BWW Review: FAST, Park Theatre
It's the beginning of the 20th Century in the Pacific Northwest and Linda Hazzard's sanitarium is under fire for her unusual practices. She founded Wilderness Heights with the aim of curing her patients through fasting, which, in her opinion, rids the body of toxins.
Her treatments last for months, and the subjects are kept on a strict diet of soups and water. Some of them live, some of them don't. Wealthy British heiresses Claire and Dora Williamson enter the clinic expecting Hazzard to set them on the path of wellness, but the quack quickly envelops them in her web and leads them to horrifying ends.
Directed by Kate Valentine, Fast thrives with its creepiness but its resonance sadly falls short. Written by Kate Barton and based on the real life events as her final piece for her Masters degree at Cambridge, the play shines a light on an interesting topic but doesn't hold any substantial weight. It's compelling and engaging as presented at the Park - especially with Valentine's direction, which heavily relies on its outer look and audio impact - but it's slightly flimsy script-wise.
Caroline Lawrie is the doctor; she waltzes around the stage eerily gaslighting her preys, praising the effects of forced fasting and confiding in the audience to keep her filthy secrets. Valentine has her intruding on almost every scene, staring at the other characters and sometimes pitching in unnoticed. She drives the narration while Daniel Norford's Horace Cayton Junior - the journalist who's leading the investigation on her establishment - interferes in her disgraceful work.
After a chilling start where she is wearing a full dead creature, paws and all, as a collar to finish a witchy-looking outfit, she changes into a bona fide mad doctor coat. With the spooky atmosphere crated by Ben Bull's lights, Emily Bestow's set, and David Chilton's sound design, her evil nature is metaphorically projected all around her. Jordon Stevens and Natasha Cowley portray Claire and Dora as two sides of the same medal.
While the first is impressionable and easy to sway, Dora's skepticism is a thread that remains strong until she is too weak to do anything about it. While Hazzard's sadism and deviance cripple the young women, alienating them from one another and forcing their starvation process, her rebukes to Cayton become the focus of the action. While at the start his inquisitive objective is seen as the external outcome of her controversial methods, as the play develops, the press becomes the only element that might be able to save those who've fallen into her trap.
Unfortunately, Hazzard is not as explored as a character as one wishes to be, leaving her to be taken at face value instead of constructing her reasoning and ultimate intentions in detail. Barton, introducing Fast as a story narrated by its protagonist, isn't entirely successful in building a strong backstory to support its core actions. In a nutshell, the show exists in its own bubble rather than being the cautionary tale that's striving to be. This said, its imagery is truly stunning and becomes the pivot of the whole production.
Bestow's set works on two levels, with the lower one presenting beds and tables that come out of the platform just as slabs out of something like a vintage morgue cooler. Hints of woodland frame the scene and Bull's clever lighting peers through ripped sheets, sometimes giving the staging an authentic haunted house look. Chilton plays with the depth of sound, adding sighs and pained moans with hair-raising effects.
All in all, the production works and its visuals are a treat, but the bottom line is that the text is slightly less exciting than the rest.
Photo by Manuel Harlan