Wednesday, 26 February 1997

Petroleum, Feb 26, 1997

 by Raimondo Cortese
 La Mama until March 9, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 26, 1997

God bless the short play. Or should I say, God bless the well-written short play. Petroleum by Raimondo Cortese is such an animal.

It is extraordinary how intimately we can get to know complete strangers on an aeroplane. We commune with the most unlikely bods. Perhaps the confined space reduces personal boundaries or is it theır sense of liberation travelling provides? Our identities are flexible, we have no history, no context from which to judge each other so we can be whatever we want, reveal whatever we choose and walk away totally uncommitted after the baggage collection.

Two women strike up a conversation en route from Asia. The older, more conservative (Heather Bolton) is bemused by the inquisitiveness and youthful, hippy exuberance of the younger (Kelly Tracey). Cortese captures the unpredictability of a new relationship. The women edge and shift toward each other, checking each other's reality, testing the water, making assumptions and often errors and shifting away.

Cortese's skill is evident in his well-observed dialogue. The two speak in parentheses, re-incorporating thoughts, rambling and misunderstanding. Each has a distinctive rhythm and it takes time for the two tempos to come into sync. Finally it feels like a fine two-step.

Bolton is wonderfully intense and eerily dislocated as the older woman who purports to be a psychotherapist. She slips from introspection to curiosity, suspicion to a gin-soaked melancholy. All is played with Bolton's eccentric and effective brand of wry humour. As her travel companion, Tracey is at once naive and watchful which all makes sense in the end. We do not know what to believe of either by landing time.

The excellent light-handed direction by Adriano Cortese (Yes, brothers) has sensitively concentrated on this emotional journey and the idiosyncrasies and humanity of the pair. The two remain seated on a row of plane seats centre stage but the piece is by no means static or restricted. The tiny details of their behaviour, their deceptions, truths and mutual vulnerability are riveting. Ordinary lives really are fascinating.

Cortese's script is written with irony, wit and a healthy cynicism. The dialogue provides the actors with subtleties and nuances to explore. Both characters have a past and a future. The ending is not finite but flies on ahead to the next episode. It is always a good sign when one leaves the theatre wanting more.


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