By Lory Diaz
Hart House Theatre is currently performing 7 Stories by Canadian playwright Morris Panych and directed by Rebecca Ballarin. If you have yet to attend any of the 2016-2017 Hart House Theatre plays, please make sure to get tickets to this beautifully complex and comical performance.
7 Stories at Hart House Theatre opens with a man standing on the ledge of a red brick apartment building with roughly six windows. The ledge is high enough to make the man uncomfortable whenever he glances down, but clearly he is contemplating jumping off. There is nothing else on the stage. The individual windows open as tenants of the building open them to get fresh air, to take a moment away from whatever is happening within the unit, or when their curiosity is piqued by the noisy activity of a neighbour.
The first window opens up to a couple fighting dangerously, then we’re introduced to a paranoid and sleep-deprived psychiatrist, guests at a house party, an actor in the midst of losing his identity, a religious fanatic, friends struggling to maintain their sanity while redecorating, and finally a personal care worker and her 100 year old patient. Each of these interactions with the man on the ledge allows for a moment of reflection from the audience: we relate to, or reflect upon, the struggle or absurdity of that moment, and life itself.
The almost minimalist set is the perfect backdrop for the play as it allows the acting and intention of the play to be the main focus; As the show progresses you develop favourites, but by the end you realize that each cast member, having played multiple characters, gave a fantastic performance with one character or another. Brian Haight who plays the lead character, The Man, gave an amazing performance! I point him out specifically because sometimes the tenants had larger-than-life personalities, but the man on the ledge always interacted with them in ways that highlighted the absurdity of their situations and contradictions of their words versus actions, and the troubling nature of his own predicament in that moment.
Melissa Joakim’s lighting brilliantly highlights the tension in the play, pushing the audience into a surreal moment. The lighting focuses on the interactions between the tenants and the man for most of the duration of the play, until we’re left with extreme curiosity as to where exactly the physical supports and structures have gone.
Although the core truths of the play are quite serious, the show is filled with very funny moments where laughter erupts from the audience. Cast members Kevan Kashani, Rakhee Morzaria, and Kevin Forster give hilarious performances with refreshing physicality. Also, the comedic chemistry between Scott Kuipers and Nicole Hrgetic is undeniable. I don’t know whether their struggle closing a window was real or not, but either way, it had the audience laughing out loud!
Although I wholeheartedly enjoyed the performance, and left the theatre with a smile on my face, it wasn’t until I began reflecting upon the dialogue and pace that I realized how telling the play is of life’s absurdity. Director Ballarin notes that describing the play as surreal feels odd because life is “…unpredictable and strange and dark and mysterious and surprising.” And she’s right, but this is exactly why 7 Stories is so successful at conveying this message and sentiment. If you’re looking for an evening filled with laughs, or a fun way to start a deep discussion with friends, get yourself tickets to the Hart House Theatre’s production of 7 Stories. I had a great time, and I’m sure you will too!
7 Stories at Hart House Theatre runs until March 11, 2017. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $17 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.