Webster’s Bar/Hell’s Canyon @ The Old 505

Today we’ve got a double bill – a quick writeup of Webster’s Bar in Newtown and a longer piece on an actual show.

Lovely place Webster’s. Putting forward a traditional Western vibe, with country music, bare brick walls, and an extensive collection of American and international whiskeys/bourbons/spirits, it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy of the place. Too bad your wallet doesn’t. A basic Schnitty (whose salad dressing actually made me want to eat it for once) and whiskey combo (1792 port cask) set me back $40 – a fortune for someone my age and income level. Perhaps the $14 pizza may have been better. I did like the fact the food was brought to you, and quickly – buzzers are such a buzzkill. The menu, also, is very clear about the differences between American, Japanese, and other bourbons/whiskeys – I’m not an expert on this so found it very helpful when deciding tipple of choice. In essence, come for the drinks, stay for the drinks. I was in and out in 20 minutes.

Anyway, to the show.

Hell’s Canyon is a show that demands a lot from its two-person cast. Rambunctious sexual deviant Caitlin (Isabelle Ford) and timid self-proclaimed loser Oscar (Conor Leach), for reasons initially confusing to the audience, go from hooking up in a park to making a blood pact which sees them run away from home. As the play unravels, and Caitlin’s backstory is slowly revealed, the motives behind this escape become clearer. Guided by a mix of self-hatred, self-loathing and Nesquik, the duo take us on a journey of emptiness, companionship, and deception, where running away from one’s issues creates more problems than it solves.
Or, rather, they attempt to. Ford, as Caitlin, needs to be everything at once – delicate and commanding, frightened yet fearless, manipulative but controllable. However, a sense of her vulnerability comes too late into the performance (in part due to the script, which often struggles to emphasise this aspect of her character). The early emphasis on her tough-as-nails persona, no thanks to her constant use of the sophisticated phrase ‘dick cheese’, makes it difficult for our perception of her to change; particularly in moments where the lights transform ultraviolet and she flashes back to her past, describing amphetamine-induced hallucinations of fantastical landscapes, which requires a naivety to her character we just don’t buy. Leach’s Oscar is a likeable, witty character who comes into his own in an engaging manner; but unfortunately, his development is rendered a subplot in the whole story. Ultimately, we never get a complete sense of emptiness between the two until the last 15 minutes of the hour-long performance; the need to escape their lives and get ‘sucked up into the Earth’ has some dramatic impact, but could have been stronger had unnecessary dialogue been removed and characterisation fleshed out more.
That being said, there’s something oddly alluring about Tyler Ray Hawkin’s set/lighting design alongside other lighting designer Martin Kinnane that makes the play shine (literally and figuratively). Each character, at various points in the play, interacts with a brick wall that separates backstage from onstage. For Oscar, it’s his canvas for a rudimentary chalk outline of Caitlin, and for Caitlin a place to lean, close her eyes, and begin her flash-back sequences. However, as the lighting changes ultraviolet at these points, a perfect UV outline of her body appears. A gash under the right knee methodically drips ultraviolet ink. These drips aren’t quick nor slow, but incredibly well-timed to the pacing of Caitlin’s monologues in these moments. It’s addictive to watch and incredible to behold. Bravo.

All in all, Hell’s Canyon is much like a real canyon – a bit too long and drawn out. Whilst one does get an appreciation for the play three quarters into it, the $40 ticket gets them in the red before the show has even started. The script and acting undulate to make this experience a hike instead of a stroll, but some brilliant design choices save the day by giving us a lovely view along the way.
~ Pick up tickets at https://old505theatre.com/shows/hells-canyon-1510966250.html ~

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