Review: The Hours That Remain (New Harlem Productions)

The Hours That Remain brings new blood to a new theatre space at the Daniels Spectrum in Toronto

Venues don’t necessarily add depth to storylines. But that certainly is the case with The Hours That Remain, a play about loss and acceptance playing in a part of downtown Toronto currently undergoing major revitalization.

The venue is the three-week-old Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre (recently renamed Daniels Spectrum), bringing the arts to a previously rundown area many of us have no more than driven through.

A new play from the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company playing in that $38-million-dollar jewel gives us reason to visit.

The Hours That Remain is itself all about location. It’s based on the true story of the Highway of Tears, a remote stretch of asphalt in Northern British Columbia where “a great number of Aboriginal women have gone missing,” writes playwright Keith Barker in his program notes.

Barker, a Metis artist, “couldn’t understand why [he] had never heard of this tragedy before” and wrote a play. The Hours That Remain tracks the journey of Denise (Tara Beagan) trying to find out about her sister Michelle’s (Keira Loughran) disappearance.

Through a series of visions, both Michelle and the audience get the full story of the Highway of Tears. My companion for the night is from B.C. and knew the story (including latest news updates). For me it was all new. Let’s just say that like the Regent Park of the past, the Highway of Tears is not always the most hospitable of places.

First-time playwright Barker has packed his snappy, one-hour, one-act production with more than its share of time shifts, costume changes, song, dance and multimedia. Very impressive!

But not only is the audience left trying to make sense of the story (the Toronto audience might warrant more of a program write-up about the Highway of Tears than audiences out west), but we’re also trying to follow the actors’ multiple exits and entrances.

As a result, even though the subject matter is heart wrenching, it’s the little moments that provided most impact, at least for me, like Michelle’s face illuminated by a single spotlight – “This is my last breath…” – the singer who opened the show, or Denise sitting on the floor, CSI-like, examining a stack of files.

That said, The Hours That Remain, and the broader topic of loss, abuse and danger had me wide awake in the middle of the night. It’s not just women disappearing on the Highway of Tears. There are many other real and metaphorical highways, including the ones right here in Toronto – on streets and in homes.

In that sense Barker is a true trailblazer. He’s taken to the stage a topic that’s so horrible we turn away when we see it on the news. But this is art and we allow ourselves to go there. To both the revitalized Regent Part and the horror that is the Highway of Tears. And that is truly a beginning.

The Hours That Remain is playing at the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre (recently renamed Daniels Spectrum), Aki Studio Theatre, 585 Dundas St E. until Nov 3, 2012.
– Performances run at varied times; see schedule online.
– Tickets are $21; Tues and Sun matinees $11-$16.
– Tickets can be purchased by phone (1-800-204-0855), or at the box office.

Nir Bareket