by Sarah Deshaies
An unnamed war breaks out, with clashes and explosions ridding a city of all its people. All of them flee the destruction, except two women unwittingly clinging to one another in a small room in an abandoned asylum.
For a 55-minute play, Queen of Hearts is stylishly powerful. It expertly mines the skills of its main actresses/clowns/mimes Manon Beaudoin and Lois Anderson, who are both on point as a mad patient and wounded nurse, respectively. Both are trapped in this one, bare room, where they simultaneously anticipate their rescue and devolve into craziness. By the end, we’re not sure who’s nursing who.
Director Moira Wylie is overseeing plenty of different effects that make for a cinematic-like theatre experience.
You can tell from the two performers’ controlled movements how well-honed this play is, though at one point (during a certain pillow fight scene) a glimpse of rigidity slips through. Each is smacking the other with a sad little pillow, and when the pillow does not automatically explode in a burst of downie feathers, as if right on cue, you can sense that there has been a setup. Other than that, the whole play was smooth sailing.
The story, written by Beaudoin, who also moonlights as producer, is simple, but the storytelling, which often borders on the surreal, features a grab bag of techniques, including clowning, animation, and shadow puppetry. Director Moira Wylie is overseeing plenty of different effects that make for a cinematic-like theatre experience. Robert Perreault’s sound design is elegant, and Jérémi Guilbault-Asselin’s lighting is evocative and ever-changing.
While Queen of Hearts is technically sophisticated, and its performers entertaining, it doesn’t hammer its message home too hard. It remains an understated statement on what the ravages of war can do to those who are left behind.