*Originally posted on the Capital Critics website here!*

HROSES: an Affront to Conventional Theater

Meaghan Flaherty

                As playwright Jill Connell so eloquently puts, “This is the beginning of a big misunderstanding.” HROSES: An Affront to Reason, written by Connell, certainly has the capability of being misunderstood by its audience. My feeling of perplexity upon leaving the Arts Court Theater, however, wasn’t one that angered me. I left craving more – I wanted answers and explanations, but most of all I craved more of this beautifully simplistic story. Evolution Theater and Mi Casa Theater have proven with their new collaboration that though they may have difficulties spelling, they certainly know how to create thought provoking theater.

The plot follows a love story between Lily (Katie Swift), a girl living on her grandmother’s paper mill and Elery (Nick DiGaetano), a worker in the sugar mines that run below the farm. They are drawn to each other, despite a family rivalry, and in their first moments together are able to predict that they will fall in love, but also ruin each other. They begin to create their own version of reality and bend reason to accommodate their love in the hostile world they live in. Seemingly as they foretold, within the first 15 minutes, their differences eventually pull them apart – Lily’s love for sugar, moths and her family are some of Elery’s biggest fears. Their relationship is illustrated through a series of vignettes centred around a horse they find and decide to take care of. Although they love the horse, their relationship with it and with each other degrades over time.

The story was difficult to follow as it jumped forward and backwards in time very abruptly within the script, and sometimes there were no visible changes in lighting to distinguish one vignette from another. This didn’t make me enjoy the show any less. I didn’t care that I wasn’t always engulfed in plot because the play itself was just so striking from its’ imagery to the ideas it promoted. The set design, also by DiGaetano, was very simple, yet beautiful in context. The floors were covered in burlap, and the only visible props present on stage were a horse made of wooden 2×4’s and burlap, and an old radio. The costumes by Patrice Forbes(also prop designer) followed in the same fashion of extreme minimalism, yet created the look of casual farm wear very effectively.

The performance took place in a very intimate acting space with the audience in the round – there is only one row of seating per side, meaning that the audience is limited to around 30 patrons.This created so many moments of connection with the actors. They are able to look directly into the audience’s eyes multiple times during soliloquies, making me feel like their true confidante. The directing by Emily Pearlman (Mi Casa Theater) was wonderful. This was the first time I had experienced theatre in the round, so I didn’tknow what to expect, but Pearlman’s use of corners for soliloquies and the center of the stage for the horse and the scenes between the two actors were very striking and used the space to its fullest. My favorite moment took place when Elery takes a picture of Lily perched on the Horse, and as soon as the camera flashes, the lights change, we hear music on the radio and Elery is telling his mother about Lily, the girl he loves, then flashes immediately back. This moment was highlighted by the fantastic lighting (Pierre Ducharme) and sound design(Al Connors). The lights switched from naturalistic to highly dramatized very suddenly, drawing special attention to specific moments. The sound was also set up in an interesting configuration – speakers were placed behind the audience so that different sections of the audience hear sounds of various intensities and filled the space with waves of sound – I felt shivers constantly running up and down my spine!

I feel the need to reiterate once again that this play is lovely. It was confusing, but I left the theatre unconcerned because of the profound beauty of its text, imagery and stellar performances. The only thing I wanted to do after seeing HROSES was to see it again so that I could get even more out of another performance. It is the type of theatre that you need to experience and that will change from person to person, but the memory will stay with you long after the show, as it most definitely has with me…