Hart House Theatre continues with their winning streak as they’re currently performing Kat Sandler’s Retreat, directed by Claire Burns, and featuring Pearle Harbour as Candace Matchwick! Torontonicity was invited to opening night on March 1, 2019 of this sharp satire that first made its appearance on Toronto’s theatre scene back in 2014. Retreat immediately had an impact on crowds, as it brilliantly commented on the competitive and desperate lengths millennials will go to just to secure a position in the current job market. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard anything about Retreat, but believe me when I say that this is a great opportunity to see what all the hype was about.
The main plot line of this show is four interns are blindfolded and dropped off at a former children’s camp that now hosts corporate activities for a well-known firm. The interns are led through a series of activities by the camp’s owner, but through the entire process, they aren’t sure if they should be competing or collaborating. Hilarity, desperation, and self-discovery ensue as each intern pushes past the surface to learn what drives them as an individual.
Director Claire Burns ups the camp in Retreat by casting the extraordinary Pearle Harbour as the enthusiastically optimistic but emotional, Candace Matchwick. Candace spends the majority of the play gushing over intern Paul (played by Tony Tran), and chastising anyone else who doesn’t know and stay in their place. Eventually, the audience grows to love Candace as they reveal their softer side, but only after many laughs as they inject comedic relief into some pretty aggressive moments among the interns.
I think Burns’s casting of Pearle Harbour as Candace was absolutely genius! Pearle Harbour is such a larger-than-life personality that they infuse the role of naïve, but jaded, camp grounds owner Candace with the required comedic strength and vulnerability. Pearle Harbour is also very tall, making the romantic connection between Candace and mousey, height-challenged Paul that much more hilarious.
I have to say that the small cast of five actors felt at first as if it could be problematic, especially on opening night when nerves are high, but that faded quickly as the actors embraced the stereotypes of their characters. A big shout out to Brittany Clough (Kira/Otterbox), who tackles the complexities of her role with ease: she maintains such a timid posture, as if she’s apologizing for the space she takes up – but evolves into a total nightmare by the end of the play. Also, her “scary voice” is simultaneously frightening and funny.
Another outstanding quality of this production is set design; Set Designer Christine Urquhart created the quintessential campgrounds, where every element seemed to be plucked right from the overnight camps of childhood memories. No element on stage felt out of place, and despite the larger size of some pieces, the actors moved freely between them, allowing the audience to believe they could run off into the woods. The stage never felt cluttered or clumsy, but completely believable as a campsite.
There is one scene where everyone goes to sleep in their tents and suddenly, as an audience member, you take note of the completely coloured background. The transition into dawn is so seamless not only through the gradual change in colour, but also through the lighting on stage (kudos to Lighting Designer Steph Raposo) that you’re left almost mesmerized by the moment.
Another element that added major laughs was costumes! Ming Wong is the Costume Designer for the show, and she killed it with her vintage scouts-inspired outfits! The short beige shorts with matching top and socks pulled up high were tweaked slightly for each character to play up their stereotypes. This was done in such a way that they didn’t just appear as adults trying to fit into children’s camp uniforms, but as the younger version of themselves, expressing their individuality through clothing: the shy and insecure camper always wears their uniform properly, the keener keeps their prepared fanny pack covered in earned badges, while the flirtatious camper shows a bit too much skin.
This isn’t a slapstick physical comedy heavy production though, as Sandler’s writing is a truly satirical commentary on the pressures that the current job market has placed on people. We’re willing to take on more responsibilities, skills, and hours, completely ignoring the comraderie and collective effort that could help us obtain the company’s objectives. We battle our inner demons and drag our emotional baggage to such lengths that they become an essential part of our daily lives – forgetting to sometimes just take a moment and enjoy the fresh air.
Unfortunately, Retreat at Hart House Theatre is being performed only until March 9, 2019, so if you’re into satire and want a night of laughs with friends, make sure to grab your tickets ASAP. Please note that there is some violence and strong language in this production, so it may not be the best show for younger audience members. Alternatively, if you have a rough day at work this week and just need some stress-relieving laughter, treat yourself to a night at the theatre! Whomever you go with, make sure not to miss this show!
Retreat at Hart House Theatre runs until March 9, 2019. 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.