“Yes, yes, the sex was good. You really know how to put your penis in a woman.”
Playwright Jordan Hall knows her way around a line, and her newest work, How to Survive an Apocalypse, is a funny and frank exploration of a young couple who become end-of-the-world “preppers” when faced with financial hardship. Desperately unprepared for any actual wilderness living, they join another couple in the woods to boost their survival skills. One botched rabbit murder and a messy one-night stand later, the actual apocalypse starts to look pretty good.
Actors Lindsey Angell and Sebastien Archibald join Hall and the Straight to talk about Apocalypse during a break from their daylong rehearsal. The theme came to Hall in 2013 when she observed a “resurgence of apocalyptic ideation” in the movies and among her cohort.
“There are these weird, looming pressures, and we don’t know how we’re supposed to deal with them,” Hall says. “Frequently, it feels like you go to your little protest and then they run the pipeline anyway. Instead, it’s like, ‘Well, that’s fine, the world is clearly screwed, I can’t convince anyone to do any better, so what I’ll do is stockpile some soup and then when the world ends, as it inevitably will, I’ll at least have the soup.’ ”
I confess that I’ve been harbouring my own plan to learn soap-making so that I’ll have something to fall back on if and when the end comes.
“Are you worried about not being clean?” Angell asks.
“Do you know how many people died from not being clean before the advent of hygiene?” Hall interjects.
“My instinct is to have a route out of the downtown core; however, I don’t think that’s really realistic,” Angell says, admitting she, too, has done some “prepping”. “I work a lot in Alberta, so my plan is to just not really be here. Perfectly timed to be elsewhere.” Everybody laughs.
“Because the apocalypse happens on a timetable,” Archibald jokes. “We, fortunately, live on the top of a hill, near City Hall. I’ve definitely thought a number of times, ‘Okay, if the earthquake hits’—and I actually looked into it at one point, what the expected rise in sea level would be—‘Oh, great, okay, all those people from Broadway down to the water are fucked but I’m okay, ’cause we’re at the top of this hill. Maybe I’ll get a boat.’ ”
Judging by the response of this small group, Hall has tapped into something that resonates loudly, adding an exciting new voice to the local scene of emerging professional playwrights. As much as the script is a loving skewering of its demographic, it’s also extraordinarily clever, charming, and thoroughly modern in its exploration of traditional gender roles, a shifting masculine paradigm, and what women want. Archibald, who is also a playwright, says Hall’s writing reminds him of George Bernard Shaw.
“They are these articulate, intelligent people who are just fucking up miserably,” he says. “There’s something really satisfying about watching smart people who are supposed to be really with it, but are maybe lacking a certain emotional intelligence, just fail miserably. It also reminded me, too, of vintage Woody Allen, these smart, academic people who are just really going at it, leading with their hearts or crotches, or both, and it just leads them astray or to all sorts of debaucherous situations.”
“On a personal note, I prefer Shaw to Woody Allen in terms of actual comparisons,” Hall interjects with a laugh.
“It’s really important to me; I don’t like scripts and writing that underestimate the audience,” Hall says. “I know so many really clever people—I wanted to create a portrait of this generation and the space that we’re in, the authenticity of the language and the rhythms, but also a really faithful portrait of how smart and how hard they are trying.”
How to Survive an Apocalypse runs from Friday to next Saturday (June 3 to 11) at the Firehall Arts Centre.