Even in this #MeToo era, the word “rape” is often avoided, in favour of the less discomfiting term “sexual assault,” or even “sexual misconduct.” But Adina Katz does not shy away from calling such an attack by its ugly name, and she does so on stage. She’s not talking about any rape, but the one she endured.
In her new one-woman show, Be a Good Girl, she recalls the crime in frank detail, reliving the trauma without shame, but with blame for a society that still minimizes the physical and psychological violence endured by its victims, and a system that continues to protect the perpetrators.
Be a Good Girl, which she performed five times at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts this month, is not conventional theatre.
Restricted to audiences age 17 and over, the multimedia show brings together Katz’s talents as a playwright, actor, singer, songwriter, musician, video artist, puppet designer and comedian. Humour, sometimes bawdy and always zany, relieves this otherwise unsettling autobiographical story of disillusionment, self-doubt and violation.
Katz has the courage to acknowledge that victims are often interested in the person who attacked them, before the rape takes place. In her case, it was a man she was very attracted to after years of dating disappointment.
They went out, they drank and she invited him back to her place. The sex began consensually, until it was forced and she said no – repeatedly.
He laughed off her resistance. The petite Katz was no match against her 90-kilogram assailant. In the immediate aftermath, she tried to act like everything was normal. She wondered if she was at fault. After all, she had been conditioned from birth to be “a good girl.”
Katz later went to the police, who dissuaded her from pressing charges, leaving the impression that she would be victimizing him. She now understands why so few rape victims report what has happened, let alone seek justice.
At 41, Katz says she has “got my power back” since the rape that happened when she was in her 30s and living in New York, but she will never be “over it.”
Therapy has helped, she tells the audience, as well as support from friends and family (her mother and twin brother were in the front row of this performance). She credits her Aunt Mary with encouraging her to “find my voice” and do “this crazy thing,” a project that began in 2014.
The title refers to the message Katz received as a child, like other girls then and even now, to be nice and look pretty – all those dos and don’ts that will make them pleasing to men. She was fed the Cinderella dream of finding her Prince Charming and living happily ever after.
Creating Be a Good Girl, which in an earlier version premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival last summer, has been part of her healing.
But this is not a fairy tale – there is no happy ending. Be a Good Girl is, first of all, a work of art – and a laudable one at that. Katz hopes it will also contribute to the conversation about sexual assault and harassment. Each one-hour show was followed by a question-and-answer session, and a counsellor was on hand in the lobby for anyone who needed to talk privately about the issues that were raised.
Katz would like to use Be a Good Girl in some form, perhaps online, as an educational tool, or a “reality checky-poo,” as she terms it in the mock video in the show.
In the show, Katz describes coming from a privileged background (“a nice Jewish home”) and being perhaps too sheltered. She wants young women today to be unafraid to speak up for themselves, for young men to understand consent and everyone else to stop hiding the truth.
After working in New York and Chicago for some years, Katz recently returned to Montreal and founded Wandering Well Productions, which intends to create more works that are entertaining, while advocating for social change.