Presented by Rage Sweater Theatre Productions
The internet is a wondrously convenient, somewhat terrifying, frequently toxic phenomenon. It can provide ample material for a 60 minute show about a woman of Colour fighting the good fight against racist, misogynist trolls. And the title of Monica Ogden’s Toronto Fringe Festival entry suggests that the internet will be the focus of her story. Though her online experience provides a striking backdrop, Monica Vs. the Internet: Tales of a Social Justice Warrior is more actively concerned with the tangible, fleshy reality of racism and misogyny.
With her adorable “Adobo” T-shirt (riffing on the Adidas logo), Ogden proudly identifies as Filipina, though that pride was hard-won. She begins with painful childhood memories of being labelled “Chinese” and taunted for having “weird-looking eyes.” From adolescence through to adulthood, she relates formative experiences at home, at school and at work—where both her gender and cultural history are a visceral, ever-present and frustrating reality.
She addresses a particularly infuriating response to her art and her very personhood: the suggestion that, due to her light skin tone, she’s not “asian enough” to speak about her own experience of racism. Particularly appalling is the constant harassment she receives from a white female critic who has gone out of her way to discredit and torment her.
Suffering from a myriad of chronic illnesses, Ogden reveals how physical pain defines most of her waking life. Mentioned casually, this isn’t an overt call for sympathy; it provides an added layer of understanding. Ogden’s delivery is so unguarded and natural, it’s easy to forget that she’s a gifted storyteller, crafting a very specific experience for us.
There were moments when the emotional weight of a memory would throw her off the structure of the show. Calling out to her stage manager to help re-orient herself, Ogden handles these brief hiccups with such honesty and finesse that they drew me deeper into her tale instead of jarring me loose. These moments add immediacy and another layer of vulnerability to an already very personal account.
Her journey—of learning to love herself and define her purpose—is elegantly woven into the similar experiences of her mother and grandmother. That core thread—generations of Filipino women living lives of defiant resilience amidst oppressive attitudes—is one of the most moving aspects of this story. In part, this serves as a tribute to their legacy.
Though her internet experience isn’t the focus here, a selection of posted comments from her social justice YouTube channel provide a haunting echo of her traumatic real-life experiences. These truly awful comments are projected on a screen behind her. The casual, blatant cruelty of these posts is chilling. Some comments are more subtle and more insidious in their oppression. For instance: one white commenter suggested she might gain more traction if she was nicer. This notion that white allyship is conditional, that white people hold their support as a bargaining chip to be wielded on their own terms, is significantly problematic.
It must be satisfying for an audience of Colour (particularly women also living with disability) to see their experience reflected, but Ogden’s main goal here is outreach to her white audience. She concludes with a call to action for us specifically.
I was aware of my whiteness throughout most of the show, though it never felt like a point of contention. Asking people to acknowledge any societal privilege they may have is far too often erroneously viewed as a demand for guilt and shame. Anticipating that, Ogden has taken great pains to be inclusive rather than alienating. She achieves that sense of inclusion without pandering to white defensiveness, diluting her anger or undermining the content of her challenge; all while maintaining a jovial comic tone.
Ogden’s delicate balancing act—the persistent warrior, the wounded human and the giddy comedian—is what makes Monica vs. the Internet an astonishing achievement.