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Play begs to ask what would you do if you knew your next meal was your last?
Local playwright Meghan Greeley penned “Hunger” in 24 hours in 2012, while Toronto was flooding.
In her apartment, between reading articles about survivors of war who lived through “unimaginable” circumstances, Greeley was killing cockroaches trying to escape the flood.
“Before I knew it, I had committed massacre because there were intruders in my home,” she shared in the Playwright’s Notes section in the “Hunger” pamphlet.
At that same time, she was finishing the first draft of a play in which she felt “very, very compassionate towards people trying to escape their own high water.”
Directed by Michael Waller, “Hunger” tells the story of husband and wife Max (Greg Malone) and Johanna (Deidre Gillard Rowlings) as they risk their lives providing safe shelter for Rivka (Meghan Greeley) and Isak (Santiago Guzmán), and later, Helen (Nina John).
What makes “Hunger” so especially riveting is the fact that only some of the story is being told.
Like the runaways sheltered in secret alcoves, the audience is partially in the dark – we do not know what circumstances or events have led to the desperate times that Max, Johanna, Rivka, Isak, and Helen are living through.
Set inside a simple home, we meet Johanna, Max, Isak and Rivka as they gather for dinner. Max and Johanna sit at the table, while Rivka and Isak sit on the floor, a safety measure to ensure they are not discovered.
Joyously sipping a simple soup, it is obvious that food is scarce. The point is driven home when the group becomes excited over the thought of sharing a single sugar cube for dessert, and later ecstatic when it is revealed that each will have their own sugar cube to enjoy.
The happy moment turns dark when Rivka and Isak reveal that they are short on their rent. Without access to banks or financial institutions, this puts Johanna and Max in a difficult predicament. They cannot afford to feed the pair for free in these times of food insecurity, but do not want to evict them from their safe space – “they’ll freeze to death before they starve,” Johanna laments.
Tension continues to mount when Max returns from the market with Helen, a young girl in need of safe refuge.
As food supplies continue to dwindle, the group becomes increasingly delirious from hunger. Will they succumb to their madness or will they make it out alive? Audiences who attended performances of the play’s provincial tour will know the answer.
Greeley’s play is reminiscent of thousands of stories of average people fleeing persecution, violence, war, and terror. By intentionally obscuring the details of their circumstances, there is no political divide in the audience, just a very raw, very real expression of human nature, and just how far we can bend our morals and ethics in an effort of collective sustainability, or in increasingly harder times, self-preservation.
“Hunger” begs the difficult question: What would you do if you knew your last meal would be your last?
White Rooster Theatre’s “Hunger” wrapped up its provincial tour at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s on Saturday. The play travelled to Corner Brook, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor throughout early May.