Wednesday, 21 May 1997

The Drought by Tom Petsinis, May 21, 1997

The Drought by Tom Petsinis
At La Mama until June 8, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around June 20, 1997.

The script of Tom Petsinis's play, The Drought, although set in contemporary rural Greece, owes a great deal to ancient Greek drama. It uses a chorus which sings in verse, focuses on a blood feud between brothers and is riddled with religious iconography, references to God and a 'soothsayer' to prophesy the impending doom of the protagonist.

Vangel  (Matthew Crosbie) has returned to his family's Greek village after twenty unsuccessful years in Australia. He finds the country in the grips of a ravaging drought, his mother dead, his brother Kosta (George Harlem) over-worked and his father forgiving.

Vangel is a shadowy character torn between two cultures and struggling to find his 'home'. He decides to marry a local girl (Maria Limberis) but Anna, (Anastasia Malinoff) Kosta's wife, is suspicious and in Lady Macbeth style, convinces Kosta that Vangel plans to take half the land he has worked so hard to cultivate.

We already know Vangel's number is up because the Gypsy (Laura Lattuada) foretells it all with bones and dirt and blood. Lattuada is a fiery and multi-dimensional presence on stage providing vital mystical undertones with a passionate performance and beautifully resonant voice.

The Drought, which won the Wal Cherry Award in 1993, is a rich and poetic text which treads carefully with its worthy subject without being precious. The problem is that all its metaphor and symbolism is struggling to crawl out from beneath this very ordinary production. It is a difficult play to stage, requiring layering and detailed acting to make visible its subtext. Otherwise it remains a good piece of poetic writing.

 The play, directed by Suzanne Chaundy, seems too large for La Mama's tiny space. Peter Long's huge Greek icon and red sand look wonderful but the sand hinders the actors who look uncomfortable and uncertain. Shifts from chorus to naturalism are clumsy and direction is often static and unimaginative.

 Melodic chants composed by Tassos Ioannides enhance the piece but the simplicity of the final clarinet soundtrack might have served the play better in parts.

The acting is uneven but, in addition to Lattuada, Malinoff is a strong presence and Limberis a charming and credible Sofia. Much of the casting works against the production and some melodramatic acting and slow responses leave it feeling laboured and over-cooked.
There is a much better play begging to get out.


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