SummerWorks, one of the largest juried theater festivals in Canada, features more than 40 shows during its 10-day run this month. One of the plays earning the most attention is Alice Tuan's controversial play, Ajax (Por Nobody), which closes this week after performances on Saturday and Sunday at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.
Tuan, head of the Writing for Performance Program at CalArts, has finally seen her 11-year-old play—described as "unstageable" by some—receive its first full production at the festival.
She wrote the play just after graduate school in a nine-day fevered pitch when she realized that her theater experiments weren't acceptable in the mainstream market. So in a type of single-finger salute, Tuan wrote a play (and included taboo topics like rape, bestiality, pornography and castration) that no one would ever try and take on. Or so she thought.
As Tuan describes her work in her Huffington Post commentary "Canada: The Only Place with Enough Balls to Stage My Play":
It's a simple play: Four people get together to have sex. My inspiration initially came from Ajax the cleanser. Something about "cleanliness is next to godliness" appealed to me, especially in light of a sexually "free" culture encumbered by its puritan undertow. How free can one really be in a predominantly Christian superpower society that teases with sex and then politicizes every touch? Besides, Ajax the cleanser has its own physical theatre: It sprinkles out white and turns blue when it gets wet....
I was so terrified by the horror my fury wrought in bringing "Ajax (por nobody)" into the world, I could not face the play for two years, until Jim Simpson directed it at his own Flea Theater in New York in 2000.
The SummerWorks staging was conceived by 23-year-old director Zack Russell, and the reviews have been positive for this once-unstageable play.
In his four-star rating, NOW Toronto critic Glenn Sumi writes: "Less an adaptation of Sophocles's play than an exploration of its themes of sex and brutality, Alice Tuan's Ajax (Por Nobody) is a remarkable work, drawing on the language of porn and pop culture excesses to present a savage indictment of contemporary society."
Ajax (Por Nobody)
The Theatre Centre
1087 Queen St. West, Toronto
Saturday, Aug. 18 at 2 pm
Sunday, Aug. 19 at 9:30 pm