Review: Empty Boxes (Homestead Theatre Project)

Empty Boxes_Sarah and Kevin

Fledgling Toronto theatre collective wrestles with love and relationships in its inaugural show

Empty Boxes is Homestead Theatre Project’s inaugural production and I went to opening night at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Empty Boxes is the story of the relationship between Sarah and Kevin, how it all began and where it went wrong.

As I’ve expressed in previous reviews, I love story and story development. Empty Boxes spends most of its energy telling us what the story is rather than letting us discover it. Sarah and Kevin meet and fall in love. Their friends think they’re the perfect couple. Sarah and Kevin have their ups and downs over the course of seven years and it is their diverging lives that ultimately breaks them up.

I wanted to like it. I really, really did. There is so much potential gold waiting to be mined, so much raw emotion to explore but the playwright’s pen barely breaks ground.

Petty bickering dominates AJ Laflamme’s script. The insults Kevin and Sarah sling at each other never get to what’s personal between them and I was left begging for some context. I have no idea who these people are and I get no sense of their hopes, dreams, fears and desires. As a result, I had a hard time caring about them.

The writing hits the same beat every time and the script does not progress beyond the robotic recounting of chronological detail. There’s too much simile for my delicate palate—people are compared to empty boxes, decaf coffee is compared to long-term relationships—and there is no character transformation.

If there were no dialogue, this play would be about people throwing their hands up in indignation, shouting, stomping across the stage and slamming doors.

I had a difficult time believing that these two people ever loved each other.

Most of us have experienced a painful break up at some point in our lives. I was aching to see my own experiences reflected in the internal struggle of the characters through wistful looks and quiet moments. There was no subtlety; everything was played unbelievably big and unbelievably loud and I could not connect.

Memory is a theme that meanders through the script; perhaps the only overdeveloped element in the entire production. There are two sets of characters, present Sarah and Kevin and memory Sarah and Kevin. While a neat concept, this conceit clutters the stage with superfluous players that don’t add value to the story.

The cast is needlessly large; the set is simple but clunky and the couch gets in everyone’s way, even when the actors are sitting on it. I think a great opportunity was missed by not featuring the apartment as an integral character. Home can make or break a relationship. Anyone who’s ever lived with a partner knows how crucial the living space is.

One saving grace is the performance of Nicola Elbro who plays present Sarah. She shines brightest when she is left alone to reflect on the history of the relationship, when in silence, her internal monologue plays across her face.

What this play needs is a tighter script, more precise direction, and a clearer vision. I have faith in the potential of Homestead Theatre Project and I look forward to future developments.

Details

  • Empty Boxes is playing at Red Sandcastle Theatre until June 9
  • Performances are Tuesday-Saturday, 8pm, Sunday matinées, 2pm, Saturday June 1, 4:30pm, Saturday June 8, 2pm
  • Tickets ($15) can be purchased at the door (cash only), by phone at 416-845-9411 or online

Photo of Nicola Elbro and Michael Iliadis by Cory Doran