Hudson Cleveland reviews A Crown of Laurels, a play that attempts to stimulate dialogue about sexual assault.
Making reference to the Greek mythology surrounding laurel leaves, “A Crown of Laurels” brings the epic down to a contemporary earth in a quotidian rendition focusing on the psychological toll of sexual assault on Daphne (Eleanor Burke). Wax leaves scattered across the StAge, we are constantly reminded visually of the classical roots of the production. While it perhaps takes too much time reaching its climactic scene – the sexual assault of Daphne by Olly (Coggin Galbreath), an assault circumvented in the original myth by ridding Daphne of her own body – the length of stage-time the build-up takes compared to the assault and its aftermath puts forward the sense that the traumatic event is one which hijacked an entire life.
In terms of the production itself, there were highs and lows, many of which were contingent on the 360 degree style of seating the StAge is. While in a way the surrounding of the performance by the audience implicates us as viewers, particularly with the occasional interaction of the performers with the spectators, the staging also pushes against the intention. Eleanor Burke’s earnestly delivered monologues (accompanied by Lavie Rabinowitz’s excellent musical compositions, which imbricates Daphne’s monologues with vaguely ominous tones) vacillate on occasion between talking-to-oneself and talking-to-the-audience, and the latter especially felt like the poorer decision to land on considering the already-mentioned implication of the audience, and considering as well the absolute limit at which audience interaction can occur without disruption to the overall performance. When this limit is probed, the performance stagnates at some key moments – and breaking past the limit would likely have in effect broken down the play itself.
In part, this can be blamed on the StAge as a venue, which clearly alone caused some minor asynchronicity in terms of lighting, musical, entry and exit cues. Though the 360 degrees of spectatorship makes for interesting implications and excellent imagery – one of which was being able to see offstage the ominous, frozen stance of the paint-spattered, darkly-lit figure of Olly staring at Daphne as she shuddered and spoke after the sexual assault – it poses a serious challenge for any director, one which was tackled admirably in this instance for all its resultant (ultimately) insignificant technical issues.
Finally, however, this production is politically charged: how well did it approach the topic of sexual assault? While it fleshes out the life of a victim both before and after with supreme detail and empathy, and Coggin Galbreath’s natural romanticist charm accurately underscores how anyone can still be a monster when they do not understand the fundamental notion of bodily autonomies outside of their own, this feels like a lesson being preached to the choir given its being performed in front of a primarily student audience. There’s zero harm in reaffirming the narratives of victims of sexual assault, but at some point this reaffirmation needs to be pushed a step further, perhaps with a look toward deeper systemic ills rather than the singular perpetrators of sexual assault who are (rightly) ostracised. Though the playbill claims the production responds to the fact that “Western culture has celebrated individuals it deems successful (mostly men) by crowning them with laurel wreaths,” it seems by the end to stop just short of diving into this more provocative and introspective subject matter.