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A CurtainUp Review
Orange, Hat &Grace

Lina Zeldovich

Mama. — Grace
Yes. — Orange
Why is it where ever I come to you, it seems you're always leaving? — Grace
I'm sorry. — Orange.
Orange, Hat & Grace
Matthew Maher & Stephanie Roth Haberle
(Photo: Carol Rosegg.)
In French, roman à-clef is French for "a novel with a key" which, among other notions, means that things are not all that clear and not what they appear. The same applies to Gregory Moss's play Orange, Hat and Grace, only it is a May-September romance story of sorts. Even the character names do not reflect the images they are linguistically meant to draw in your mind.

Orange, Hat and Grace is a puzzle as delicate as it is intriguing and mystifying. It could be taking place in the eighteen century, or during the last great depression, or perhaps in a dystopian future amidst the aftermath of some sort of eco-catastrophe. It can also be happening inside someone's bad dream. One needs the key to put this puzzle together.

Haunted by ghosts and shadows of the past, aging Orange (Stephanie Roth Haberle) lives in the world of trees, plants and birds, cooks on a primitive stove and sleeps on the kitchen table of her log cabin. She calls herself a lady and reads the bible, but there is a dark side to her that we get to see now and then.

Hat (Matthew Maher) is deprived even of those snippets of civilization. We never find out how long he had been living in the woods and eating squirrels. He recalls that he did have a mother, a father, a sister, and even a grandma, once,; but one day he woke up to see them packed and ready to go— and they wouldn't take him with them. "I stayed and watched 'em go down the road till they was four clanking shadows in the distance," he says. "Then I turned round, walk the other way. Cause I do what I am told."

Orange takes him in, and, as every woman has done since the beginning of time, feeds him, cleans him and loves him. And, as every man has done since the beginning of time, Hat chops the wood, makes a mess, and loves her back. Orange may be old enough to be Hat's mother, Hat's yokel charm may not have worked on any other woman on earth, but in the wild woods things work in mysterious ways. We may have a myriad of theories as to where this May and September romance may go, but without the key to the puzzle, we will never guess right. At least not without the third character of Moss's title —Grace.

Hat comes across Grace (Reyna De Courcy) while roaming the woods. He tells Orange about her explaining that . the girl can barely speak, that she is dirty, wild, and she lives inside a hollow tree. "At first I don't even know it's a person. Her face is covered in dirt and mold."

Motherly as she is, Orange doesn't want to hear about the strange creature. In fact, she gets furious every time Hat mentions the girl. "Don't help her. I don't want you to help her," she yells. But Hat ignores her barking and keeps pressing for more information. When he persists with "Who is she to you?" Orange lashes out with "You leave her be. Do you understand? You leave her be!"
We may have a myriad of ideas about where this potential triangle may go, anything from a feral love triangle to possible incest, but chances are we won't guess right. Grace, the malnourished young female shadow, smeared with mud and chewing on pine bark while roaming the woods like a dirty-white apparition, is the key to this weird apocalyptic May-September romanc à-clef, which, after all, may not be a romance at all but just a product of the human imagination.

Both Stephanie Roth Haberle and Matthew Maher bring the atypical couple and their uncommon relationship to life. Reyna De Courcy's stealthy moves and vacant facial expressions keep us guessing who she is and where she is taking us, and whether she is a real person at all.

The cleverly designed stage set naturally adds to the performance flow. A shabby wooden roof of Orange's cabin, on top of which Hat first woos Orange by trying to hack off a piece of wood for his fire as a ploy to get her attention, rises shortly after he succeeds, bringing us inside her shabby dwelling. The sounds of birds chirping, water falling and leaves rustling complete the authenticity; there are moments we can almost smell the woods, the earth and dampness in the air. We can certainly savor the aroma of eggs Orange cooks for Hat after their first nuptial night. With some imagination, we can even pick up the scent of Grace the apparition, if only apparitions had odor.

This ingenious collaboration of the playwright Gregory Moss and producer Sarah Benson perfectly fits the avant-garde style of the eleven-time Obie Award-winning Soho Rep theater, although the play is perhaps a genre in itself. It is not a story about feral love, hillbilly romance, or dysfunctional adults surviving in the wilds. It's hard to explain what this play is about, but it's easy to say what it play does: It stays with you even when the performance is long over.

Orange, Hat & Grace may not be for everybody, but it is a play that can send many who watch it into a heated debate about what the author really meant to say.

This is a world premiere. Let's hope the world is ready for it.

Orange, Hat and Grace
Written by Gregory S. Moss
Directed by Sarah Benson
Cast: Stephanie Roth Haberle (Orange), Matthew Maher (Hat), Reyna De Courcy (Grace).
Sets: Rachel Hauck
Costumes: David Hyman
Sound: Matt Tierney
Lighting: Matt Frey
Stage Manager: Terri K. Kohler
SoHo Rep. 46 Walker Street. (212) 941-8632
From 09/15/10; opening 9/22/10closing 10/10/10.
Tuesday through Sunday @ 7:30pm.
Reviewed by Lina Zeldovich based on Sept 22 press performance.
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