The Unseamly Truth

New Montreal Play Takes On Gender and Class Issues in the Fashion Industry

Infinitheatre’s new production gives insight into the struggles of a woman battling sexism and harassment in the fashion industry. Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

Anyone familiar with American Apparel’s sexual harassment scandals in the past few years will likely find a parallel with Infinitheatre’s latest production about the perils of being a woman in the fashion world’s highly sexualized workplace.

Unseamly, co-directed by Concordia alumnus Sarah Carlsen, aims to unzip this hidden world and bring it into the harsh light of accountability.

“I have friends who were on the pre-jury who didn’t even know if they wanted to come see it,” said Carlsen. “But the reason they don’t want to see it is the reason I want to put it on.”

The play tells the story of a young woman, Malina, who consults legal advice over whether to accuse her former boss, international clothing company CEO Ira Slatsky, of sexual harassment—not unlike the numerous lawsuits former Amerian Apparel employees have filed against the company’s CEO, Dov Charney, over the past few years. The majority of them have been settled out of court or dismissed.

Slatsky appears to be a charming man and even a “revolutionary machine of human justice” at first, according to Carlsen, who uses ethical labour practices and lets workers at all levels of his company contact him directly.

But when it comes to women, especially Latina ones, Slatsky has no scruples about exploiting and abusing their sexuality to sell his products and more.

Carlsen says Slatsky is “a man who makes you laugh in one second, and scares the shit out of you in another”—not to mention a “man-child archetype” given huge authority by wealth and entrenched privilege—who could likely remind those in the audience of leering bosses they’ve had in the past.

“Why couldn’t you have picked that script about the girl with the dead father?” Carlsen recalls being asked. While bleak itself, the alternative script at least carries the possibility of a simple, universally satisfying resolution that raises no unsettling questions about the society we live in.

That, however, is not the kind of play Carlsen wants to put on.

“Good art actually does separate people, it doesn’t just bring them together,” Carlsen mused. She says some people will walk out of Unseamly thinking they’ve just seen “smut,” while others, she hopes, will recognize in its themes things they’ve thought but never said, most notably in the female audience members, where it might hit closest to home.

“You couldn’t produce this without a woman director or co-director, it’s just not possible,” she said.

Unseamly tells a story that is around us every day. It asks, as Carlsen puts it, what if the girl on one of those billboards you see on every block—the girl with the perfectly toned body, wind-blown hair and vaguely orgasmic expression—stepped out of that picture and told you what she had to do to get there?

Lead actress Arlen Aguayo Stewart says she has worked in the fashion industry and found it every bit as exploitative and discriminatory as it is portrayed in the play. She auditioned on a recommendation from a friend, recognizing its relevance to her own experience.

Stewart is also interested in bringing her perspective as a Latina woman to the foreground. The play’s protagonist is Latina like her.

“What I really want to bring to it is a more realistic depiction of a woman from a Latino background. She’s the only woman onstage for a lot of the time so I just want to give her as much strength as possible,” Stewart said.

Carlsen hopes the new production will ignite a dialogue on the issue.

“Almost every rehearsal, tears come to my eyes,” she said. “This play is waking me up again.”

Unseamly // Feb. 11 to Mar. 9 // Bain Saint-Michel (5300 St. Dominique St.) // Tuesdays to Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. // $20 students, $25 regular