For white men of a certain age, 2020 is a scary time when teaching an old man new tricks means putting him out to pasture. In Tarragon Theatre’s new play, This Was the World, Kim Nelson is the young quiet woman who manages to take names, fire a an aging legal superstar and stomp over an indigenous students private affairs.
Nelson a relative newcomer to the Toronto theatre scene is the quiet force in this small play about gossip war between Boomer white privilege and her generation’s seething millennial rage.
“This play is about how its characters deal with change and loss of status or privilege (or what is sometimes called white fragility),” explains playwright Ellie Moon. “I believe that it is worth exploring the ordinariness and the consequences of White fragility.”
The one-act, one-set play takes place in a small Ontario university. R.H Thomson plays an White aging professor of law. He is a much-published legal author and takes pride in teaching a course on Indigenous law. The drama starts with he begins arguing with his younger Black boss, the assistant dean, (Kim Nelson) about his conduct in class of late and his displeasure at the school hiring one of his former indigenous students to teach a similar course to his.
Chances are you have seen Thomson on stage, or on the big screen or TV. He has been in close to 100 films and shows and countless theatre productions. He plays a lot of famous people ranging from Edsel Ford to Dr. Fredric Banting. In this play he highlights those Boomer personality traits that young professional have come to detest.
He is 72 in real life and has managed to capture the personality of his generation.
Friendly, nice, but suspicious, incapable of admitting when he is wrong. Oh yes, and he is forgetful, filter-less and cruel to people who care.
In trying to oust the newly hired First Nation’s professor, he runs a foul of Nelson who doesn’t like his inappropriate actions in the classroom. Thomson has let personal stories leak into his lectures. He talks about his daughter Rachel VanDuzer and her mental health issues, the suicide of his wife and his contempt for anyone who doesn’t speak “lawyer” in proper English.
Nelson, who while new to Tarragon audiences, has some major roles in her resume. The actress was recently seen in Mainline Theatre’s For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide. She has appeared in the TV series Designated Survivor, and Orphan Black and will soon appear in the dance production of Cacao: A Venezuelan Lament.
Nelson exudes a quiet rage against the Thomson’s character. Using highly personal information from an indigenous law student she is able “retire” the tenure teacher out the door. But, at what cost? An indigenous student Dakota Ray Hebert wanted to take a course with the old White lawyer and now feels racially betrayed by this Black bureaucrat. The mentally damaged daughter is driven into a criminal rage, and kidnaps of that same indigenous student.
Score it millennial correctness one, White fragility no score. But was the game worth winning?
See this intense, worthy play at the Tarragon Theatre in midtown Toronto. It runs in their Small Space until March 1st.