Halifax Theatre for Young People presents two very grown-up plays about the pain of growing up.
Innocence is lost, tough choices are made and the world becomes cold and confusing in In The Fall, a lush and lyrical adaptation of an Alistair MacLeod short story, for ages eight and up, and In This World, a play about two urban high school girls caught up in a minefield of race, class and a date gone terribly wrong. It’s aimed at Grade 9 and up.
In This World, by hot young Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch, is a remarkable play that leaves its audience stunned after a terse, tense and revealing encounter between Neyssa and Bijou.
Neyssa, portrayed with humour, honesty and depth by Bermudian actor and recent Dalhousie theatre grad Helena Pipe, is the brash and vulnerable daughter of a Jamaican single mother. Neyssa’s high marks have gotten her into an elite private school, which director Tessa Mendel makes the Grammar School. Neyssa lives in north Dartmouth.
Bijou, played with precision, honesty and strength by Dalhousie theatre studies student Kristin Slaney, is a pretty white girl who has befriended Neyssa. She lives virtually alone in a huge house while her parents work in demanding professional jobs. She is dating Neyssa’s cousin and is unaware of Neyssa’s culture and the pressures in her life.
When Neyssa punches Bijou in the school hallway, the two girls are sent to a classroom to await a teacher. They spar verbally, revealing the terrifying, complex territory of date rape.
Staging the play simply with chairs, a projected photograph of an empty hallway and a sparse use of sound, director Tessa Mendel lets the power come through the strong dialogue.
In This World, commissioned in 2010 by Montreal Youtheatre, is a complex, thought-provoking play. It would make a good starting point for discussion. While there is not much bad language or graphic detail, the issues are serious and the answers about how to behave are left up to the audience.
While In This World is gritty and low-tech, In the Fall is rich in design. It casts a spell through storytelling magic with dramatic photographs on three screens, a pungent use of sound and two actors taking on multiple voices and characters.
The story is a sad one set in Cape Breton in the 1950s, in a home on hardscrabble land on the seashore. The father is about to go to Halifax for the winter to work as a stevedore and the mother insists his old, beloved pit pony be sold for slaughter instead of fed all winter.
The heartache in this story is like an accelerating train. The photographic image of a large horse’s head in black with a halo of white is branded in the audience’s mind.
Professional Halifax actor Doug MacAulay, originally from New Waterford, and Glen Matthews, nominated for a 2010 Merritt for outstanding actor in Logan & I, have to shift seamlessly from telling the story to acting within it, and from being young boys to a haggard mother, a stern father and the nasty man who’s come for the horse.
The style works, particularly as the story gains steam and the actors gain strength inside their imagined world. MacAulay is strong as the mother and the horse driver.
Halifax Theatre for Young People co-artistic director Chris Heide decided to adapt MacLeod’s short story only using the author’s words. He maintains MacLeod’s distinctive rhythm and sea-steeped nostalgia.
In the Fall, like In This World, is also very real. Eight-year-old animal lovers might find it too much. However, this half-hour play also deeply examines difficult, adult choices and demands within the bonds of family.
In the Fall has a great metaphoric set by lighting and set designer Evan Brown, as well as vivid design elements by Terry Pulliam on sound; Nick Bottomley on projections and Jennifer Coe on costumes.
HTYP is pairing these two provocative, finely produced plays for youth as a 90-minute show and also staging them separately at Alderney Landing Theatre.
The plays run together Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 15 to 19, 7:30 p.m. They run separately with talkbacks today and Sunday and Nov. 19 and 20: In the Fall at 2 p.m. and In this World at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 per show; $15 and $10 for the double bill and are at ticketpro.ca or 1-888-311-9090.