Middle classes behaving badly, again

Izabella Yena (left) and Dan Spielman explore the shifting power dynamics of middle class sexual misconduct. Photo: Jaimi Joy/supplied.

Review: Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills – Sunday, 5 June, 2022. Reviewed by Richie Black.

★★

In Hannah Moscovitch’s Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, a jaded writer and uni professor, Jon, has an affair with a much younger student. 

Over the course of the play, we watch as the student Annie grows in wisdom and academic stature, to confront the unbalanced power dynamics inherent in the initial encounters and assert some degree of agency over the narrative. 

Throughout this, Jon (played by Dan Spielman), spends a lot of time talking to the audience in third person, while Annie (Izabella Yena) comes and goes through the years. 

If that description strikes you as somewhat banal or predictable – well, yeah, agreed. 

Even the title, as you can tell, strikes a clanging note of obviousness – and that, I suspect, is the point. I mean, this stuff is so ubiquitous and misuse of power so endemic – it feels worthy, in one sense, to reiterate the obvious, ho-hum, depressing predictability.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for at least presenting the issues with new insights, or at least a different angle. Particularly as the attention span of the collective, our tendency to glaze over at this stuff, isn’t that great. 

This show was overall well done and accomplished but fundamentally it felt like the problem lay in yet again presenting the issue from the older male’s point of view. 

As mentioned above, yes, the student was seen to have wrested control of the narrative. But not in a way that was entirely convincing or particularly meaningful. 

#MehToo. Izabella Yena and Dan Spielman in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. Photo: Jaimi Joy/supplied.

In this case, the sleazy teacher archetype wasn’t fleshed out anywhere too far beyond the that idea Jon wasn’t/isn’t a bad person – just a bit pathetic, clumsy and stupid.

And, unfortunately, for a play to some degree reliant on timeliness, we’ve seen these people justify their behaviour in these sort of terms, over and over – particularly lately (Louis C.K., for example).

It didn’t help that time-jumps served to get Jon off the hook and take the air out of things. What was left was a sort of cautionary tale, but one which seemed to indulge middle class sensibilities without really confronting them. 

Other elements, like the direction and acting from the two leads, were strong. But their relatively formal and subdued nature did kind of emphasise the banality of proceedings – the implication being there was something more interesting happening elsewhere. 

Specifically, there was far more at stake for the student than the old guy. And, therefore, a sense that Annie’s journey was worthy of far more time than the endless monologuing of yet another academic who should’ve known better. 

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes plays the Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills, until Sunday, 10 July, 2022. Visit https://belvoir.com.au/productions/sexual-misconduct-of-the-middle-classes/ for tickets and further information.

Richie Black is the deputy editor of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @NoirRich.

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