Note: This review contains both a pick and a pan.
Two plays opened recently which are wildly different but also have something in common—teenagers. The first play: ONCE AND FOR ALL WE”RE GONNA TELL YOU WHO WE ARE SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN is part of the Worldstage festival at Harbourfront, and the second play, HUSH is at the Tarragon Extra Space. Our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin saw both and is here to tell us how they are, and if they made her think longingly of her own teenaged years.
Hi Lynn. First let’s talk about how these two productions are different.
ONCE AND FOR ALL WE’RE GONNA TELL YOU WHO WE ARE SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN is performed by a group of teenagers from Belgium. They tell the story in a non-linear way, so it’s not traditional storytelling. Generally it looks like organized chaos and anarchy with the teens acting with carefree abandon. More performance ‘art’ than a traditionally acted performance. The teens here are not really actors. Lots of yelling, roughhouse activity, characters spit water at each other. It touches on puberty, sexuality, taking drugs and alcohol and challenging parents.
With HUSH, playwright Rosa Laborde has written a traditional play about a 12 year old girl named Lily going through puberty, on the cusp of being a teen. She has terrible nightmares, which in turn worries her single father. There is a mystery surrounding these bad dreams which is dramatically revealed. The actors in HUSH are all professional.
If ONCE AND FOR ALL… is performed in a non-linear way, how do they convey the story?
This is where program notes are always helpful. It says that they will pull down barriers between the way they are on stage and off. They will get on our nerves and for once you’ll know why. The director Alexander Devriendt says that the performance goes against the idea that adolescents lose their rebellious spirit once they’re on stage. Devriendt carefully creates scenes and performances that look like they are out of control.
The performance begins when the cast of 13 quietly sit in chairs looking at us. The quiet gives way to two boys aggressively snapping deflated balloons at each other. A girl wacks another with her shoulder bag. A boy says quietly to us, “I’m scared.” The same boy dances wildly on a chair after he takes his shirt off. (I guess he wasn’t that scared, eh?) A girl says she won’t adhere to her curfew and when she comes home late she’ll be drunk and she can’t help it.
Clear dialogue is spare. Pandemonium rules. Stuff is strewn all over the stage. Then a buzzer buzzes and the teens change and quickly, efficiently clean up the stage, set the chairs aright and leave the stage. The scenes are then repeated with the same cleanup after each buzzer.
One assumes that HUSH tells its story in a simpler way.
It does to a point. We know that Lily, the 12 year old is having nightmares. We see a voodoo priest upstage preparing to stab a pile of her possessions, including her teddy bear, which wakes her screaming.
Her father Harlem is concerned by this so he sleeps in her room to calm her. Then he has his own nightmares. The play veers from the straightforward when we see a mysterious woman involved with Harlem with her own mysterious story.
Who is she? What happened to Lily’s mother? Is her father losing his mind? Interesting questions, that are slowly revealed in this stylish, provocative production.
Two different types of theatre. Did these plays work?
I thought the performances in ONCE AND FOR ALL to be lively, energetic and confident.As a piece of theatre ONCE AND FOR ALL… is a pretentious, dishonest load of claptrap. It’s the director’s fantasy of manipulation. First of all, who is this for? Who are they telling to shut up and listen? Certainly not the audience who was silent and attentive. So who? Their parents?
All that rehearsed anarchy proves nothing. And the shows intentions are negated after the bows when these teens come on stage and begin to quietly, responsibly clean up the junk strewn stage, as we leave.
ONCE AND FOR ALL I’M GONNA TELL YOU TO MISS THIS.
HUSH on the other hand works a treat.
It’s a fascinating play. And Richard Rose has created a stylish production full of vivid images and taut emotions. And the acting is fine from the four actors, especially Vivien Endicott-Douglas as the 12 year old Lily. This kid is a find. The play and production are well worth your time.
ONCE AND FOR ALL WE’RE GONNA TELL YOU WHO WE ARE SO SHUT UP AND LISTEN plays at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront until February 20.
HUSH plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until March 21. Both theatres are wheelchair accessible.