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Alexandra Wood's The Human Ear, directed by Jessica Aquila Cymerman and performed by Paige Louter and Éanna O'Dowd of Untold Wants Theatre, is the kind of show that makes me just want to list adjectives instead of make coherent sentences.
Sparse. Intense. Dark. Thought provoking. Confusing. Heavy. Quirky. Intriguing. Heartfelt. Challenging. Rewarding. Compelling. . .
The play starts off at merely intense and builds consistently from there, pounding at your need to understand until you surrender. Nothing is as it seems and nothing is spelled out for you. You are left to interpret events on your own. As an audience we often know less than the characters do, creating a suspenseful puzzle that I'm still not sure I've worked through to my satisfaction.
This piece is not for you if you go to the theatre for light hearted entertainment, but if you're up to the challenge of unravelling a complex, heartfelt and intriguing drama, then I think you will find it most rewarding.
The Human Ear is playing at Pacific Theatre until 25 July.
Don't miss out.
~reviewed by Danielle Benzon
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Welcome, theatre addicts. My name is Danielle Benzon, and tonight, I will be reviewing The Human Ear by Untold Wants Theatre. They're an Irish company, and I believe this is the first time they are performing in Vancouver. It makes me quite excited to hear that they premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, because I have very fond memories of working at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009 and 2008, so I'm just kind of going to live vicariously through them a little bit when I watch the show. It's quite noisy, I'm afraid. I'm at the Pacific Theatre, which is on 12th and Hemlock, so it's quite a busy street. Hopefully by the time I do the review proper, the traffic will have calmed down.
TIMESTAMP 00:35 EERIE / EAR-Y
The Human Ear sounds like it might be a play about listening, but I believe it's more about how your ear is like your fingerprints; there are no other ears like yours in the world. I believe. I'm not sure. I don't know a lot about this production. It seems to be ... It's called an "eerie drama," so it seems to be kind of like a family drama with maybe a little bit of mystery. I'm not sure. "Ear-y." I don't know a whole lot going in, but I believe it's going to be quite a mysterious and intriguing evening. I will let you know what I think when I get out.
TIMESTAMP 01:10 INTENSE BUT RELATABLE
It was pretty intense, I've got to say. I'm glad there wasn't an intermission; it flowed really well from the beginning to the end, so I'm really glad we didn't have a break in between. It's not too long, 75 minutes. The characters have this lightness to them, and even in the dark heaviness of the script, there are some beautiful jokes in there, something that's very relatable about families and about friends, and bitterness, and unspoken things, and guilt, and ... Yeah, I think it was a very human piece.
It'll really make you think, and it's not always comfortable, but I don't think theatre should be. I don't think theatre should always be comfortable. There were definitely some bits that are a little bit gruesome, and there are bits that are funny that you really kind of feel bad about laughing, because they shouldn't be, but there's this dark humour...
TIMESTAMP 01:55 PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA
What I didn't know going into this was how complex the script was going to be. Lots of aborted sentences, lots of meshed-in ideas. Walking into this, I thought it was more of a family drama, like there was going to be maybe a box set and a lot of family issues, and it was more almost a psychological drama.
TIMESTAMP 02:18 BARE STAGE
There was no set. The Pacific Theatre is often in an alley style; we have audience on both sides of the performing space, and two actors in the middle.
TIMESTAMP 02:30 TWO ACTORS MANY CHARACTERS
I have no idea if I'm going to say this right, but Paige Louter as the woman and Éanna O'Dowd? I have no idea, I'm sorry, I'll put the spelling down below. So they were playing the two main characters, as well as other characters, so there were lots of flashbacks, and flashbacks to the same characters in different times, and also different characters were played by the same actors. So I don't want to say who they played, because I don't want to give too much away, but yeah, the two actors were really "on" the whole time.
TIMESTAMP 03:04 COMPLEX SCRIPT
It's an extremely challenging script. The script, which was written by Alexandra Wood, is very intense. It's really dense, it's really cerebral. It's something I'd actually love to read before I see it, or I might even go home and see if I can find a copy now, because there's a lot that I think I missed.
I love that in a show, that you could actually even go see it more than once, because in the moment, you can't hold on to, "Oh, he said that that time, and now she's saying that." You can't hold on to all the references, and I think it would be a really great play to read before I came to see it, or read after, and just to kind of notice all the differences Like the repetition, and the different references, because I think there's a lot there. It's a very dense script, and for those of you who love a puzzle, I think it'd be really, really fantastic show to see.
This play leaves a lot to be interpreted. You get to make up your own mind about a lot of what's happening, and so I don't want to talk too much about that.
TIMESTAMP 03:56 STYLIZED DIALOGUE
At the beginning, I found the style of the dialogue very distracting. I found it very difficult to keep track of who was who, but as it went on, I found that it was much easier to stay with, and you kind of just let it wash over you after a while. By the end, I loved it. At the beginning, I was thinking, "Oh, this really doesn't work for theatre, this should be more in film," but by the end of it, I can totally see why choices were made the way they were, and I think it actually did end up working; it just took me a while to get into it.
TIMESTAMP 04:24 THOUGHT PROVOKING
I haven't seen something that psychologically challenging in a while, so it kind of caught me off guard. I've been seeing too much just really happy stuff. It is heavy. It's not happy-go-lucky fun, which it doesn't pretend to be.
I don't know about recommending this to everybody. I think if you're into psychological dramas or thrillers, or something more cerebral, I think you'll really get a kick out of this. It really makes you think, it really makes you question what's real and what's not real, and what your interpretation is, and what other people's interpretation is. They don't just hand you the story, which I think is fantastic. I hate it when everything is spelled out for you like you're stupid as an audience member. This was not like that at all. There was really a lot left to your own imagination; you were really left to make up your mind about a lot of things, so I really enjoyed that about the script.
TIMESTAMP 05:15 LIGHTING
The one thing that I didn't really think worked was when the lighting changed from character to character. And I understand why they did it, and I definitely needed the big chunks, like the scene changes, but I thought that because those character switches were so fast, and the lighting switches are not — and that's just a technical thing that you only know after you've done tech in a space — that the lighting changes were slower than the character changes were. I found that kind of distracting. I wanted them to just not. I just wanted them to not do the lighting changes. The actors were strong enough. It was confusing at the beginning, but I don't think we really needed the lighting to tell us who was playing who. Maybe at the beginning.
TIMESTAMP 05:55 EMOTIONAL STAMINA AND AGILITY
The actors were really agile in switching from character to character, switching from the same character in different times, so I thought that was ... That was pretty impressive. I mean, it's quite a long piece, and it's very intense energetically, very intense cerebrally, for the actors as well as the audience, so I thought that was pretty impressive.
TIMESTAMP 06:17 CLOSING REMARKS
It did have a really tiny audience this evening, and I felt really bad because it is a really strong show. There's things that maybe won't suit everybody's tastes, but it is a very strongly acted piece. It's really well put together.
The Human Ear is playing at Pacific Theatre until the 25th of July. If you like a cerebral drama, if you want to step out of your comfort zone a little bit, go support these players. They're doing an astounding job, they're putting their whole heart and soul into it. Really, go check it out.
This is a company in from Ireland; let's give them a warm Vancouver welcome. Let's fill that house up, please, because it was a pathetically small audience this evening.
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Founded by Danielle Benzon, a self-professed theatre addict.