At PAL Studio Theatre until June 10, 2017
Tickets from $17 at theatrewire.com
Posted May 27, 2017
THIS REVIEW WILL ALSO APPEAR IN THE JUNE 1 EDITION OF THE WESTENDER
In this world première by Vancouver-based actor/writer Scott Button, a teenaged, high school threesome is seriously screwed up. Tyler (Matt Reznek), orphaned when both parents died in an accident, is obsessed with blood and dead bodies. As long as he stays on the meds prescribed by his shrink, Tyler functions – just.
Caitlin (Camille Legg) smokes cigarettes, carries a mickey of vodka in her bag and hates almost everyone. After her mother died, Caitlin’s father started touching her inappropriately. She threatened him with a kitchen knife. She and Tyler hang out. She lies about the sex they’re having.
Anna (Raylene Harewood), Caitlin’s only friend, is an anxious over-achiever who pops Ritalin and Ativan that she steals from her mom. Her mom knows.
These are three super-smart but messed up kids with messed up or absent parents.
When threatening or pornographic notes, written in what looks like blood, start being handed to targeted girls under the door of stalls in the school washroom, the thriller element of The Hunger Room kicks in. Who is stalking these girls and why?
Playwright Button, not long out of his own teenage years, has a perfect ear for young adult dialogue. Referring to the first of the notes, Caitlin dismisses it with, “It’s fucked but it’s not that bad”. And later, when telling a spooky story about a couple of kids who went to the hunger room, a sort of out-of-the-way storage room in the school, Caitlin explains, “They went up there to bone but got locked in.” “Whatever” is used throughout as a verbal screen to hide feelings.
The two adults in the play – Mr. Richards (Evan Frayne) and Mr. Milette (Joey Lespérance) – are types we remember from school. Richards is the teacher everyone loves, he’s cool and he’s handsome. Milette, the graphic arts teacher, is effeminate, wears ethnic clothing, is weird and is known, behind his back, as Mr. Molester. We think we remember these types but what you see is definitely not what you get.
The Hunger Room is more than a thriller; it’s an insightful glimpse into what at first appears to be three badly troubled kids doing the best they can to cope. But it’s probably reflective of more teenagers than we’d like to think: victims of abuse, parental neglect or just the agonies of being a teenager.
Harewood and Legg, recent Studio 58 grads, and Reznek, a UBC BFA (Acting) grad, manoeuver the roles like pros. As Tyler, Reznek is walking wounded: jumpy, raw and vulnerable. When Tyler makes a pitch to Caitlin for a more permanent relationship and she rebuffs him, Tyler backs off saying, “You don’t have to answer right now”. Reznek delivers the line with such calculated nonchalance that you can see poor Tyler bleeding inside.
Anna is the least damaged and the most naïve of the trio. Harewood keeps Anna sweet and almost grounded. But if there’s a heart in The Hunger Room – and there is – it’s Anna.
Legg makes acting look like not-acting. She’s so ‘there’ it’s like watching action in real time. And what a rich role the playwright gives her: childlike yet wordly, vulnerable yet tough, scary yet sad. Legg mixes it all up brilliantly.
Stephen Heatley, directing for Staircase Theatre, uses an alley-style design: two curtained-off rooms left and right with a narrow, empty space between. Site lines are awkward but it’s interesting.
Playwright Button says he looks for and seldom gets surprises in the theatre. The Hunger Room has lots of them and while we might suspect something, the end of Act 1 is still a shocker.
If theatre is going to attract young adult audiences, this is a play that will do it. Real, nasty and explicit.