Time twist tale a romantic tragedy in Hroses: An Affront to Reason

Again with the magical realism: Start off with the impossible situation, get that out of the way first, and THEN have your characters react to it realistically. Only then can a writer achieve the goal of creating credible fantasy fiction.

If you dig time twist stories, Hroses: An Affront to Reason might be right up your alley. Opening Thursday at the Arts Barns PCL Theatre, Jill Connell’s new play is a Helen of Troy-Romeo and Juliet sort of romantic tragedy. The main twist occurs at the moment the star-crossed lovers meet for the first time – which is also the moment of their deaths. There’s a Hrose involved. Short explanation: It’s misspelled because this species is “different than any horse seen before,” Connell says, and lives in a world that few have imagined before.

The Ottawa playwright, who holds a Master’s degree in creative writing and says one of her hobbies is quantum physics, says it doesn’t work to create a weird world and then just comment on how weird it is.

“The concern when you do something like this is excluding the audience,” Connell says. “I want more than anything to for them be welcomed into this world, to get the ground rules out of the way, to get the magic out of the way: OK, this is how time works. And if they can jump on the ride with us, then I think they’ll love the story.”

Love and war are concurrent themes. As Lily (played by Kristi Gunther-Hansen) and (Ellery Sheldon Elter) develop their relationship, their respective families battle over farming and mining territory. It seems that the moths crucial to one family’s paper farms are pests in the other family’s sugar mines, while the moths’ dead bodies underground form new sugar seams, and so on. War escalates. So does love.

Believe it or not, Hroses is based on the playwright’s personal experience – “this mad, beautiful love affair I had,” Connell says. “It’s a tragedy, but a beautiful, glorious tragedy. Basically I had this relationship where we fell madly in love with each other, but ultimately it was unsustainable. Life became too crazy being that in love. I will love him forever. It didn’t matter what we were doing. Even from the beginning, it was supremely beautiful. Every day felt like the first day I met him.”

She says there is no possibility of a reconciliation. Why?

“I don’t know. It’s a tragedy.”

The magical fiction mirrors real life as far as the second part of the title is concerned: “The affront to reason is that when we find something we love so much, we want to possess it, but in a life of continual transformation, it’s an impossible, irrational struggle.”

For theatre-goers worried this isn’t going to make a bit of sense, Connell assures us that she and director Vanessa Sabourin have worked hard to make sure there is a form and a story “arc,” despite the extreme surreality. The bonus with a time twist story: One could start the play over again and everything would blend smoothly.

Connell says, “I am structuralist, I’ve decided, a formalist. I need to know the form of the play to know what information goes where. Because of the quantum nature of the piece – it came to me in such crazy ways – it’s almost like anything could go anywhere, but I have to structure the events very specifically, having linear arc rather than just give the audience moments in time.

“It’s trying to get the effect of wave time while knowing that we live in particle time,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I’m just talking nonsense now.”

It might be some pretty smart nonsense, though. Students of great fantasy writers like Philip K. Dick ought to know that. That’s the magic of magical realism.