A teen is in trouble. They sit in a storm of emotions that oscillate from rage to numbness in their bedroom, while their mother desperately seeks to cut through their suffering. All the teen can cling to is music and a creature, the Beast, invisible to others but capable of reflecting the teen’s inner life. Through this period, presumably several weeks, the teen tries on different identities in the form of costumes and dances with the Beast, trying to discover where they belong if anywhere.
The specific cause of the emotional pain is never quite identified, except some fear and anxiety about the planet, as well as uncertainty about their identity, hypocrisy, feeling seen. Mostly, though, it seems to be inexplicable. While the abstraction makes the teen’s malaise generic enough for the audience to insert a reason of choice, I also found that not naming a specific cause rings true to the depressed adolescent experience. For many, and not just teens, the initial trigger of depression is irrelevant and the meaninglessness and existential grief seem unaddressable. Loved ones fear for them because nothing can be done to ease their suffering, relieve their pain, or change their outlook.
Mom suggests tactics for feeling better, burns sage, and even brings in a therapist/spiritual counselor to help. Mom is never shaken in loving her child who is searching and trying on identities. It’s the kind of patience and constancy of acceptance that I’m pretty sure most people wish they had from a parent. While mom’s tactics are not especially successful, her showing up again and again, her willingness to meet the teen where they are matters most in the process towards healing.
An outstanding aspect of the show is its artistic components. The costumes of The Beast and the teen’s different identities, the decor of the bedroom, and live music are critical in creating this universe around the teen that communicate complex emotions without words. Flow Gall, the actor playing The Beast, is a lush monster of green and orange that resembles a field of vibrant moss and grass. I also was very moved by how the mother accepted and found things to love and celebrate in her child no matter how the teen’s varying identities may have challenged her — a real recognition of the deep well of a mother’s love.
HeartBeast is at the Mainline Theatre on June 14 (20:00), 17 (22:00), and 18 (16:00). Tickets HERE.
I found myself writing a snarky review in my head during the first fifteen minutes of Lungs: “After an initial explosion, two special snowflakes spend 75 minutes reviewing all the reasons why they should or should not have a child.” And then Duncan MacMillan’s play suddenly got very, very good and very, very real.
The play focuses on a bougie young couple (Rahul Gandhi and Rebecca Parent). They see films with subtitles, read serious books, and are “good people” despite having a few minor vices like smoking and using aerosol sprays. While shopping at Ikea, the man, a musician, suggests having a baby, which sends the woman, a PhD student, into a rather lengthy “internal” dialogue delivered externally on her shock, on the choice of location for delivery, and on the problems and benefits of having a child, overpowering her partner and audience. Her conclusion is yes, although she doesn’t always stick to that. As the verbal member of the partnership, we hear everything she thinks and she’s got opinions. He receives her onslaughts of verbosity in an awe-stricken way — both paralyzed and enamoured. The two love each other and support each other, a best-friends kind of couple, but there’s always something off in their communication and connection that is exasperated by this life-changing choice.
I don’t want to reveal too much of this show, because it goes places far beyond that initial scene. Gandhi and Parent deliver solid acting and great timing as a couple facing issues. The blocking is fantastic. McMillan’s play gets both funnier and deeper as it speeds along until reaching its poetic and touching ending. I left feeling like I’d seen all of a life… and I suppose I had.
Lungs is at the Mainline Theatre on June 14 (21:45), 17(13:30), and 18 (12:30). Tickets HERE.
The Montreal Fringe Festival continues until June 18. Tickets for all shows available HERE.
Check out our list of Fringe Festival Picks and reviews of Personal/Universal, Caught, Who, Me?, Field Zoology 101, I Know You Are But What Am I, Exit 20:20, Civilized, Lush Wanderings, A Mystic’s Journey, and Tales of the Rise of the Fallen.