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Orange, Hat & Grace

Stephanie Roth Haberle and Matthew Maher shine in Gregory S. Moss' promising new play about an unlikely romance.

Matthew Maher and Stephanie Roth Haberle
in Orange, Hat & Grace
(© Carol Rosegg)
The land is dying in the strange, backwoods world of Gregory S. Moss' Orange, Hat & Grace, now receiving its world premiere at Soho Rep. The playwright fills the promising, but uneven work with symbols and portents such as this; yet interestingly enough, the play is at its best when it instead focuses on character relationships.

The primary storyline depicts the unlikely romance between Orange (Stephanie Roth Haberle), an elderly woman living in a cabin in the woods, and Hat (Matthew Maher), a rather dimwitted man-child who shows up one day, trying to chop wood off of Orange's roof so he can make a fire. Their interactions are deliciously quirky, as Hat sets out to woo the seemingly reluctant Orange.

Both performers bring a strong commitment to their roles. Haberle nicely plays the subtext within her lines, making for an emotionally rich and complex portrayal. Maher is frequently hilarious, particularly in a scene in which he tells the bizarre tale of Pig Lily, which Hat has made up.

Where the play starts to go awry is in the depiction of its third character, Grace (Reyna de Courcy), a mysterious wild woman who apparently lives in the woods. Grace, who has the first words of the play, starts the production off on the wrong note, despite a chillingly effective entrance. Part of that has to do with de Courcy's performance, as she doesn't inhabit her character as fully as her co-stars, and the poetic and repetitious language of her opening monologue comes across as forced and unnatural.

Moreover, the playwright treats Grace more as a symbol than a flesh and blood character, which also hampers the way she is performed. And when her back-story is finally (albeit predictably) revealed at the end of the play, it also feels inorganic and somewhat labored.

Director Sarah Benson has put together an engaging and visually striking production. Of particular note is Rachel Hauck's set design, which is initially dominated by a wooden platform serving as the cabin's roof, that later lifts to reveal the abode's interior. The real dirt that surrounds the main playing space is also effective, literally grounding the production and helping to establish its offbeat reality.