A Man Walks Into a Bar is a beautiful, smart and biting commentary on gender politics from Rachel Blair, which plays at the Tarragon Mainspace through July 11th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
The play begins with a woman (played expertly by Blair) attempting to tell a joke, yet her male friend keeps interrupting and offering dramaturgy to her, in a mindless and friendly manner, which she accepts and allows and, at times, apologizes for. The joke is dramatized as the interaction between a man, who walks into a bar, and a waitress with whom he has one friendly and slightly flirty exchange. The man returns to the bar and his expectations concerning this waitress have risen exponentially. He is an average, normal, everyday sort of guy, subtly swathed in white male privilege, and completely oblivious to the ways he contributes to a patriarchal world that serves his needs. Yet, as Blair explores, this white, male privilege, the construction of masculinity and patriarchy, is actually a most fragile concept that cannot handle being laughed at, challenged or analyzed. The crux of the joke, and Blair’s play, is the absurdity that the people who wield the most power are also the most delicate.
Blair is terrific at oscillating deftly between brimming with confidence, charm and playful attitude, and then reducing herself, sometimes only marginally, as she feels intimidated, nervous, judged or lambasted. She makes herself smaller to protect herself in situations she feels uncomfortable in, and the construction of her job, as a waitress, who is paid to be jovial and friendly to all her guests, sets her up for many opportunities for awkward conversations and potentially dangerous situations. Blue Bigwood-Mallin plays both men with what looks like infinite confidence, yet also incredible sensitivity, sensitivity that escalates quickly from whining, to blaming to violence. These men are quick to mansplain, play devil’s advocate and offer excuses, but fail to comprehend the joke.
The play conveys a complex idea creatively and clearly, without undermining its complexity. It is a darkly funny, and sharply insightful piece that I would heartily recommend that everyone try their best to go see.
TWISI FRINGE RATING: A Man Walks Into a Bar plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe at the following times: