Pretense and honesty blur for the teenaged Kes, who falls in love with a girl name Jules. Kes’s perfect love story falls apart when Jules’ mum takes Kes to court for sexual assault and fraud””because Jules had sex with Kes believing Kes was a boy, only to find out Kes is biologically a girl. Stacey Gregg’s play Scorch looks at this teen struggling to understand who she is and how she can live as her authentic self in an era of constructed and performative online identities.
Kes (Amy McAllister), influenced by movies, gaming, and the internet, sees a flexible universe of trying on different personas to suit her. She can play video games as a male avatar. She sees herself through the male characters in movies and notices men can get away with lying to women in films if they do it out of love. Her school friend Jake went so far as to make a twitter feed for a teacher’s chair and tweeted as the chair. If Jake can be a chair, why can’t Kes be a boy?
Scorch gives us a window into Kes’s thinking: the heart-pounding beeps of instant messaging with Jules, the new language surrounding gender she discovers on Tumblr, and the teenage thrill of first love. Ideas of technology and relationships are integrated into the work through sound and lighting effects by Emma Jordan.
Gregg captures the push and pull of Kes’s physical and emotional turmoil over who she sees herself as and how she presents to the world. Dance sequences show this conflict rattling and vibrating through McAllister’s body.
This well-written play only begins to slip away a bit when trying to transition from the romance to the legal aftermath. The play assumes you are familiar with the real life court cases that Scorch is inspired by and how those stories have played out in the media (as an American and a lawyer, I was playing catch-up).
The structure of the story gives shading to Kes’s intentions. Public reports have fixated on the “predatory” nature of sex obtained through fraud. So the play focuses on Kes as being madly in love with Jules – deconstructing perhaps the media’s view of Kes as an opportunistic villain.
But nevertheless, in an era where rape culture and concepts of consent are at the forefront of discussion, the play tiptoes around the moral implications of Jules and her consent to this sexual relationship. Kes trying to justify her actions post hoc has a tinge of the uncomfortable. Though the play does not try to lionize Kes, our sympathy is meant to fall with her.
Eventually Kes’s world cracks open and the audience gets a glimmer of her remorse. Out of a very complex situation, the two lives left destroyed by the event are revealed.