Walking out of If Hearts Could Bloom, one hears the inevitable remark: “I felt like my heart did bloom!”
I’m sure the cast — students at Burr Oak Secondary School — have heard that line plenty. They probably heard it at school; they probably heard it at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival, then again at the Sears Festival finals; and now they get to hear it at SummerWorks, where their bouffon play about individuality and identity is driving audiences to tears and laughter.
High school theatre tends to be overly-serious, with actors working overtime in order to prove their grown-uppedness: the effect usually feels like a group of teenagers playing dress-up in their parents’ clothes. But while If Hearts explores very grown-up topics and ideas, the clown angle provides a layer of levity and sophistication that glosses over what might otherwise be rough edges.
I also cannot overstate the importance of this piece. Our culture is inundated with plays and TV shows and video games about teenage rebellion and individuality, but the vast majority of this media — all those Avril Lavigne albums and episodes of Degrassi — is written by fortysomethings, speaking on behalf of another generation. If Hearts is an opportunity to hear from teenagers on their own terms, and that’s an opportunity you won’t get every day.
But if I make it sound like brussel sprouts — “Young lady, you listen to me: there won’t be any dessert until you sit down and watch your Very Important And Sophisticated Theatre!” — ignore that, because this show also happens to be a lot of fun.
Sequences involving a variety show, a trip on a school bus, a first day at school and an awful birthday party are tremendous fun to watch (keep an eye out for the best Elvis you’ll find this side of a Las Vegas wedding chapel), while others deal with more serious subjects with equal success: one scene in particular, in which two parents struggle to understand and relate to their daughter, shows a degree of depth, care and understanding that I genuinely wasn’t expecting from this show.
And that’s what I’m going to take away from this production most of all. It explores capitalism, it explores conformity, and it even touches upon sexuality and intergenerational conflict — but it’s really an exercise in debunking ageism. I won’t condescend these students with a bromide about “wise beyond their years”, because I’m not sure they are: this presentation is slicker and more sophisticated, but the wisdom on display could only have come from members of this age group. This show is a request, from a generation, that we take them and their concerns more seriously — and a beautiful, touching and artful request at that.
Perhaps we might listen?
If Hearts Could Bloom plays the Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble St., near Dufferin and Queen; enter through the Pia Bouman dance school) through Saturday, August 16th.
Be aware that this production involves use of a latex balloon in close proximity to the audience.
One performance remains: Saturday August 16th, 1:30 PM.
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-907-0468, or in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Production photograph provided by the SummerWorks festival.