‘The Passion’ is a powerful exploration of ugly truths
Content Note: This review contains a discussion of sexual assault
On May 28, I took a seat in the intimate Corpus Playroom Theater. I was early, so I saw the place quietly filling up with students. As people walked past the square corner stage and sat around me, they were chatting and the noise slowly swelled. Old relationships made up and introductions between future acquaintances – it was good to be back in a theater.
The Passion takes place over an afternoon in the apartment of Tony, a Cambridge student, at the start of the academic year. Dan, her ex-boyfriend from last year, arrives to be reconciled with Tony. The Passion confronts some difficult themes of sexual assault and the impact of British class dynamics. Directed by Cassia Thakkar, the play gives the impression of looking through Tony’s flat window, using realism to place the play’s themes in an uncomfortably close context. The play captures the aesthetics, humor and dialogue of life in Cambridge very well, which is why exposing the darker undercurrents is even more poignant.
“The intimate setting of The Passion gives the impression that the audience is aware of Tony’s private life, and they can no longer hide behind his organized character.”
The playing of the two performers was excellent, being equally engaging and serious as they discussed the complex issues that arose throughout the play. Saul Barrett as Tony looked eerily like too many Cambridge men – arrogant, dismissive and upright. The way Barrett strolled across the stage and fluffed his fluffy hair captured the wealthy Cambridge man almost too well. Barrett’s portrait displays all of the Cambridge Tony’s and everything he stands for. Zac Copeland-Greene, as Dan made it clear that he is a force to be reckoned with despite what you might initially think. Dan initially presented as shy and wriggling in the first act, in direct opposition to Tony’s easy lazyness. However, as the deeds unfold, Dan gains confidence in his truth, and Copeland-Greene’s performance portrayed his arc perfectly throughout the play.
The simple framework worked well with the Corpus Playroom space. I always enjoy a performance on the stage in the corner of the rec room as the unique set provides an ideal space for the most intimate rooms. A few mismatched chairs filled the stage, bottles of wine and unmade dishes littered the backdrop. When Tony and Dan first sit across from each other to reconcile, the third chair feels like the barrier between them, where all the unspoken sits, waiting. As the story unfolds, the characters move around the stage, sometimes in opposition, other times clashing in the center, but always the third chair remains. The intimate setting of The Passion makes the audience seem like they are aware of Tony’s private life, and they can no longer hide behind his priest persona.
The Passion was an original student writing by Ethan Hemmati, simple in its frame, but powerful in its ideas. Granted, I’m a bit biased towards those kinds of stories, one set and one time focusing on the dialogue between the characters, but The Passion is just a great example. Hemmati has a knack for capturing the emotion of realism by exhibiting his character’s facades. The change in power dynamics over the three acts was executed well and demonstrated Dan’s strength as his emotions were finally legitimized. At first, Tony, with his wealth and power, clearly has the upper hand in their relationship. But after Dan confronts him, the interaction changes throughout the second act. Finally, in the third act, we see Dan’s confidence regained, and it’s Tony who flounders at his feet. Hemmati tackles the topic of sexual assault head on, forcing audiences into an unintentionally uncomfortable voyeuristic position to see just how painful these consequences can be.
Overall, The Passion is a sickening exposition of the power dynamics in relationships and the consequences they entail, with Hemmati pointing out that class can underlie the subconscious power dynamics in relationships. The excellent acting and intimate setting add to the skillful writing that enlivens the performance. The Passion prompts audiences to confront the painful truths obscured by the glow of life in Cambridge.
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