Turning an old trope on its head

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes reframes teacher-student romance

Actors Kevin Aichele (left) and Bailey Chin star in Royal MTC’s production of Hannah Moscovitch’s Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. (Supplied photo)

In 2021, Hannah Moscovitch’s Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language drama. The play examines the predatory nature of the archetypal teacher-student relationship.

The show depicts Annie, a new, 19-yearold university student and Jon, a 41-year-old professor in the low of his career and life, who enter a brief sexual relationship. Years later, Annie and Jon reexamine their relationship following the explosion of the Me Too movement, and in their discussion reveal the insidious nature of student-teacher relationships.

From March 1 to 18, Winnipeggers will have the chance to see Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Tom Hendry Warehouse.

Director Kelly Thornton, who has known Moscovitch since the mid-2000s, says the play revisits a classic teacher-student relationship trope in an intimate way that reveals the realities behind it.

Moscovitch “takes this object of fiction, and she turns it on its head,” Thornton says.

Thornton praises the play for posing important questions: “Why does she get involved in this relationship? What kind of approval is she looking for? Why does his gaze make her feel important, and who gets to tell the story?”

She says Moscovitch’s humanizing portrait of the characters gives the play its power.

“It’s not an easy black-and-white play, because there is consent, but through the Me Too era, everyone’s perspective has shifted,” Thornton says. “However consensual it would have felt at the time, the fact of the matter is that she was a kid, and he should have known better.”

She interprets the play through two analogies: a puzzle the audience has to solve and a maze the characters must navigate. This directly influences the play’s set design, featuring stairs and doors to nowhere, which is reminiscent of M. C. Escher’s maze-like work.

Thornton was attracted to the play’s two actors, Kevin Aichele and Bailey Chin, for their theatrical prowess and identifiable chemistry on stage.

“Kevin comes from musical theatre ... seeing him in a straight play is really exciting,” Thornton says. “Bailey really nails the awkward girl still inside of (the protagonist) who is trying to understand how to be in this world.”

Thornton says the play is directed toward university students and young-adult audiences. “I hope a lot of young people come, because it is a very contemporary story,” she says. “I think it’s about their lives.”

She says she hopes that Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes will start conversations about the relationship viewers see in the play, as well as the power dynamics that are part of all sexual relationships.

“This play really stimulates a dialogue,” Thornton says. “Hannah calls on us to really drill in and think about how power works ... This play is about an imbalance of power, and when you are in a place of power, you have a responsibility to not use power inappropriately.”

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes plays at the Royal MTC’s Tom Hendry Warehouse from March 1 to 18.

Published in Volume 77, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 2, 2023)

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