There’s a tenuous balance in our culture between youth and maturity, one that can be uncomfortably skewed in the exploitation of a teen star’s emerging sexuality or in the disquieting behaviour of Michael Jackson.
It’s that intersection between generations that is explored in the controversial Wash Me Clean, playing Thu, Feb 24 to 27 at Harbourfront’s Hatch fest of emerging theatre.
Michael is 31-year-old gay man, recently transplanted to the big city from rural farm life. He’s finding it difficult to adjust and splits his time between cigarettes and beers on the porch and furtive masturbation to the sight of basketball-playing teens in the schoolyard across the street.
It’s one of these toothsome youths that captures Michael’s attention one day, when 14-year-old Jay saunters across the street to bum a smoke. Thus begins a strange fellowship of shared ale and stilted romance, as Michael becomes obsessed with the boy and descends into a morally questionable affair of the heart.
“This is an issue that gets people immediately uncomfortable: sexual relationships between adults and children,” says writer Chris Dupuis. “This kid is 14, so technically, is ‘legal.’
“I think it’s important to distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual relationships,” he notes.
Dupuis wrote the play shortly after the Maple Leaf Gardens’ scandal, in which arena employees were convicted of trading gifts with teenaged males for sex. Dupuis feels there is a double standard in social attitudes toward intergenerational gay relations, in comparison to Lolita-esque hetero dalliances.
“These guys weren’t 18 years of age,” says Dupuis, “but they weren’t children. If a guy who’s 50 is sexually active with a girl that age, it’s okay, but if it’s with a guy then everyone is up in arms about it.”
Actor Julian Doucet has had his own struggles in playing such a morally ambiguous character.
“I was very angry for a while because the subject can make you uncomfortable,” Doucet says. “I didn’t realize how much I’ve organized my life to not be a part of that.”
Doucet feels his character is less a predator, and more a confused adult with stunted emotional development. “He creates these huge romantic fantasies about this boy,” he says. “Even though Michael has an intellectual sophistication, he is emotionally a 14-year-old girl.”
With an innovative environmental soundscape by Richard Windeyer, Wash Me Clean promises to challenge its audiences in many ways – something Dupuis couldn’t be happier about.
“Just because something is scary or makes us uncomfortable, I don’t think that’s a good reason not to talk about it.”