Saturday, 19 July 1997

Life During Wartime by Keith Reddin, July 19, 1997

Life During Wartime by Keith Reddin
Soup Kitchen Theatre Athenaeum Theatre 2, until August 31, 1997
Reviewer: Kate Herbert around July 18, 1997

American society is riddled with urban warfare. Home are defended by owners with small arms caches and-or high-tech security systems. Keith Reddin's play is a generally light commentary on the moral decline of a community that fights violence with more violence or protects itself with a fortress mentality.

Soup Kitchen Theatre performs this very American text in Australian accents with one very odd exception. This characterises the many unsuccessful choices made by the writer, director (Catherine Hill) and some of the actors.

Although the basic premise of the play may work, Reddin's unsuccessfully attempts to blend naturalism and farce in his text and this creates enormous problems for any production.

The 'real' story concerns a young security systems salesman (Brett Tucker) who falls in love with an older woman (Clarissa House) who is his client. His boss (Peter Roberts) runs a dodgy show that manufactures burglaries of properties to promote sales. This all leads to grief.

The other story is an amusing moralistic running commentary by John Calvin himself, played with puritanical relish by Jim Daly. Calvin prattles on about pre-determination, Original Sin, the immorality of theatre and, with comic anachronism, violent movies and parenting in Leave it To Beaver.

Unfortunately, the naturalism collapses into daytime soap opera with platitudes masquerading as dialogue. Characterisation is thin, which is not assisted by some very wooden acting in major roles. Reddin ends the play with Calvin in an awkward dialogue with other characters who suddenly begin to talk directly to audience.

The saving grace is Daly who, as Calvin, ponces and pontificates, sneers and patronises to perfection. His other cameos, a weapon-mad homeowner and an oddball neighbour, are a welcome relief from the tedium as is Samuel Johnson (his real name!) who demonstrates great comic skill.

The design of geometric vertical household blinds is initially interesting but the blinds continually swan across the stage to provide new locations and to mask slow scene changes. This becomes predictable, annoying and fragments the stage.

Evocative lighting by Daniel Zika dapples the blinds but surprisingly did not explore the potential of any back lighting through slats which might have covered some rather obvious backstage movement of furniture and cast.


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