Nobody wants to be lectured. That phrase suggests being sat, face down at your desk, with a monotoned teacher informing you in thorough detail just how the Roman Empire came to power. In
Jane Doe is a lecture, but it is one of the most engaging and important lectures ever given in a university building.
In Jane Doe, the audience sit and listen to Karin McCracken talk about rape. She talks about it nebulously and without fanfare or pretension, but with skill, grace and an engaging intensity. She is constantly aware of the audience and does her best to keep them comfortable and safe in these sensitive discussions. This sensitive treatment at no point feels like due diligence or an attempt to score points, but instead feels like natural, legitimate respect given to the subject matter and its victims. There is audience interaction but these elements are carefully managed and scripted so there is no point in which the show is allowed to stray from careful attention to its message and intention. Jane Doe is an important show that knows it is important, but uses that knowledge responsibly.
Karin McCracken is an incredibly talented performer. She is likeable without ever being cloying, relaxed without ever losing energy and dedicated to every word she says with admirable passion and care. She laughs off any brief disruptions to the planned events of the show and treats audience members, both those interacting with her and watching her in the crowd, with endless charm and good humour. It is the treatment of its subject matter that gives Jane Doe its power, but it is McCracken who gives the show its heart and soul. The fact that she is an impressively deft hand with accents doesn’t hurt either, lending one of the most poignant moments of the show some additional humour and kudos.
Jane Doe has bells and whistles, but the elements of audience interaction and minor technical feats all exist in service of the material at hand. Dealing with a sensitive issue like sexual assault on college campuses would lead to all but the most respectful of creative people shying away from simple honesty. Brutally intense coverage of rape and sexual assault has been seen before, as well as very worrying simplification or diversion of the issues at the heart of the subject matter. But Jane Doe talks about campus rape as it has never been talked about on stage: Simply, matter-of-factly, and with heart, humour and intelligence. Jane Doe may not seem like something one wants to watch, dealing with as heartbreaking a central issue as it does, but it unquestionably should be seen by as many people as possible.
At the end of the show, there is a very short bow and Karin McCracken thanks us for coming. There is no real fanfare and no attempt to create the illusion the audience weren’t simply sitting in a university lecture theatre for the last hour. That is where Jane Doe finds its biggest strength. As we leave we are given the chance to donate to a rape crisis support charity and given phone numbers for if we want to learn more about what we just saw. This does not seem like it is done with intent to gain plaudits, which is exactly why Jane Doe deserves the same respect it gives the victims it discusses. Jane Doe is a lecture, but it is one of the most engaging and important lectures ever given in a university building.