Review: HOUSE, Isolation Version

by Lynn on May 11, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Factory Theatre, via the magic of technology.

Written by Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

Set designed by Christine Hanchard

Lighting designed by Michelle Ramsay

“House” Technician, Quincy Hanchard

Cast: Kevin Hanchard

A compelling production of a gripping play in this time of isolation.

Note: The production of House by Daniel MacIvor was supposed to open on May 7, and was the last production in the 50th anniversary season of Factory Theatre. COVID-19 put a stop to that and the production was cancelled. But the ever-resourceful Daniel MacIvor had other ideas. He suggested to Nina Lee Aquino, Factory Theatre’s Artistic Director, and the director of House, that he tweak the play to reflect they are in isolation and that they do a one-off on-line version. And so they did. The production took place in Kevin Hanchard’s house (he plays Victor in this one man show), with a set created by Christine Hanchard, Kevin’s wife, with technical help by Quincy Hanchard, their son. The  lighting was by Michelle Ramsay.

The Story. Victor is a disappointed man who wanted to be an engineer but instead is a clerk in a company that sells septic tanks. His father left the family to join the circus to portray The Saddest Man in the World. Victor married his third cousin because his mother told him to. The marriage is unhappy. His wife has a penchant for the ‘swinger’s life’ and Victor does not. Instead Victor goes to group therapy to deal with his issues of being tense. Friends have disappointed him. Members of the group aggravate him with their weird behaviour.

The Production.  The production takes place in a low-ceilinged room. A child’s red chair is positioned in front of a backdrop of unmarked cardboard boxes that are piled on top of each other almost to the ceiling. Michelle Ramsay’s lights give off a foggy, ghost-like glow.

Kevin Hanchard plays Victor as a wired, anxious, easily aggravated man. He often sits in the too-small chair, or he stands awkwardly and shifts from one foot to another. Victor says that he’s tense. Our perception might be of a man who is angry. Victor is angry at his lot in life—his father left the family to join the circus. Victor is unhappy in his job as a clerk and in his marriage. When Victor says that his wife is his third cousin and that his mother told him to “marry her” Hanchard says it in what one presumes is the mother’s lilting accent from one of the ‘islands.’ (Note Hanchard was “born in Jamaica and raised on the mean streets of Mississuaga” according to his programme biography.) Victor is angry because is has to endure endless slights. And most of all Victor feels ignored, irrelevant and unseen.

He tries to handle his tense feelings by going to group sessions with other people who have their own issues. One silent woman chews on her split ends. Another friend drags him to a huge supermarket to buy a pack of gum. Victor gets into a verbal altercation with a man in the check-out line who has a whole cart of stuff to check out and doesn’t offer to let Victor’s friend through with just the gum. During the altercation the friend runs off with the gum, leaving Victor there to deal with the fall-out. Victor has a lot to cope with.

Over the course of the 80 minutes of the running time Kevin Hanchard uses the small space to illuminate a man confined. Occasionally he reaches up and yells “House” as if to try and expand the confines of the space. Because Hanchard is a gifted actor in both theatre and film he knows how to use the new medium of ‘on-line’ theatre for a theatrical effect. It’s quite startling to see him lunge forward, his face up close to his computer’s camera—challenging and stark.

Nina Lee Aquino has directed a production that was bracing and compelling and never let us turn away from Victor’s anger in his world.  The play certainly reminded us of what a fine writer Daniel MacIvor is. He illuminates the life of a man on the edge, who feels marginalized  but who functions and operates in the hopes of being better. And I loved seeing Kevin Hanchard’s take on Victor.

Comment. At the end of the production there was a conversation with Nina Lee Aquino, Daniel MacIvor and Kevin Hanchard. MacIvor said that he tweaked the play to reflect our time in isolation. He also said that he tweaked the character of Victor to reflect that Kevin Hanchard, a black actor, was playing him, therefore this established that Victor was a black man. The tweaking was subtle—a line reference here and Hanchard’s accent as Victor’s mother. This deepened the work of the actor exploring the work of the character. Terrific result.

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