The West of Lenin Theatre lends intimacy to a play that is already quite up close and personal. Written by Yussef El Guindi, Collaborator offers its audience one bed, and one woman. After Cass (Hayley Guthrie), a troubled actress, invites us to “slide into her bed,” we get to listen as she recalls and examines her past experiences with men.
That being said, the term “monologue” is much too stiff a term to be applied to El Guindi’s work. Watching Collaborator feels less like watching a play, and more like listening to one of your girlfriend’s stories–the kind of story that can’t be told completely without bringing up several others as well. With transitions like, “On the other hand, he was a really great kisser,” Cass somehow makes 75 minutes of speech both natural and strangely familiar.
In fact, at times it seems impossible (and I mean this as a testament to El Guindi’s talent) that Collaborator was written by a man.
This is probably because Cass’s troubles are largely our own. Her reflections give importance to the seemingly trivial moments we likely experience (at least) on a weekly basis, like the moment your heartbeat quickens when you are walking home alone at night and notice men approaching. In a stream-of-consciousness eerily realistic, they express the self-loathing we feel for jumping to the worst possible conclusions and for pre-judging; but they also question how to deal with the misogynistic remarks when they do come, and what guys achieve by making them, anyway.
Numerous other issues are addressed as well. Throughout Cass’s stories, we are urged to consider invisibility (and why it feels like death), the ethical challenge of having a penis (why men are allowed to use their sexual organs as an excuse for cheating), and veiling (why women should have to cover themselves up to protect against men’s sexual weaknesses). That being said, her thoughts are in no way anti-men: They also speak to the vulnerability of both parties in new sexual experiences, and the stage fright we all–actors and non-actors alike–experience in everyday life.
Not all of Collaborator’s subject matter is everyday, though; and not all of its stories find the humor in the situation. At the heart of Cass’s intertwining stories is her recount of what she thinks (but has been encouraged to doubt) was a rape. It explores how consensual acts can quickly become nonconsensual, and questions the role she played–her collaboration–in her own rape. The form that El Guindi has chosen is incredibly fitting to describe the kind of situations that are too messy for black and white descriptions, for yesses and nos. Did I say no? Cass questions. Did he hear me? Was it really rape?
These questions are particularly distressing, as we are supposed to believe that Cass’s story really happened. The occurrence she’s describing happened in times past, when she became involved with a theater acquaintance. It is only a year later that she confronts him, and proposes that they work together on the play. As Cass says near the end, it is not an indictment against her “collaborator”/rapist, but an earnest attempt to sort through her own understanding of the event, an attempt that inevitably resurfaces everything she thought she knew about her sexuality. In the end, Collaborator celebrates not only the strength of the female voice, but also the success of art in working through even the most complicated aspects of life.
Collaborator is a must-see for every human being, as the questions it provokes are ones we should all consider. Its ceaseless fluctuation from hilarious to heart-wrenching moments–portrayed so brilliantly by Guthrie–is one you might be able to find in your own life, but will certainly be much more enjoyable in the comfort of the West of Lenin Theatre.
Collaborator by Yussef El Guindi. Directed by Anita Montgomery. Featuring Hayley Guthrie. Produced by Macha Monkey. At West of Lenin Theatre. 203 N 36th St, Seattle, WA 98103. Fremont. Thurs-Sat at 8pm through May 14th. Tickets at www.machamonkey.org.