to be an adult, the adult pretending to be a
teenager. The drooping truncheon, if you'll
excuse the phrase, of those who cannot express
passion or anger in a more sophisticated way but
are intent on beating us over the head.
"Yes but the f-word can still shock an
audience," says Milan. "There are three
flatmates who have an interchangeable sexual
relationship. But you get the idea that it's a
functioning unit. One of them is a recovering
drug addict who takes up with a rent boy. It's
about the lost boys and girls of our society
surviving however they can. In a way it's like a
He continues: "The play has some marvellous
Chekhovian allusions." Presumably a reference to
all the shopping that goes on in The Cherry
Orchard. "And, yes, we will confront people's
boundaries and challenge convention and provoke
And is he at all guilty at taking public
money for such a project?
"Not at all. In no way. I'm sure there's a
much greater return on this than on all these
grants to small businesses."
I'm sure there is. Just as I'm sure there are
asterisks in the word garbage.