South County High School
Loneliness is something we all experience from time to time, now more than ever. It is something we are taught to avoid, that relationships and conversations with others are what bring meaning to our lives. Langley High School's production of Hey, Stranger challenges this idea, providing a brilliant commentary on human existence and the beauty that can be found in being alone.
Quarantined in houses and apartments, COVID-19 has done little but drive the world apart and expose inequities that become even more glaring in the midst of a global pandemic. But in Steph Del Rosso's Hey, Stranger, the new reality of isolation and video calls offers a change at reconnection. Eve and Gideon's relationship fizzled out some time ago with a fiery bang, the two exes then heading their separate ways. That is, until a text from Gideon, out of the blue. The two former partners are forced to reconcile their expectations and memories of one another, as well as their relationship to the world around them.
Hannah Toronto brought a beautifully awkward charm to the role of Eve, her vulnerability clear in every syllable. Her struggle with loneliness was incredibly clear, both in Eve's small mannerisms and well-timed pauses that conveyed just as much meaning as the text itself. The conversation between Eve and Cole Sitilides as Gideon crafted a clear relationship between the two characters, with both actors executing well timed breaks and interruptions that helped bring the technical difficulties the characters experienced to life.
Gideon's brash arrogance was fully embodied in his laid-back posture and the demeaning tone with which he spoke to Eve. His conversation with Zoe, Eve's teenage tutoring client who interrupted their video call, helped to create an even more accurate portrayal of an entitled man. The dynamic between Zoe and Gideon was incredibly realistic, playing on both age and gender roles. Claire Stephenson in the role of Zoe brought righteous outrage to the show, helping to provide contrast to the antagonistic Gideon. Her breathless intonation and close positioning to the camera indicated her strong feelings on the subject of equality, contrasting sharply with the more traditional and physically laid-back Gideon.
The technical choices made by the cast contributed to the power of the show. Eve was lit with a cool toned light that contrasted with the warmer tones of Gideon's lighting, each hue carefully reflecting the personality of the characters. The camera angles used to show the characters also helped to further illustrate their dynamics, with Eve looking up at the camera while Gideon faced more downwards, helping to imply a relationship in which Gideon held most of the power. Small details included in the setting behind each character also contributed to their development, such as the provocative painting placed carefully behind Gideon and created by Cole Sitilides. By isolating the cameras of characters who had monologues, a more intimate relationship between them and the audience was created, helping to create a strong final scene as Eve realizes her relationship to loneliness is not quite as fraught as she believed.
In a show that demonstrated the importance of reconnecting with oneself, each cast member demonstrated their ability to connect with and tell the story of their characters, both through expressions and dialogue as well as careful tech details. And by the end of the show, a timely and poignant message was delivered to the audience: being alone is what you make of it.
South County High School
Alone. For our society, which values appearance within social interaction, this state of being is often seen as a mark of the lesser-than. However, the COVID pandemic has forcibly isolated humankind, causing a cultural re-evaluation of what being alone, and even what being part of a group, means. Last Friday "Hey Stranger", performed by Langley High School, masterfully explored these concepts while maintaining the truth that ideas on culture are shouldered by real people.
Published in 2020, this play (crafted by acclaimed playwright Steph Del Rosso) was designed with the new theatre medium--virtual performances--in mind. It is part of a collection of ten original works by various playwrights, each focusing on some aspect of "the delights and frustrations of staying connected" (Dramatists Play Service Inc). This particular piece centered on a call between ex-lovers, Eve and Gideon. Though Eve was under the impression that they were reconnecting romantically, Gideon soon reveals he conned her onto the call in an attempt to get a good review for his struggling business. Unexpectedly, we are introduced to Zoe, Eve's tutee who mistakenly joins the call. Her forceful opinions immediately clash with Gideon's self-absorption. This conflict is backdropped by Eve's mental exploration of feeling cursed by isolation, to then finding herself among this seclusion.
In order to do justice to such an emotionally complex show, the individual actors needed to understand their characters as three-dimensional lives. Not only did the cast of "Hey Stranger" demonstrate their innate ability to do this, but they also used this understanding to become their characters wholly. Hannah Toronto (Eve) perfectly portrayed her character's internal struggle. She used her eyes as a window to her pain, even if the rest of her face was masking it with other emotions. Toronto also provided a unique way for the audience to see Eve's feelings. She repeatedly drank from a wine glass, but altered the way she drank each time depending on Eve's mood. Cole Sitilides took on Gideon with ease, exhibiting the power-hungry, cutthroat traits of his character through unapologetic movement and emotional grandstanding. Claire Stephenson (Zoe) delivered her monologue skillfully, employing vocal tone and pitch to emphasize her character's wit and devotion to what she was discussing, while also showing glimmers of Zoe's youth.
As a whole, this cast's dynamic was so natural that some audience members noted they couldn't tell the difference between the performance and real life. They manipulated the spacing and beats between lines to create the awkwardness needed at the beginning of the play, and later the tension and heat when Gideon and Zoe begin to argue. Additionally, they reacted to what one another was saying in the moment, rather than relying on their knowledge of the script, which grounded the performance.
Though the notion of set, lighting, and costumes seems almost ironic within the limits of a 5 x 3 camera box, the production designers of "Hey Stranger" (Cole Sitilides, Hannah Toronto, and Claire Stephenson) proved that creativity can prevail amongst any circumstances. Eve's room housed a large bookshelf and was lit with cool bulbs, in sharp contrast to Gideon's proudly displayed certificates and self-created artwork that were bathed in a warm glow. These choices subtly heightened the divergence between Eve's more introverted and self-possessed personality versus Gideon's brashness and sense that worth comes from what others think of you. Additionally the costumes helped define characters, case in point being the fact that Zoe's closet consisted of a workout headband and a sweatshirt--clothing stereotypically known as teenage chic.
With "Hey Stranger", Langley High School assembled a bewitching show that used theatre to expose the humanity behind societal expectations.