Review: hang (Obsidian Theatre)

hang is “ingenious” and “shrewdly written”, on stage in Toronto

“What could ‘justice’ look like for the victims of a heinous, life-altering crime?” is an intense question to explore. hang, by debbie tucker green wades right into that intensity and does not back away for a second. The current Obsidian Theatre production teases out every painstakingly uncomfortable beat with unrelenting commitment.

The details of the story unfold like a persistent slow drip. Three people gather in a stark, sterile meeting room. 3 (Sarah Afful) appears to be receiving some type of social service from 1 (Zoë Doyle) and her apparent assistant 2 (Vladimir Alexis). Doyle and Alexis’ exact role is never fully revealed but it soon becomes clear that the interaction is far too awkward to be a typical social worker/client appointment.

It eventually trickles out that 3, her husband, and their two young children have been the victims of a crime. Again, the details of that crime are never fully exposed, but it does become clear that the crime was violent, depraved, and traumatic for the entire family. We learn that while the husband has attended other meetings with Doyle and Alexis, he has declined to participate in this final exchange.

Set in the near future, the victims are asked to make a powerful choice about the perpetrator’s fate. Is the choice restorative or overwhelming? Liberating, or a further prison for the mind? These questions, and many that are far more intangible, are left agonizingly unresolved. We are forced to come to the uncomfortable conclusion that there are no possible reparations for Sarah Afful’s pain.

Under the direction of Philip Aikin and Kimberly Rampersad, timing is everything in this production. The intimate three-person cast demonstrates themselves to be unreservedly willing to hold space with immense discomfort. Sarah Afful’s performance allowed me to look down into a deep well of pain we hope never to fathom.

Without much detail in the script to draw upon, Afful successfully uses her expressive face and decisive gestures to tell us everything we need to know about the extent of her trauma. My companion, on the other hand, was less convinced, and at times had difficulty being drawn into the emotions of the event that underpins the moral dilemma of the piece.

I find Doyle compelling in the role of the once-compassionate social worker who’s been in a high burnout job way too long. Her performance also engaged nuanced body language and a sophisticated grasp of timing to develop a character that’s at once relatable and monstrous.

Alexis’ performance as the assistant who is inappropriately in love with bureaucracy introduced an element of humour that enhances the squirm-in-your-seat discomfort. Alexis clearly enjoyed exploiting his talents as a comedic character actor to elicit tension rather than comic relief. While the audience laughed out loud several times, the tension never broke.

My companion and I both find this ingenious, shrewdly written play to be very provocative. Especially given current events in Toronto and elsewhere, I was left feeling quite unsettled regarding what it means to carry out justice in an unjust world. The social positioning of the characters add further complexity to the central questions by allowing us to extrapolate to reparations for social, rather than individual injustice. hang is well worth seeing as we try to make sense of the complex interplay between the personal and the political in the new millennium.

Details:

  • hang is playing until February 25, 2018 at The Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario).
  • Show times are 8:00 PM on February 13-18 & 20-25, with additional matinees at 2 PM on February 17, 18, 24, & 25.
  • Tickets are $15.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or at the door.

Photo of Zoë Doyle, Vladimir Alexis and Sarah Afful by Racheal McCaig

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