Review: THE HUNS

by Lynn on May 4, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, produced by One Four One Collective at the Assembly Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until May 8, 2022.

Written by Michael Ross Albert

Directed by Marie Farsi

Set and costumes by Marie Farsi and design consultant, Alexandra Lord

Sound designed by Andy Trithardt

Lighting designed by Chin Palipane

Cast: Jamie Cavanagh

Breanna Dillon

Cass Van Wyck

A production that goes like the wind of a play that captures the cut-throat world of ‘the office’ with razor sharp dialogue and situations we all recognize.

The Story. There’s been a break-in at a tech company. The police have been called and the employees have been alerted that they all will be interviewed by the police to tell them what they know. Iris, one of the administrators of the company has called a company meeting for all the employees, including those around the world to address the situation. She has an important power-point presentation and needs the undivided attention of everybody. Iris has just returned from an extended leave and she’s raring to go to show people she is back and she’s in charge. Shelley (Iris’ temporary replacement) is also there to see that things run smoothly. Pete, one of the tech programmers is there but is anxious to leave for his bachelor party that will be at a destination. He gets married in a week. And then everything begins to go wrong with the meeting.

The Production. The set by Marie Farsi and Alexandra Lord is spare: two potted ferns, a long, white empty table with three chairs, with a phone and a remote control on the table. The remote control is for an unseen screen needed for Iris’ presentation. The remote is not working. Iris (Breanna Dillon) is livid. She calls tech support and reams them out only to have to back up because she’s being rude and the person on the other end of the phone does not appreciate it. She is impatient to know how this could happen. Shelley (Cass Van Wyck) nervously tries to explain itemizing all the things she has done to ensure things worked smoothy. Pete (Jamie Cavanagh) is impatient to leave, and thinks this power-point presentation is a waste of time. Emotions between Pete and Iris ramp up. He thinks she’s a micro-manager and a control freak and much prefers Shelley. He says that the whole office likes Shelley (who is there on a contract just until Iris returns), that she is efficient, pleasant and approachable. Territory is marked out.

Playwright Michael Ross Albert and Andy Trithardt the creative sound designer for The Huns load the conference call with every conceivable glitch that we’ve all come to expect from such technology: people are late joining the call; others don’t show up at all (such as the travelling CEO of the company), he sends his wife instead to be on the call and she has interference with high winds—she’s outside–; others have tech problems resulting in wabbly voices and the messages are distorted; some leave the meeting for other meetings; somebody calling remotely wants a little recap because he’s missed some information. Iris tries to field all this with ever diminishing patience. Shelley calmly tries to be helpful and Pete just wants to get out of there.

I did think that while all that techno-glitch stuff was very funny because we’ve all experienced this before, and did present challenges to Iris, I had the slight feeling this was a bit of padding to the production. I realize it was important to extend what was supposed to be a 15-minute power-point presentation by Iris, but less would have been just as effective. Just an observation.

Playwright Michael Ross Albert has proven with his previous plays: Tough Jews and Two Minutes to Midnight that he is a gifted writer of cutting humour. His dialogue is divine. He has a keen ability to make perceptive observations of people in various situations and illuminating seemingly ordinary situations to show how extraordinary they are when they come all in a rush.

Each of his characters is a case in point. Iris has been away for some time and the rumors are rife as to why. She knows she has to come back and make a definite statement that she is in charge. She is chic, sleek and dressed for success and to suggest power. She wears high heels that would announce her coming and going on the hard floor. She has been up since 5:30 am sending e-mails to the staff, arranging the conference call and preparing her multi-page power point presentation. She is controlling and one realizes very insecure.

As Iris, Breanna Dillon gives orders with a barely concealed irritation. She is quick to suggest that all these problems are Shelley’s fault (they aren’t); she never thanks her for taking over for her while she is away, and like every insecure person is very watchful of the weaknesses of others and how to chip at them.

As Pete, Jamie Cavanaugh, knows the culture of that company and knows the kind of controlling bully that Iris is. He is a bold adversary to Iris’ conniving. He calls her out “you’re throwing Shelley under the bus.” Cavanaugh has an engaging energy and plays Pete with arrogant impatience because he knows Iris’ tricks and just wants to get out of there to get his plane and go to his destination bachelor party.

As Shelley, Cass Van Wyck is controlled, accommodating, efficient, calming, and juuuust about at the end of her tether with all these shenanigans. She knows how she figures into that office culture, how she is appreciated, how efficient she is, but she also is facing the person she was replacing. There is that delicate dance of not seeming to be taking over, but also to show she is efficient.

And then Michael Ross Albert adds a twist to his play that goes deeper into the office culture that is a surprise but not unexpected, it’s a deeper look at work in this modern age; there is no such thing as an 8 hour workday for these people; there is the expectation of doing more for less. You can feel the pressure. And Michael Ross Albert illuminates that too.

The production is beautifully directed by Marie Farsi who keeps on ramping up and ramping up the stakes of these characters, in which even silent moments of watchfulness are charged. Voices raise imperceptibly; patience is slowly lost. The audience grips the chair or their butt cheeks as the inevitable happens.

Comment. The Huns is a terrific comedy with lots of deep observations about work, success, and deciding whether or not all the angst is worth it. The production has been invited to perform at the Brighton Fringe Festival in Brighton, England. I suggest that Michael Ross Albert take a large supply of Valium to give to the audience after the performance to relax them. It’s a production that goes like the wind and leaves you breathless.

One Four One Collective Presents:

Plays until: May 8, 2022.

I saw it May 3, 2022.

Running time: 1 bracing hour, no intermission.

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