The Hunger Room is full of surprises

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The Hunger Room | Staircase Theatre | Written by Scott Button | Directed by Stephen Heatley | PAL Studio Theatre | May 25 – June 10, 2017

Two male high school teachers share a whiskey and discuss the challenges of working with young girls who sometimes look older than they are. One seems to be hinting that he struggles to resist acting on his sexual thoughts while the other becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Their “chain of trust” is soon stretched thin as a shocking confession emerges.

Mr. Richards (Evan Frayne) and Mr. Milette (Joey Lespérance) attempt to solve the mystery of cryptic notes being left in some of the female students’ lockers and figure out what the “hunger room” is. The mysterious stalker has made the notes look like they were written in blood and has included a variety of violent threats. In the opening scene, Anna (Raylene Harewood) tells Caitln (Camille Legg) about the note she received, and their chemistry along with the razor sharp dialogue drew us into their story right away.     

Scott Button’s writing is unexpected, quick-witted, and full of surprise humour that catches you off guard. And the delivery of those lines was impeccable, especially by Lespérance, an endearing art teacher who said things like “breath is the activism of the unconscious.”

Introverted Tyler and bad-girl Caitlin have recently started dating and their relationship is full of teenage awkwardness. They fall into easy banter as Caitlin explains to him that the The Fault in Our Stars is not actually a sad movie and proceeds to give a re-retelling where everything goes wrong, the protagonist doesn’t have a boyfriend, her parents are bankrupt, and she dies at the end.  

Another strength was the musical transitions that moved us from one side of the stage to the other. The seats were arranged in two sets of rows facing each other across a narrow aisle, and at each end of that was a space for a set where the majority of the action took place. This resulted in a lot of seat shifting and neck craning in order to see what was happening, but other than that the staging worked well to quickly move us from one location to another without having to wait for a set change.   

K. Flay’s “Blood in the Cut” was perhaps chosen to open the show and re-start the action after intermission as it relates to Tyler cutting himself and to the show’s many violent moments. On a more metaphorical level it represents the crises of each character and the abundance of self-loathing that permeates the story.

After intermission I was so caught up in how this play tumbled to a conclusion that I didn’t even think to take notes. It was enthralling. When Caitlin begs Mr. Richards to continue their relationship, when she manipulates him into seeing her again, and when, at the end, she repeats “It’s my fault” over and over, we see how truly lonely she is and how much she needs someone to love her.

There’s nothing like a good, unpredictable thriller, and this play had me guessing until the end.

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