The Haven Place Review– The best of Y.A. Post-Apocalyptic Adventure Comes to the Stage

A Red Orchid Theatre’s Youth division, Red Orkids, is currently putting on an incredible World Premiere ─The Haven Place─ playing from now until December 30th.  Written by Levi Holloway and Directed by Steven Wilson, it hits into the cutting edge of YA Action-adventure and does so without the tiresome “Chosen One” trope that you see too often in YA Fiction.  Instead, Holloway has dug way back into the horror archive to find his Winnebago load of teen heroes a true challenge in the form of H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones.

Oz and Jessie on the lookout

You might have seen The Old Ones last in Joss Whedon’s horror/comedy film, Cabin in the Woods, but Holloway’s is an entirely original and much more serious spin.  His Old Ones, like Lovecraft’s, are huge, and completely evil and drive people insane with fear and guilt and negativity.  But don’t let the genuine horror in this make you think the play is one note. It’s not.  There are moments that are incredibly joyful, touching and funny as well.  Like the best fiction, it’s reflective of life.

 

About a dozen years prior to the start of our story, on Christmas Eve, Cultists opened the doorway between the worlds and let loose The Old Ones, Cthulhu, Yog-Shoggoth, Ithaqua and pals to take over our world.  They quickly proceeded to fry the brains of everyone over the age of 18 (but the Cultists) and let them starve to death where they stood. The Cultists gathered up the children and moved them into various “Blood Camps” scattered around the countryside and raised them as sacrifices.

 

Our heroes are escapees from a number of different camps. Led by Jessie (Sarah Cartwright) a formerly institutionalized orphan, and Lou, the only one with real memories of her parents (Eden Strong), the only 17-year-olds in the group.  They’ve packed themselves into a salvaged Winnebago and are on the road to the last remaining safe place in North America,  The Haven Place, somewhere in Alberta, Canada. 

 

When we first meet them, they are in coastal Georgia, being led northward by the means of an Oracle, their friend, Hazel (Haley Bolithon).  Like most Oracles, Hazel is blind, but by means of some very special divination devices that I won’t spoil, she can plot a safe route to the Haven in the north.  They all depend on her guidance.

The Oracle speaks

The rest of the party is made up of Beadie (Aria Szalai-Raymond) and Crow (Nicole Rudakova) twin sisters with a love of games. Bug, who is the youngest, and yearns to take on the responsibility of driving the rig.  And Oz (Julissa Contreras) who, after Jessie and Lou, is the group’s third leader.  Lou happens to be deaf, so the entire cast of the play signs as well as speaks their lines.  Like you would if one of your family members was deaf.

Merry Christmas, Oz, you got a fancy knife!

They are the seven that Hazel had seen in a vision.  All of them girls, on the road to safety.  Until, during one of the many storms the Old Gods cause to rage through the land, they become eight with the arrival of another refugee, a boy played by the wonderful Sam Blin.  It is how the seven handle the new male refugee and how they travel to the Haven Place that makes up the story.  And it’s so good, that I won’t spoil it all here.  You need to go see it for yourself.

 

You really need to see it for the Winnebago set that's been built in the space as well. It's amazing.  Everything from the set, to the sound to the lighting to the musical choices in this play is utter perfection. John Wilson (Tech Direction/Scenic Design),  Kotryna Hilko (Costume/Props), Jeffrey Levin (Sound Design, Original Music) and Hether Sparling (Lighting Design) have worked magic.

The refugee arrives

I have to give kudos to all the actors here. They all give strong, brave and heartfelt performances and if you start having a favorite another one of the cast will step up and do something so great that they are immediately your new favorite.  Many of them are still in high school, and they integrate with the older actors flawlessly. This is an ensemble piece of the finest quality.  And some of them are very young, and so, so talented.

 

But I need to make note here, that the playwright Levi Holloway has a long-term commitment to the inclusion of deaf actors in theatre specifically and he has integrated one in the character of Oz in a way that is so natural and realistic that it is not even remarked, except when our boy refugee appears and he doesn’t know how to sign.  The fact that Oz is deaf doesn’t even matter to the story. It’s just part of who she is.  The fact that she’s observant and their best lookout means a lot more to the plot. Everybody signing doesn’t detract from the acting, it just makes it even more expressive.  That’s what real inclusion looks like – seamless.

 

You have a cast that is mostly female, diverse, and ability inclusive and is telling such a ripping good story that the point is made without beating anybody over the head. Their ethnicities are not remarked.  Their femaleness is barely remarked.  It’s just right there in front of you being incredibly awesome.  And you care about them and want to know what happens to them. The closest pop-culture touchstone I can think of to this is The Walking Dead. It’s humanity versus the Old Ones. Seamless again.

A sacrifice is made

Seriously, you don’t want to miss this one. Get out to the theatre right away before it closes.

Photos by Michael Brosilow.

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