Staircase Theatre
The Hunger Room by Scott Button

Dates and Venue May 25 - June 10, 2017, 8pm | PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero St

Director Stephen Heatley Production Design Daniel VanHeyst Sound Design Stephen Bulat Stage Manager Jessica Keenan

Reviewer Christian Steckler

High school is a mixture of heaven and hell for students and teachers alike. Dawning awareness of life, shared with sincere and like-minded friends, liberate and comfort students as they find their ways toward independence; and all too rare meaningful connections with searching minds and souls are golden moments for teachers. Such are ways that high school can be heaven. Hell is there, too, though, as self-doubt and crippling missteps torture young minds and spirits as they struggle to determine who they will be; and cynical rebuffs of heartfelt understanding and empathy frustrate dedicated teachers. In The Hunger Room, Scott Button illustrates this mixture in his masterful portrayal of characters who become embroiled in a dark plot of exploitation, confusion, submission and betrayal.

The play centers on three bright students on the verge of graduating, Caitlin, Anna and Tyler, each of whom has what appear to be normal - at least understandable- hangups in line with their backgrounds. Caitlin (Camille Legg) impresses us as the most worldly, with all that this might imply, both sweet and bitter. She is the cheeky and cynical daughter of an abusive father. Her boldness and background make her a challenging and yet sensitive friend to relatively naive Anna (Raylene Harewood), who is fettered by strict parents and hence, limited life experience. Tyler (Matt Reznek), recently orphaned and living with an often absent aunt, has been dating Caitlin in a relationship that hasn’t managed to move very far forward. All three actors are brilliant in their roles, combining brashness and fragility in each of their characters, knowing when to let loose, and when to restrain, and making the teenagers absolutely credible.

A series of disturbing letters to individual girls at the high school has propelled concerned teachers, including a temporary vice-principal and a dedicated photography teacher, into the centre of the inquiry. Mr. Richards (Evan Frayne) is the popular temporary vice-principal charged with leading the investigation of the disturbing letters, and Mr. Milette (Joey Lesperance) is the sincerely dedicated photography teacher who has never yet managed to be cool enough to catch the respect of his students. As a former high school teacher, I can bear witness that these gentlemen master the portrayal of actual characters so often seen in high school staff - the one, cocky and self-confident, always knowing that his rapport with the kids is his saving grace; the other, absolutely dedicated, perhaps trying too hard, yet always sensing that he’s not connecting with the kids, but not knowing how to fix it.

These students and teachers are in every high school. Sometimes, so are the shocking actions that we see unfold in this production. The true-to-life pictures of these characters undoubtedly show the stunning talent of the playwright, Scott Button. To top it off, the magical touch of Stephen Heatley’s direction, great production values, set layouts and sound design, and the outstanding performances of all five actors lift this play to a thought-provoking and meaningful experience for the audience. Absolutely real characterizations, a daring and relevant plot with diabolical twists, and unquestionable talent on stage and in the wings make The Hunger Room a must-see.

© 2017 Christian Steckler