A ‘Hot Mess’ of questions about sexuality and relationships

Katie Hudson and Kristian Stec in Hot Mess. Photo credit Giselle Boehm.

Katie Hudson and Kristian Stec in Hot Mess. Photo credit Giselle Boehm.

Wondering how to get more 20-somethings going to theatre?

Harley Morison and Jessica Glover, co-founders of one of Edmonton’s newest independent theatre companies, Cardiac Theatre, think the answer is to present work that’s written about their experience, stars people their age, and is presented in a venue that doesn’t feel as intimidating as a traditional theatre space might.

Enter: Ella Hickson’s Hot Mess, presented by Cardiac Theatre at El Cortez (8230 Gateway Boulevard) March 2 – 12. Hot Mess joins twins Twitch and Polo on their 25th birthday, as they celebrate a quarter century of living as romantic opposites. Polo (played by Perry Gratton) can’t love, while his twin sister, Twitch, is a hopeless romantic. The play stars Perry Gratton, Katie Hudson, Nikki Hulowski, and Kristian Stec – all recent graduates of the University of Alberta’s BFA program.

Harley, who directs the Canadian première of Hot Mess, says, “To me, it’s about how these characters and people go about approaching romantic and sexual relationships. How they exert power in those relationships. Also, the contract that’s entered into in those relationships. Whether or not – to use the metaphor – both parties sign and agree to the same thing when they start the relationship. The play is a lot about that space in between and the gap that exists in our generation – probably ever generation – between what people want in a relationship – whether that’s just casual sex or if it’s something more committed – and what happens when people aren’t on the same page with that?”

Harley says Ella’s script also tackles gender roles and expectations in relationships in a very head-on way – having written the woman as the romantic and the man as the unattached partner. “It’s set up as this very conventional, stereotypical scenario where the man is less attached and the woman is supposed to be the one who’s emotional. I think she presents her point in such a way that it makes the audience thinking about it and say that it’s ridiculous. You’re presenting this normalized stereotype, but maybe it’s been ridiculous all along…  It’s also people’s pre-conceived notions about what they should be doing. It’s a lot about gender roles – as a man, if I do this, I’m viewed differently than if I were a woman. And what does promiscuity mean for a male versus a female? Can you be promiscuous and also be in a committed relationship? And then the play also throws in a bunch of stuff about casual sex with strangers – is that something that’s frowned upon or is it all of the sudden okay in our society? Is that sexual liberation or is it scandalous?”  

While Hot Mess is rooted in real questions young people are asking themselves or thinking about, it’s also embedded with an element of fantasy: the two twins have one heart between them, found in Twitch. Harley says, “She makes you think, does he literally not have a heart? There’s that metaphor: in the reality of the play, he’s born with a hole in his heart which is quite common in twins. That metaphor is a common thread in the rest of the play – the way the metaphor is tied up in reality.”

Nikki Hulowski and Kristian Stec in Hot Mess. Photo credit: Giselle Boehm

Nikki Hulowski and Kristian Stec in Hot Mess. Photo credit: Giselle Boehm

Coming out of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Hot Mess is a site-sympathetic play written to be performed in a bar. Harley says the role of the audience evolves throughout the play, “As it progresses it becomes about outside eyes and the people in this club and this one crazy night they spend at the bar… These characters and humans in real life, how do they perform sexuality and where are relationships in the world? A large part of that is framing it in a way that other people can perceive. And then put ‘normal’ or ‘not normal’ labels on it. It’s a lot about how people wear sexuality out in the world. How that is still viewed as something to be put down and that grey area between when it becomes empowering to show off your body in a public place.”

All interesting questions that are sure to resonate with audiences and spur discussion. If that’s the case, El Cortez is offering audience members 15% off their orders before or after the show.

Hot Mess runs March 2 – 12 at El Cortez, just north of Whyte Avenue on Gateway Boulevard. The show run time is 70 minutes. Tickets are $18 – $22 through Tix on The Square. Tickets to the preview performance on March 2 are $15 and tickets are two-for-one on Tuesday, March 8. And, as a special bonus for buying your tickets early – the first 24 tickets sold to each performance will also receive a bottle of Steamwhistle!

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