Review: Retreat (Hart House Theatre)

Photo of Tony Tran, Pearle Harbour, and Terri Pimblett by Scott GormanToronto’s Hart House Theatre presents Kat Sandler’s dark, comedic play

Hart House Theatre programs an eclectic mix of shows. Their seasons typically start with a modern classic by the likes of Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams, or George F. Walker, then there’s usually a Shakespeare play and a Broadway musical thrown in the mix but this season they’re presenting something a bit different. Retreat is a dark comedy by Kat Sandler, the prolific playwright and star on Toronto’s Fringe and indie theatre scene.

I’m a fan of Sandler’s whip-smart and wildly funny writing and I’m glad to see some of her plays presented beyond the Toronto’s Fringe stages and the storefront theatres so that new audiences can discover her brilliant work. 

Retreat—which originally debuted as an indie production in a small, storefront theatre in 2014—is a biting satire that savagely skewers both the common corporate practice of exploiting interns for unpaid labour as well as the Millennial “hustle culture” of relentlessly positive striving for success coupled with performative workaholism.

When the lights come up at the top of the show we meet four interns vying for a full-time paid position at a company: Paul (Tony Tran), Nicole (Terri Pimblett), Jordan (Sebastian Biasucci), and Kira (Brittany Clough). The interns are dropped off at what looks like a Boy Scout camp run by a cheery but mysterious counsellor, Candace Matchwick (Pearle Harbour).

What initially starts off as a team-building retreat quickly devolves into a chaotic competition that’s like a cross between Survivor and Lord of the Flies as the interns push themselves to increasingly shocking extremes to win their company’s favour. 

Sandler’s scripts are densely-packed with rapid-fire dialogue that requires a director and cast to get the timing just right to make the humour land. This is actually the first production I’ve seen of one of Sandler’s plays that wasn’t helmed by Sandler herself as the director. For this production that job went to Claire Burns who lends her unique vision to the play but nonetheless keeps the pacing tight and deftly guides her cast so the humour in Sandler’s script lands with the percussive rhythm that it needs to keep the audience in stitches.

The cast delivers consistently strong performances throughout. Collectively, they’re able to pull off the rapid, overlapping dialogue and find the right rhythm for the comedy to land effectively. 

The casting of drag performer Pearle Harbour as camp counsellor Candace Matchwick was a stroke of genius. As a performer Pearle Harbour is magnetic and larger-than-life. She is letter perfect for the role and deftly delivers both the campy humour as well as the few genuine heartfelt moments in the show. It felt as if the role was written specifically to showcase her talents and it is worth the price of admission to see her performance alone.

This production shines a new light on a wickedly funny and wildly entertaining play that is no less relevant now than when it debuted five years ago. Don’t miss your chance to catch this fresh, taut production of Kat Sandler’s Retreat. 

Details:

  • Retreat is playing at the Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until March 9, 2019
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00PM and at 2:00PM on Saturday, March 9
  • Tickets $12.00 to $28.00
  • Tickets are available by phone 416.978.8849 or visit tickets.harthouse.ca

Photo of Tony Tran, Pearle Harbour, and Terri Pimblett by Scott Gorman

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