How do we get the Netflix generation into the theatre? Scott Button’s, The Hunger Room does it by pitting pain against perspective in a dark tale of teenage angst. Just like the primetime dramas of the CW, The Hunger Room offers a wonderful exploration of tone and atmosphere, but lacks emotional depth.
As if ripped from the front page of Buzzfeed, anxiously over-achieving Anna (Raylene Harewood) receives a chilling note about a mysterious “Hunger Room” from an anonymous stalker while sitting in the ladies room. She attempts to unravel the mystery of “whodunit” with her friends, local bad girl Caitlin (Camille Legg), and self-harming Tyler (Matt Reznek) while fighting to be heard by teachers like the conflicted Mr. Richards, and bumbling Mr. Milette. While the mystery offers the show a motor, the culprit remains clear. The motive, on the other hand, remains unexplored.
Directed by by Stephen Heatley, The Hunger Room uses a theme of teenage abuse gone unchecked to provide the motive to its mystery. A desire for control, it posits, is the root of evil actions. But the play lacks the psychological nuance to make such a motive believable.
Camille Legg’s Caitlin is borderline chirpy at times, and confidently unaffected at others. She pulls focus in every scene but does not reflect the damage the plot suggests. Matt Reznek’s Tyler channels a John Bender vibe but lacks the anger needed to make the pain hit home. Likewise, Raylene Harewood’s Anna’s carefully composed smile belies the anxiety of the situation.
While both Evan Frayne (Mr. Ruchards) and Joey Lespérance (Mr. Milette) hit the notes of tortured teacher, they are unable to transfer that pathos to the rest of the play leaving the performance feeling unbalanced.
That said, Lesperance’s performance as Mr. Milette was a masterclass in subtle buffonery. Hitting some beautiful comic highs allowed him to settle into the play’s darkest moments with heartfelt disbelief.
Production designer Daniel VanHeyst’s asymmetrical alley staging is a beautiful exercise in forced perspective and offers a metaphor in the placement of a single door. Sound designer Stephen Bulat pounds through angsty pop music like an 80s cult horror film.
The Hunger Room is a well-paced mystery in the style of primetime teenage soap operas like Riverdale, Pretty Little Liars, or Twin Peaks. But while it hits the tone, it fails to sustain a resonant emotional arc. It is the perfect transition piece for an audience who thinks they don’t like theatre, but love the drama of a Netflix series. Take them to whet their appetite for more filling fare.
The Hunger Room by Scott Button. Directed by Stephen Heatley. A Staircase Theatre production on stage at the PAL Studio Theatre (581 Cardero St, Vancouver) from until June 10. Visit http://staircasetheatre.com for tickets and information.