Once We Were Queens. // Sarah Emeslie

Once We Were Queens creates the pain of heartbreak using space, dance, and dialogue

Once We Were Queens
neon pomegranate; Backstage Theatre; Sat., June 8 (6 p.m.)
Our Score
4

By Miya Abe

Beautiful, tragic indie breakup songs fill the dimly-lit stage, adorned only with a ring of flower petals, setting the tone for this raw, starkly honest, and sometimes funny production.

Two people (portrayed by Hayley Moorhouse and Holly Wadler) are both crazy about each other and yet very distant. They play emotional ping-pong, with Wadler only able to ask questions of Moorhouse. These questions sometimes lead to answers and sometimes agonizing frustration. They talk about cigarettes, family restaurants, and sometimes break the fourth wall, addressing that the audience can see them and that they are in a play, and that they are performers— but isn’t everyone, especially in moments where they wish to be invulnerable?

These conversations feel meandering and designed to deviate the players, especially Moorhouse, away from the reality they are both about to face. The tension comes from them knowing that, despite their trepidation, their relationship issues are something that must be dealt with.

Wandler and Moorhouse often let awkward silences sit, their words hanging in smoky air, so the audience can equally bear the brunt of their conversation. While sometimes the dialogue is humorous, it never strays far away from the heartbreak permeating throughout this short, punchy play.

Physically manifesting the inner turmoil behind these conversations are two dancers (Michael Anderson and Max Hanic), who remain inside the circle of petals and seemingly mirror the frustrations and yearning of Wandler and Moorhouse’s characters.

Anderson and Hanic move with fluidity and strength, their interplay thoroughly arresting, especially in the play’s opening scene where they dance in silence and only their feet on the stage can be heard. At times however, the dancing is a little bit distracting and it’s sometimes unclear where to focus attention during the production.

The set, and the concept, are beautifully simple but executed with heartbreak and relatability. At first, Moorehouse and Wandler march around the circle, almost as if they are about to enter a fighting ring. Simultaneously, the dancers feel ‘caged’ inside, again mirroring the maddening frustration and imprisonment of a breakup. The finale plays with space and self-reflexivity, packing a huge wallop; there is  a moment of climactic outburst which drew audible gasps from the audience.

Layering painful conversation and dance atop a very simple set, this play captures the pain, confusion, and madness of the feeling of breaking up, while not wanting to break up.

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