The Huns by Michael Ross Albert

The Assembly Theatre

The Assembly Theatre

Joe Szekeres

Nasty corporate office politics takes centre stage boldly at The Assembly Theatre

Mean orporate office politics can take place in any kind of business. This unhealthy underlying threat is nasty and unfair especially if a worker is suddenly side swiped by it. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all probably experienced some element of this kind of politics. I know I did before I retired from my career as an Ontario Catholic educator.

Michael Ross Albert’s ‘The Huns’ opened last week. From what I understand it premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2019 but I didn’t see it then. I didn’t get a chance to see the play opening night in the intimate Parkdale setting.

However, I did see a physically staged reading of the play two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic with Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge. At that time, I remarked to the Director how Albert’s sharply written, piercing script humorously commented on the state of how supposed business conducts itself in the twenty first century. When I heard ‘The Huns’ would be staged at The Assembly, I didn’t want to miss seeing a full production.

Corporate work politics can also make for one hell of a challengingly intricate play, but it’s boffo stuff when done well. The Assembly Theatre’s production of Michael Ross Albert’s ‘The Huns’ is just that. It closes May 8 and was announced last night of a transfer to Brighton, England so make sure you get to see it.

Director Marie Farsi’s precise and exact satirical vision focused my attention on how artful and deceitful this kind of politics can be in rearing its ugly head when people least expect it. Impeccable comic timing and adroit pacing to deliver the quick-witted bantering back and forth remains crucial for the humour and to keep the plot moving quickly in this one-hour engrossing production. Not once did timing or pacing falter for me, even in the slightest during the comedy or the dramatic moments.

We are in a corporate office where a robbery took place the night before. The next morning, three of the staff are aware of what occurred but they are to continue a powerpoint presentation via a phone conferencing program. One of the elements of perfect humour stems from the fact that those on the phone conferencing sometimes are knocked out of the presentation, come back into the presentation.

There are also some bits where one person on the phone is saying something but the three staff (along with the audience) only catch snippets of the conversation because there is outside interference.
Leading the phone conference is seemingly uptight control freak Iris, grandly played by Breanna Dillon, who seemingly appears and ironically believes she has everything under control. Truth be told, she’s not in control at all as the story progresses Seemingly dressed for success and to make a bold statement in a blood red top, black slacks, a gold necklace and what I thought were black stiletto pumps, Dillon thankfully does not make Iris become the classic office ‘b word’ especially when the secret she tries to conceal becomes exposed during the conference call. Instead, I witnessed a flesh and blood individual who is doing her best to cope with the results of where her life has taken her.

Office temp Shelley (Cass Van Wyck) offers that much needed grounding force Iris so desperately needs and requires during the phone conference. As Dillon is dressed in bold colours, Van Wyck’s more refined earth tone of light beige and browns represented her grounding. The leopard looking dress, however, becomes a reminder that Shelley is a ‘tiger force’ underneath this calm exterior. This constant juxtaposition of these two characters sometimes offers comical humour, but more importantly Van Wyck’s performance remains consistently and subtly nuanced in never allowing her quiet strength of character to overshadow a domineering Iris.

The token male of the group Pete (Jamie Cavanagh) does not want to be at this conference call as he’s on his way to the airport for a bachelor weekend with his pals before his upcoming nuptials. His clothing of a white top, black pants and white running shoes indicates his heart and mind are not at the office.

Despite this superficial costume difference, Cavanagh also revealed his strong performance work many times. For example, during those moments when Dillon and Van Wyck are butting heads, Cavanagh intently listens to the zingers and the pokes back and forth between the two ladies. There are moments where Cavanagh’s facial expressions dutifully reveal what Pete is truly thinking underneath. Mercifully, Cavanagh does not remote merely to ‘face acting’ - there were a couple of moments where the raising of his eyebrows just instinctively revealed Pete’s thoughts and initial reaction without upstaging the ladies.

Andy Trithardt’s adept sound design of the varied phone callers super finely underscored the comedy of the moment. I’m sure he probably had his hands full initially in getting the voices recorded first before looping them together and ensuring they were at the precise mark in the scene. Chin Palipane’s lighting design captured nicely the appearance of the fluorescent lighting within offices. Its reflection is beautifully highlighted on the back upstage wall of a post-modern looking painting of varied rectangular shapes, lines and colours by Aidan Hammond, Marie Farsi and Marvin Araneta.

Marie Farsi’s original concept set design with Alexandra Lord as consultant specially captured the look of how vast this office setting must have been. I liked the suggestion of the laminate flooring running across the front apron. There is a white rectangular table with a push button office phone on it. Three white swivel office looking chairs are found at the head of the table and at the sides. Upstage right and left are entrances to the room. There are potted looking ferns at both entrances and exits to this office.

Final Comments: A caustically biting and often times acerbic script combined with hearty performances.

Go see it.

Running time: approximately 60 minutes

‘The Huns’ plays through to May 8 at The Assembly Theatre, Queen Street West, in Parkdale: www.theassemblytheatre.com or visit the Facebook page which is always open.

Covid protocols in effect at the theatre.

THE HUNS by Michael Ross Albert
Directed by Marie Farsi
Sound Designer: Andy Trithardt
Lighting Designer: Chin Palipane
Stage Manager: Aidan Hammond
Set and Costume Design: Based on an original concept created by Marie Farsi and design consultant Alexandra Lord. Scenic construction by Pascal Labillois; painting by Aidan Hammond, Marie Farsi and Marvin Araneta

Featuring the voices of: Claire Armstrong, Blue Bigwood-Mallin, Izad Etermadi, Marie Farsi, David Lafontaine, Emile Leclerc, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Daniel Pagett, Tyrone Savage, Andy Trithardi, Jenni Walls and Richard Young

Performers: Jamie Cavanagh, Breanna Dillon, Cass Van Wyck

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