The #MeToo movement over the past few years has been defined by women sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. This reckoning, as some call it, has fueled a national dialogue about gender dynamics in a society where women can become a victim at the hands of men with power, making it difficult to speak out for justice.
But “Against His Will,” a play that premiered in Jamaica more than 15 years ago, flips the script and tells the story of a man who accuses a woman of rape. Nearly two decades later, as the onslaught of allegations made by women against men in the workplace and elsewhere continues, playwright David Heron is reviving the legal drama — and creating new conversation — in the United States. A staged reading of “Against His Will” comes to the New Vibe Lounge in Rockville Centre on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
“The play is a wonderful opportunity to spark discussion about what happens when a man says, ‘Me too,’” Heron said. “And it does happen. There are male professionals who are being propositioned by heterosexual women and homosexual men and are not as vocal in what is happening to them.”
Heron, who moved from the Caribbean to Queens in the early 2000s, described the Jamaican society he grew up in as hyper-masculine, with a “fixation on heterosexuality and masculinity.” With this background and two plays under his belt, he jolted out of bed one morning and thought, “Can a woman rape a man?”
Just like that, his third play was born. He finished writing “Against His Will” in record time – three weeks. It became a hit in Jamaica and later in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The play explores the social and legal quandaries faced when main character Daniel Bryan claims his female boss had sex with him without his consent, pressing charges against her and causing uproar in Jamaica, where the play is set. The story raises the question, Heron said, “Does an erection imply consent?” This and other moral, psychological, societal and legal questions will be discussed after the performance at the New Vibe Lounge – at 60 N. Park Ave. — where audience members can ask the cast questions and engage in a dialogue about the performance.
“It’s a good discussion piece,” said Patrick Aitcheson, co-owner of the New Vibe Lounge. “For a long time we just operated where, ‘Boys will be boys’ or, ‘It’s a guy thing,’ and assault was accepted. Now, we’re seeing that it’s hurting and affecting a lot of us, and we’re talking about it.”
Aitcheson met Heron at the college they both attended in Jamaica and saw his play when it first opened there. He noted that he’s looking forward to the discussion afterwards as much as the performance itself to hear locals’ thoughts on it. Sexual assault “is still not treated well, because it’s hard to prosecute and hard to acknowledge,” Aitcheson said, “so it’s a good thing David is doing now, [saying] let us have a robust discussion and really talk about what’s happening.”
Candice McCoy, who plays the role of attorney Rachel Robinson, noted that the play does not present a clean-cut solution to the issue. “As the play goes on, you get to decide who is or is not being truthful,” she said. “Those gray areas of life are examined in this play.”
With adapted stage readings that remove some Jamaican dialect to be more relatable to an American audience, Heron hopes to bring the play to the mainstream in the states. The staging in Rockville Centre will be the second in this run of this new version — the first was at Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn last September.
“Last time the audience loved it, and we had a very heated and interesting discussion,” McCoy said. “I expect next time will not be any different.”