Wednesday, 11 June 1997

Hideous Portraits by Tom Wright, June 11, 1997

Hideous Portraits by Tom Wright, by Mene Mene Theatre
at La Mama until June 29, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around June 10, 1997

The unexpurgated observations of the deranged can shed a glaring and unflattering light on a family's neurotic relationships. Such is the case with Burchett, (Ben Rogan) in Tom Wright's Hideous Portraits.

Burchett, youngest and maddest brother of three, is ripped untimely from his psychiatric institution and whisked away by his sentimental oldest brother Moncrieff (Christopher Davis) to the family home and middle brother, dilettante actor, Melba (Jerome Pride). The Australian diva references may reflect the pretensions of this family to high art and "Anglo-Saxon good taste."

The paranoiac Burchett is not alone in his madness. Moncrieff rehearses playing a blind woman in front of the mirror and irons Burchett's special underwear. The histrionic Melba is passionate about his youngest brother.

It is evident immediately that the bosom of brotherly love is not Burchett's ideal haven. he hates Moncrieff's dullness and Melba's histrionics. They pander to him and perch nervously on chair-edge awaiting his next peculiar outburst.

The play, which is based heavily on Austrian Thomas Bernhard's 1980's play , Ritter, Dene, Voss, is swiftly written and directed by Wright in a broad black clown style. Its stark green-black and white design combined with its stop-frame action echoes its central image of photographic portraiture.

The text is riddled with literary and philosophical allusions, witticisms and grim observations about anything that niggles the writer. It slings abuse at wealthy arts patrons, psychiatrists, anything American, pretentious photographers but, most significantly, it attacks "insipid boulevarde plays" and dilettante artists. Occasionally it is too glib.

The three actors give vigorous and intense performances. As Moncrieff, Christopher Davis prattles and mothers the young 'uns and Pride is supremely arch and prissy as Melba. Rogan grabs with both fists the challenge of Burchett, the "humanist-megalomaniac", and wrestles a nervy, pungent and hilarious character infested with quirks and staccato tics, gasps and double takes.

It is a superbly timed comic piece but it lets itself down by playing too lightly the darkness. It skims too easily across the surface of the dark psychological pond. It is so frenetic and mannered at times it undercuts its own power.

The opening night friendly crowd may have skewed the laugh response but there is a deeper resonance to this play.


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