The Harvester (Rabbit in a Hat Productions) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

 Eric Davis and Melissa Carter in The HarvesterWhen you walk into the Factory Theatre to see The Harvester (Rabbit in a Hat Productions) at the Toronto Fringe Festival, you’re greeted by glowing blue bottles set against a dark stage. These pretty little things are harbingers of humanity’s end, as it turns out–once humanity figured out how to liquify time, it was pretty much all downhill from there. Now, only one man appears to remain on Earth to harvest it.

Think Bioshock meets Fallout meets E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. 

Despite the litany of references one could point to, The Harvester still plays pretty satisfyingly as a spiritual sibling to those properties rather than a derivative re-hash, where the central themes concern hope, purpose, and–perhaps most potently–our ethical responsibility to ourselves and our world.

As a piece of speculative dystopian fiction, I think it carries off the second half of that description a little more strongly than the first: its dystopia is a little more interesting than its speculations, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For starters, Paul Van Dyck’s world is impressively fleshed out for a show that runs only 45 minutes, with some fine small-scale special effects to flesh it out on stage. So too are his ideas delightfully inventive: there’s something really striking about watching time glow in bottles, to see it poured into needles and injected into the bloodstream. This is really great stuff, and E.M. Forster would be proud.

Similarly, Daniel Pagett and Chloe Sullivan give generous, layered performances as the two central characters (to say more would give too much away). Pagett feels constantly on edge, seconds away from shaking apart like a leaf, but grimly determined to persevere. Sullivan’s character is a particularly tricky one, as she has to emote a lot of silent baggage that won’t pay off until later in the play, and she carries it off with nuance.

Achieving such a detailed, intriguing world in such a short time comes with a small tradeoff, however. There’s a lot of exposition, which is admittedly handled ably by Pagett and Sullivan. Don’t get me wrong: none of it is bad, and there are some truly striking images painted with dialogue. The thing is, I don’t know if it was all necessary.

Van Dyck’s story is cleverly plotted, but it feels almost like an adaptation of a short story that had a lot more narration and a lot less dialogue (it isn’t, but bear with me). There’s a lot of information to get across, and it feels as though it could have used just one more edit to refine the exposition, to let some plot points settle in more slowly and subtly over the course of the play. Perhaps a little longer running time would have given it a bit more space to breathe in–and the benefit of a few longer silences.

Thematically, the idea of time in bottles is fascinating. In practice, much of the plot revolves around The Harvester’s desire to live long enough to see a loved one restored. This is well enough as a conflict, but I was a little disappointed that the actual motivations behind human beings wanting more time–fear of death, of the unknown, of losing our bodies or ourselves, of an afterlife–aren’t really touched on. The Harvester is less universal in its themes and more concerned with the motivations of one man (and later, one woman).

But you know what? That’s okay. While it isn’t a lofty exploration of life and death, The Harvester is still a provocative, tightly-plotted, imaginative journey through a fantastically horrific future that had me pondering its nuances and possibilities all the way home. It’s a good story in the vein of classic dystopian nightmares, and for what it’s worth? I didn’t see the ending coming.

Ultimately, what it seems to amount to (for me, at least) is an exploration of hope. What does it mean to have hope? In The Harvester, it seems to mean having a purpose, even if it’s one that we give ourselves–without which, life and time and longevity all become meaningless.

Details:

  • The Harvester plays at the Factory Theatre Studio. (125 Bathurst St)Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • Content Warning: Sexual Content.
  • This venue is NOT wheelchair-accessible.

Performances:

  • Wednesday June 29th, 08:45 pm
  • Friday July 1st, 01:15 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 05:45 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 07:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 11:00 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 05:15 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 09:45 pm
Photo by Jeremy Bobrow.