Arts & CultureCampus & City

2019 Fringe Festival Review: Haley Moorhouse’s “Suspension”

Haley Moorhouse's Suspension exposes info-tainment and the commodification of human suffering in the digital age.

Suspension is an absurdist romp that begins as a rollicking comedy of nonsensical proportions and ends in a terrifying realization about the spectacle of grief and the nature of suffering. When two strangers encounter one another, both watching a plane explode overhead, suspended (literally) in time and space, they commit to a new way of grieving: witnessing. 

But this witnessing can only take our characters so far, and as the play progresses, a darker tone emerges, until the plane finally plummets from its heights and the audience witnesses, with the characters, “death on a mass scale.” Juxtaposed against a simple, excruciatingly suburban set design featuring the bright colours of a pink flamingo, garden gnome, and blue raspberry Slurpee, the play’s topic is even more jarring. Meegan Sweet’s character, who has been witnessing “for a long time,” snacks on Cheetos and Smart Food popcorn, unsettlingly comfortable as she stares at the tragedy above her. 

Moorhouse’s writing is sharp, and forces the audience to consider the phenomenon of info-tainment and the commodification of human suffering in the digital age. While the dialogue is witty and quick, Moorhouse’s characters are tempted to become stand-ins for the playwright’s own philosophizing. The result is the audience occasionally wondering, “hasn’t this been said before?” However, Wandler and Sweet deliver stunning performances that utterly sold this show to me, even when the script faltered. It’s worth seeing simply to experience these two young actors’ incredible chemistry and their gifts for both physical comedy and emotional intensity. 

Wandler, especially, shines onstage. As a fourth-year BFA acting student at the University of Alberta (both Wandler and Sweet are current students in the program, and Moorhouse is an alumna), she puts her skills to use in Suspension, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster from utter shock, to boredom, to anger, to total despair. It’s hard to look away from her as she commands both the stage and the script with incredible skill. 

If you’re looking for traditional, narrative theatre, Suspension may not be the show for you. Though Moorhouse apparently tries to answer the questions she raises throughout the script, I, for one, walked away incredibly confused. While we do, ultimately, witness the plane fall from the sky, killing thousands, we’re left in the dark about both the consequences of this mass tragedy and the relationship between the  two characters. While both compelling in their own right, their relationship seems to have remarkably low stakes, and I found myself wondering why they needed to meet at all, except to give them someone else to monologue at. 

That being said, Suspension’s 45-minute run time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and it’s certainly one of the stronger shows I’ve seen at the Fringe Festival this year. The acting, dialogue, and design are delightful, and, no matter your opinion on its philosophy, this show will make you think. It’s one Fringe performance that won’t quickly leave its audiences minds, making it one of the Festival’s most memorable features.

Katherine DeCoste

Katherine DeCoste wishes she was a houseplant, but instead she's a third-year English and history honours student. When she's not writing reviews of plays or hot takes about fossil fuels, she also dabbles in poetry, playwriting, and other non-fiction, which she has published in various places. Other interests include making and eating bread.

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