What motivates us to continue living? How do we find our purpose in a relentless world? These are the questions I found myself grappling with after watching 7 Stories, Hart House Theatre’s final production of the 2016/2017 season. Directed by Rebecca Ballarin, the play is an adaptation of Canadian playwright Morris Panych’s 1989 script.
7 Stories opens with the Man (Brian Haight) in a Magritte uniform, complete with a bowler hat and black umbrella, standing on the seventh-floor ledge of a building. As he contemplates suicide, he’s constantly interrupted by the tenants of the building, who appear through the windows. The residents are too caught up in their own lives to question why the Man is standing on the ledge. Their stories, displayed one at a time, represent various aspects of humanity through dark humour. Their lifestyles pose important questions of meaning, purpose, and the nature of modern life.
The unique set consisted of a realistic brick wall and ledge, where Haight stood for the majority of the show. The cast made excellent use of space, considering all except Haight had to act within the windows. The set was also highly effective in conveying an elevated feeling of the seventh floor.
The first tenants we’re introduced to are Charlotte (Rakhee Morzaria) and Rodney (Scott Kuipers), a couple who are in an abusive relationship. Rodney is a lawyer who consistently threatens to kill Charlotte. When the Man wonders why Charlotte stays with Rodney, she claims it “keeps the relationship alive.” She also claims life would be vague, perhaps even meaningless, if she leaves him.
The following tenant is Leonard (Kevin Kashani), a paranoid psychiatrist who struggles with distinguishing reality from his own thoughts; he worries constantly about whether the things he sees and hears are real or a figment of his imagination. Leonard’s story explores the binary of fact and fiction, reality and metaphor. The incoherent conversation between the Man and Leonard is a constant trap of logic and twisted words and meanings.
Another tenant we see is Marshall (Kevin Forster), who’s about to marry a rich heiress. His story expresses the idea that people are constantly performing an identity to an audience. Specifically, Marshall reveals that his real name is Michael, he is homosexual, his hair colour isn’t real, he smokes in secret, and his moustache is fake because it’s “part of the character.” Marshall says he used to be an actor, which he considers a “futile profession” because his roles always ended.
Meanwhile, Rachel (Margarita Valderrama) is an extremely religious woman who seems to parody the role of God by answering the prayers of other residents in the building. She believes that humanity needs faith and cannot act without divine guidance. The Man argues with Rachel about suicide as an act of human will.
Following Rachel is the story of Michael (Kuipers) and Joan (Nicole Hrgetic). Michael is an artist who is extremely sensitive to colours and is constantly changing the design of Joan’s room. Joan keeps up with Michael’s aesthetic and claims, “style is absolute: absolutely this or absolutely that.” Joan also comments on colour, saying that it should not be taken out of context because our perception of colour depends on the colours around it.
In another apartment, there’s a party. The host, Al (Forster), claims he has over 900 friends, most of which he does not like or even know their names. The Man tells Al that they’re not really his friends because friends are supposed to be people we like. Al’s story makes a statement about the contemporary dilemma of social media, particularly how it can isolate a person while simultaneously making them feel social.
The last tenants we see are Nurse Wilson (Hrgetic) and a one-hundred-year-old woman, Lillian (Morzaria). Nurse Wilson seems to be a misanthrope humanitarian; she claims she likes humans, but hates individual personalities. Lillian is the wise woman in the play. She advises the Man to fly and realize his potential. She is the only one who confronts his intentions to commit suicide, relating his experience to a time when she was in the Louvre looking for the Mona Lisa portrait. At the time, she was looking for a bigger picture, but she was faced with disappointment when she realized how small the Mona Lisa really was.
Lillian tells him that one day he will be 100 years old, and then he will know everything and can finally die. The Man asks her, “Why wait?” to which she replies, “Because something interesting might happen.”
Absurdity in theatre is a reflection of the absurdity in everyday life. The Man’s story, and the story of each character in the play, demonstrate an aspect of modern society that we have all experienced. Because of the script’s comedic nature, these characters emphasize their behaviour in a hyperbolic manner. Their inflated personas function well with the play’s genre. Nonetheless, we can see ourselves in their exaggerated states.
7 Stories invites us to explore questions of existentialism and humanity. Ultimately, the play invites us to find meaning in absurdity.
7 Stories runs until March 11 at Hart House Theatre.