How do people anchor their emotional well-being when those around us are also suffering from various illnesses? Kildare Company’s Hanger, playing at St. Vladimir Theatre as part of the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival, attempts to engage with questions of mental health in an unhealthy environment. Where ambition met weakness in the text, I still found myself thoroughly engaged by the material in the play.
Kat (Tenille Read) visits her therapist, Briggs (Hilary McCormack), to discuss her own mental health and her sister Liz’s suicide attempt. Flipping back and forth between Kat and Briggs, and Kat and Liz (also played by McCormack), the play paints a dark picture of the limits of understanding mental illness and mental health.
Hanger is not a perfect play. My biggest problem stems from some poor structure: I didn’t always know when McCormack was the therapist or when she was Liz; certain parts of the story stagnate, such as the sudden switch to discussions of the sisters’ absentee father. Finally, the ending felt strange and out of place, like it had initially been an earlier scene.
Kat, however, is such a fantastic character. In fact Read as Kat is a spark of fire on dry wood, easily consuming everything in her wake. Frustrating, kind, selfish, angry, I would sum Kat up in the scene where she tries to understand her sister’s desire to commit suicide: she wonders if it’s like craving ice cream. It’s such a wonderful simplification of something painfully complex and you can’t help but understand the comparison but also shake your head at it.
Read felt like she inhabited the role so completely and was easily one of the best parts of the play.
Sadly, McCormack is constrained at times as Briggs, reduced to little more than a sounding board for Kat’s thoughts and feelings. That said, when she’s allowed free reign as Liz, she comes to life. Liz is not quite as interesting as Kat, she felt a little two dimensional to me, but McCormack is extremely likeable. Furthermore, the actors have such great chemistry that I’ll forgive almost anything.
Kat and Liz are the heart of the show and Read and McCormack nail it.
Hanger is not an easy play for its audience. The writing is smart. The characters are great. The subject is difficult. It’s not for everyone. At the same time, I keep turning it over in my head, looking at it from different angles. If you want something that will stick with you, then Hanger is it.
- Hanger is playing until July 12 at St. Vladimir Theatre (620 Spadina)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the peformance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
- The venue is very cold. I would recommend an extra sweater.
July 04 at 08:00 PM
July 05 at 12:00 PM
July 06 at 04:45 PM
July 09 at 05:15 PM
July 10 at 06:15 PM
July 11 at 05:15 PM
July 12 at 12:00 PM
Photo of Tenille Read and Hilary McCormack by Zaiden Chrysler