Danger lurks in the haunting and provocative Gross Misconduct

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      By Meghan Gardiner. Directed by Kayvon Khoshkam. A SpeakEasy Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Sunday, March 17. Continues until March 23

      Foreboding and unease—these are words to describe the atmosphere as you step into the black-box studio, where all eyes are trained upon the lone Deke, played by Ian Butcher, lying on a bone-white bed in silent contemplation. The in-the-round setup adds to the ominous sensation in the room as you take furtive glances at the other audience members, all sitting in quiet anticipation. What follows is 100 minutes of hauntingly beautiful theatre, carefully crafted by director Kayvon Khoshkam to provide a poignant exploration of sexual assault that is sure to keep your eyes glued to the stage until the very last second.

      SpeakEasy Theatre’s Gross Misconduct follows the story of the abrasive and brooding Deke, who, after spending many years alone in his cell, is joined by a new prisoner named Corey (Mike Gill). As Corey begs his cellmate to protect him from the ever-present danger of prison rape, Deke is forced to confront demons from his past when a mysterious diary written by someone named Abigail is delivered to him. The audience, in turn, must examine not only the morally grey areas each character inhabits, but also the ways in which we all contribute to the rape culture of today.

      Butcher embodies Deke’s tormented soul perfectly, and his standoffish demeanour contrasts well with Gill’s spoiled yet charming Corey. Their hockey banter is endearing and even comical at times, almost making us forget just how flawed and broken each of them is—almost. Scott Bellis’s Gareth is the prison guard you love to hate, and his creepiness factor increases tenfold when he gently caresses the helpless Corey’s back and chest while making an indecent proposal. Sereana Malani lends her captivating voice to the role of Abigail, who recounts the story of her first crush. Abigail’s anecdotes are welcome interludes in an otherwise male-driven story.

      Markian Tarasiuk’s minimalist set design is compact, and works in tandem with the in-the-round seating that reinforces the idea that these characters are under scrutiny. Lighting designer Jillian White’s use of strobe adds to the harsh and unforgiving tone of the play, and her bold use of flashlights in the dark is a stroke of genius. However, patchy lighting takes away from Abigail’s otherwise flawless delivery when she steps on and off the audience bleachers.

      It is worth mentioning this show also debuts the experimental implementation of a new seating-card system, reminiscent of the process used by airlines for boarding. While a valiant effort, the process seems a tad irrelevant, given that the intimate seating plan does not require such measures to be taken. However, with no intermission, the process is thankfully not repeated, and takes nothing away from the stellar work inside the venue.

      This SpeakEasy Theatre production is undoubtedly a must-watch this season. If you seek a night of introspection and thought-provoking theatre, look no further than Gross Misconduct.