Habitat in Theatre 14
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 14:10
As Theater Chair Ellen Kaplan’s production of Judith Thompson’s Habitat begins, the audience is greeted with the innocent sounds of nature – birds tweeting, geese flying overhead and the faint strain of grasshoppers chirping. These notes, executed by lighting and sound supervisor David Wiggall, create a sense of the outdoors that gradually enfolds the audience, forming a unique community inside Theatre 14 that encourages viewers to accompany the actors in an exploration of the complicated and nuanced word, “habitat,” that marks the central theme of Thompson’s play.
Originally produced in 2001 by the Canadian Stage Company at The Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto, Habitat follows the journey of Raine (Ivy Croteau ’15), one young girl within a group of troubled teenagers living in a newly opened group home in the middle of Mapleview Lanes, a wealthy neighborhood. Lewis Chance (Sam Rush), the founder of the group home, wants to create a safe haven for the teenagers to feel loved and at home. Yet Chance faces opposition in the form of Margaret and Janet (Kellye Rowland ’13), the conflicting mother-daughter duo who attempt to rid Mapleview Lanes of Chance’s group home. Kaplan’s production effectively highlights the resulting conflicts within the self and between neighbors, friends and family, beginning with the superb performance of the actors.
Croteau’s depiction of the inner conflict that comes with the loss of innocence immediately brings the entire audience to an eerie, still silence. In one dramatic scene, Raine enters red-faced, holding a piece of metal as she announces her hatred of everything. Then, shakily, Croteau brings the metal to her forearm as she continues to spew words of hatred for the people in her life such as teachers, friends and instructors. When she appears to break skin and blood is shown, the audience seems to stop breathing – other than Croteau’s heavy breathing, not a sound is heard. Then, Croteau begins to cry hysterically – the tears in her eyes glisten as the stage lights focus closer and closer on her. At this point, audience members seem so disturbed and affected by Croteau’s acting that they appear ready to go up on the stage and comfort her. Croteau’s performance of Raine’s meltdown scene is unforgettable and leaves the audience not just speechless, but breathless.
Yet humor also makes an important contribution to the dramatic tensions of the play. The humor seamlessly incorporated by Rush and Rowland brings to light the conflicts addressed in the play. Both actors perform asides, during which they incorporate the audience into the production by addressing viewers as the Mapleview Lanes community, posing humorous rhetorical questions such as, “Isn’t that what matters, property values?” In fact, many of the actors’ rhetorical questions toward the audience employ generalizations meant to highlight aspects of today’s greedy society. This use of humorous rhetoric by Rush and Rowland allows for audience members to contemplate what they would do if put into the main conflict of the play – Would they allow for the group home to stay? Or would they force its closure?
Overall, Kaplan’s production of Habitat, with its focus on the conflict in meaning between the words “habitat” and “home,” the inner conflict of Raine, and the central conflict of the construction of the group home, is brilliantly done. Kaplan’s work has been particularly known for effectively portraying areas of conflict; with Habitat, she exceeds expectations by capturing the play’s negotiation of the meanings of “habitat” and “home” as well as the coming-of-age struggles of adolescence. Through her use of sound and compelling acting, Kaplan succeeds in transporting the audience into another world during her production by creating in Theatre 14 a “habitat” for us all.
Performances of Habitat will continue through Saturday. Performances are held at 8 p.m. in Theatre 14, Mendenhall Center. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.smith.edu/smitharts/.