Vena Cava’s production of The Haptic Visions is a gothic comedy perfect for a student audience wanting to engage with a combination of traditional gothic tropes and modern societal influences. With three orphaned children haunted by the trauma of their parents’ death, the work uses classic themes and constructions of the gothic narrative then layers comedic parody and pantomime over the top. The three boys, played by female actresses, are introduced by their father’s ghost who sets up their unique and specific backstories, characteristics, and current objectives. From this moment the play splits into three separate narratives about each of the brothers’ individual journeys, occasionally meeting in the middle to push the plot forward or drive the tension between the squabbling siblings.
Jasper (Lauren Harvey), Horace (Kelsey Taylor) and Milton (Tess Brading) are just as different as they are quirky. While Jasper takes on the role of the selfish and manipulative leader and Milton presents himself as a more intelligent and likeable counter, Horace is left fumbling his way through each of their respective stories with no more control than he has over his spelling ability which will be tested in his upcoming spelling bee – which, funnily enough, never happens by the way. Harvey pulled off Jasper’s feigned confidence well, with excellent comedic awkwardness and a memorable bellowing voice when posing as a ghost contacting his brother Milton. Harvey later revealed Jasper’s endearing vulnerability appropriate for his fantastically uncomfortable, tragic love (and lust) story with Olive (Katelyn Panagiris), an online con artist who takes him for all he’s got. Brading’s portrayal of Milton was the standout performance of the brothers with an admirable control of passion and an entertaining deadpan delivery that continued for the majority of the performance. Praise must also go to Panagiris’ frigid portrayal of Olive and Kayla Robinson’s frisky fierceness as Cat. Panagiris portrayed Olive through monotone deliveries of sexual desire and melodramatic masks perfect for manipulating naive young Jasper. Robinson’s aggressive yet charismatic Cat was an equally thrilling scene partner for Milton, with a multitude of attitude in a monologue that brought the show’s progression to heightened emotion before the climactic sacrificing of a virgin.
The work’s writing was in some ways clever, and in others predictable and dry. Writer and Director Thomas Bartsch combined wit, intelligence and well-considered characters in his writing and direction, and this was perhaps best showcased through the delivery of the ghost father narrator. With a primary focus on jokes that broke the fourth wall and made the work self aware, the piece began with a lighthearted approach to the plot’s structure, the breaking of character and transitions between scenes. This technique was an appropriate way to avoid the text from developing too much dramatic tension, however the flogging of the same jokes over and over made this approach repetitive. Overall the piece began with strides of confidence and comedic creativity, however the second half began to lag with Jasper’s relationship with Olive becoming stale and Horace’s story halting at a standstill. Despite Jasper’s interactions with a new and mysterious roommate and Horace uncovering the history of their parents’ death through child-like puppetry, their stories dragged and a light of priority began to shine on their brother Milton and his conspiring with other worldly characters.
Overall this piece was an entertaining and lighthearted jab at the gothic form through an intelligent exploration of and commentary on many of its intricacies and tropes. With a cut in length and the tightening of some plot devices this would become a fantastic production; or with the removal of the more vulgar sexual themes and profanity it would be perfect to tour for high schools. Regardless, Bartsch’s work demonstrates promise and potency and the production is a joy to experience.
– Written by Rhumer Diball April 16 2016
THE HAPTIC VISIONS PRESENTED BY VENA CAVA AND METRO ARTS.
THUR 14 – SAT 16 APRIL 2016.
Photo credit Megan Thomas and Vena Cava.
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