Wednesday, 29 April 1998

Miracles by Tobsha Learner, April 29, 1998

Miracles by Tobsha Learner
Playbox until May 2, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 28, 1998

We have no Aesop but we live in a time that cries out for contemporary fables. We must leave it to our novelists, filmmakers and playwrights. Such is the style of Tobsha Learner's latest play, Miracles.

Learner draws her characters with broad comic strokes as stereotypes. Trinity Supermarket, a Flemington family business, is stocked with as colourful a range of people as the goods going out of date on its shelves. Ida (Heather Bolton) is a brassy shop-owner whose husband Clive (Greg Stone) is a dodgy small-time crook and gambler. Sparks (Sophie Lee) is a tacky, loud-mouthed checkout chick.

The feature act is the virtuously named Immaculata (Laura Lattuada). She has worked the cash register for 20 years without complaint about her oppressive Italian father, Irish priest, Aussie bosses or Catholic God who seems to have abandoned her.

This is Immaculata's journey from excruciatingly shy, illiterate cripple to star status as a miracle worker. She has a visitation from God (or Mary) who appears to her in a cash register and gives her healing powers. Lattuada plays her with great warmth and humour without stepping into the dangerous territory of mocking a 'cripple'.

Kate Cherry, who was responsible for the recent stylish production of Woman at the Window for MTC, has directed Miracles with a deft hand. Scenes and characters move swiftly, the comedy is broad and clown-like and, in the second half when Immaculata's sainthood becomes martyrdom, the shift of gear is effective.

Learner is a good gag writer; consider SNAG and Mistress. She makes the most of the jokes in Miracles. There is little subtlety in the dialogue or narrative. This is addressed in the second half to some extent when the dialogue necessarily becomes more introspective as Immaculata faces stardom, her demons and incarceration. .

With new work there is always the need for editing or re-writing during rehearsal. But with the writer not only out of the rehearsal room, but out of the country (Learner lives in in LA), it may be impossible.

The Torres Strait Islander narrator (Maryanne Sam) who observes Immaculata's journey and draws attention to the relationship between indigenous spirituality and Christian faith, seems extraneous. The sub- plot about the policeman and his junkie sister, serves the narrative little.

The play could be a fast, funny and perhaps poignant one-acter in its next life but it is an entertaining piece simply exploring a woman's journey of self discovery.


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