In response to a story I wrote about LSD, a college creative writing professor told me that it’s never a good idea to give characters drugs, because if they’re high, they’re not acting like themselves. However terrible my story might have been, I knew instinctively that my professor’s claim was bullshit, but I was never able to prove it. John Rosenberg’s HANNAH, the latest offering of Kensington’s Hella Fresh Theater, offers a bold challenge to this statement, following innocent ex-sorority sister Christine (Francesco Piccioni) as she clambers down into her new roommate Hannah’s (Laura Sukonick) world of drugs, raves, and warehouse parties.
It is initially off-putting just how much of the play’s dialogue comes from drug-altered states of mind. Rosenberg, who also directed HANNAH, has such a lucid grasp of the babble of the narcotics-addled mind that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the characters are high or not. As they fight, debate, and party, we begin to question the meaning of a sober state of mind. Rosenberg exposes both the silly-scary alienness of the drugged parlance and the meaning behind the meaninglessness. Thus, a line like “What is fuck yes? Alex” can be terrifying, funny, and a major plot point.
Rosenberg is exploring the danger and isolation of the drug-addled state. His characters are constantly transported from high to emotional high through the valleys of depression and horror. Unpredictable as they are, the conflicts are irrepressible and, in the eyes of the audience, unavoidable and unsolvable; particularly since they are potentially groundless, made up, and senseless. Yet HANNAH is much more than a warning siren against drug abuse; it questions the objectivity of perspective and the security and dependability of the sober mind, too.
HANNAH is funny until it isn’t, and Hannah’s life is hard to watch; she can be charming, frightening, and furiously self-destructive. Rosenberg and his impressive cast (Ben Grinberg rounds out the ensemble) depict the characters and their environment with precision (just look at the idiosyncratic set, with thrift store furniture covered in glitter paint, and the pseudo-revolutionary books and empty water bottles scattered across the various tables). But Hannah remains inexplicable; we see her actions, can judge them if we want, but in the end we have to decide for ourselves what she’s worth, what she really wants, and how much of her insecurities and motivations are or aren’t the same as our own. October 12-November 3, 2013, thepapermilltheater.com. Tickets here.
- Another take: check out Phindie writer Kathryn Osenlund’s review of HANNAH for Curtain Up.
- Christopher Munden gives a critical overview of John Rosenberg’s work
- Interview with John Rosenberg, and another one.
- More on John Rosenberg and Hella Fresh Theatre
- Don’t like leaving Broad Street to see shows? Hella Fresh once again offers their much-lauded chauffeur service, transporting audience members between Kensington and Center City. Performances November 2 and 3 will take place at 1714 Sansom.