This double feature explored the fragility of the human mind, on stage in Toronto
Through New Order & The Grand Hysteric, playwright Sheldon Rosen offers a fascinating glimpse into the repressed emotions hidden in the deep recesses of the human mind. Both the plays are thought-provoking and intense to say the least.
They present scenarios of what happens when these emotions come out of hiding and we’re forced to face them. They are disturbing yet engaging in raising poignant questions about sanity and ‘normalcy’ of thought and experience.
The Grand Hysteric opens with the protagonist, Game, coming out of a closet. The closet is highly effective as a vehicle through which the suppressed side of Game’s personality surfaces.
Throughout the play, it was this side that the viewers saw in its vulnerable yet resilient form. I was fascinated by the progression of the plot as it often questioned my perception of reality and motivated me to be an attentive viewer.
The closet was well complemented by the TV that was almost like a third character in the play. The TV plays videos recorded by Game’s therapist Clara to monitor his behaviour patterns at all times. They are Clara’s way of making him accept reality as the world sees it. In this regard the TV is Clara’s emissary just like Clara is his father’s.
What I really loved about the performance was Dan Mousseau’s portrayal of Game. He kept me enthralled throughout the performance and was married to the character from beginning to end.
In a world that’s obsessed with “focus”, he was immaculate in depicting the frustration of Game, desperately wanting to “unfocus” and failing at it time and again. My friend Bernie also appreciated Madeleine Jullian’s performance as Clara.
Compared to The Grand Hysteric, New Order seemed dated. It left me wanting a sense of closure. The play presents the existential crisis of the two protagonists Jay and Ell. While Jay (played by Kevin Forster) is tormented by it on an intellectual level, Ell (played by Hannah Galway) experiences it emotionally.
Post his stay in Australia, Jay is troubled by the fear of the future and the New Order that’s “appealing” yet “appalling.” On the other hand, Ell is made miserable by memories of the past that she can’t let go of.
While the characters of Jay and Ell were captivating, Allister MacDonald stole the show with his acting. In an otherwise intense play, he provided the much needed comic relief as Arn, a friend of Jay’s and Ell’s. He was charismatic and offered a pleasant contrast to the protagonists.
The character of Arn even suggests a faint hope of resolving the predicament faced by Jay and Ell. He constantly tries to bring them together to the present and partially succeeds at it towards the end.
Bernie had been listening to a song by the English band New Order on his way to the theatre. He was instantly struck by the title of the play.
The intimate and part naturalistic setting of both New Order & The Grand Hysteric appealed to me. It was not only pleasing to the eye, but also made me notice things that may have otherwise skipped my attention. The space of the stage seemed organized, yet messy, much like the mental state of most of the characters.
The pillar at centre stage was inventively used in the two performances. It separated spaces, philosophies, roles and emotions, depending on the need of the scene. At one point in The Grand Hysteric, it even provided support to Game on the verge of a breakdown.
The gripping plots, the promising performances, the candles on stage flickering dimly throughout the evening and the disturbing emptiness communicated by Jay and Game as they stared into complete blankness at climactic moments stayed with me as I walked to the subway station after the performance.
- New Order and the Grand Hysterics played at the Ryerson Theatre School Abrams Studio Theatre (44 Gerrard St. E) until June 20.
- Though the production has completed its run, you can learn more about upcoming works from NovelSidwalk Productions by visiting their website.
The Grand Hysteric Poster Courtesy Novel Sidewalk Productions