Immersed in Hearts Come Cheap

Play delivers nuanced reflection on sex work

The play featured divergent storylines.

Immersive theatre is a very strange concept if you’ve never tried it before. 

Initially, the prospect of the cast interacting with me and the crowd around me was terrifying. I know absolutely nothing about theatre and the thought of 

being a part of a production made me catatonic. I am — to say the least — not a performer. 

However, I was delightfully surprised to find myself enjoying Hearts Come Cheap, running at The Mansion from March 8 to 10. While initially overwhelming and somewhat confusing, the story built itself up and ended in a satisfying way that left me wanting more. 

The story took place in a small border-town bar run by a pimp named Power, who was powerfully portrayed by Jacob Dey. The production focused on the financial and romantic struggles of Power’s sex workers and bar patrons, dealing with issues such as financing post-secondary education and the challenges of dating while being a sex worker.

The show took place in the attic of The Mansion, which created some barriers that were seemingly difficult for the production and cast to overcome. The attic is shaped in a way that places a lot of the audience outside of much of the scene. 

There were many times when I felt as though the action was happening in other parts of the space, and oftentimes I forgot that immersive theatre allowed me to move around with the show. For newbies to immersive theatre, this was a huge barrier. 

The immersive aspect of the show also created many instances when there would be many simultaneous conversations happening throughout the scene. I became very attached to many of the stories and at times felt like I had to choose between different storylines as there were so many happening at once. 

Despite this, the important parts of the show were brought to life by some incredible acting. 

The various characters I encountered in the play highlighted the complex struggles that come with being involved in sex work and the power poverty can hold over someone’s life. Most importantly, it explored the possibility of love in a world that can be hard for outsiders to imagine and true solidarity between the sex workers, and the bar-goers. 

The audience assumed the role of bar-goers. (Photo by Julia Balakrishnan.)

The cast and writing team also did an incredible job reminding spectators of the vulnerability of young sex workers. Initially, it was mentioned that many of the characters aren’t even old enough to drink, but throughout the play the issues and the context made the age of the characters even more alarming. 

A performance by Julia Carrie as Madame Marie really stuck out to me, as Carrie brought the character to life in a way that was both eccentric and believable. 

Madame Marie’s tense and confrontational relationship with Power truly stuck out to me as the eccentric older woman defends the younger, more vulnerable characters against the man. 

Another noteworthy performance was by Gracey Hammel as Cat. Hammel had a gift of blending into the background and allowing others to tell their parts of the story, until bringing the character of Cat to life when it was her time to shine. 

These fully-realized characters allowed for an immersive experience that went beyond typical unconventional staging. 

Hip-deep in papers and midterms and fighting for time wherever I can get it, Hearts Come Cheap was definitely worth taking a break for.

 

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