Sunday, 26 July 1998

Behind Closed Doors, July 26,1998

Behind Closed Doors adapted writings of Robert Walser
at La Mama until August 2, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Tucked into La Mama's snugness is a literary and theatrical gem.
Howard Stanley's solo show, Behind Closed Doors, is a truly delightful, 'must-see' performance of adapted writings of Robert Walser (1878-1956).

"We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much," demonstrates the simplicity of Walser's poetic vision. Stanley is the perfect representation of the humble, peculiar and hilarious voice of the writer.

Disconnected writings join seamlessly in this adaptation by Stanley in conjunction with Wayne Macauley and director, Adrian Guthrie who has returned after a 20 year absence. His work in the 70's with Stanley and others at Claremont Theatre was part of Melbourne's early experimental theatre.

The performance is stripped bare and so is Stanley. When the piece begins, he is crouching cramped in a tin tub in an almost Munch-like silent scream. His mad grin and odd physical antics punctuate Walser's naive and poignant words. His timing is impeccable and his quirky delivery adds an ironic note to the lilting music of the text.

There is a sweet sadness in Stanley's simple fool who is reminiscent of Geoffrey Rush's character in Diary of a Madman. Stanley has always been Melbourne's answer to Sydney's Oscar-winning Rush but has remained inexplicably undiscovered.

He is the perfect charming clown - and I do not mean fuzzy orange wig and white face. His past work has always been exceptional, unpredictable and on the cutting edge. In one show, he scampered about naked then let loose a dozen stray dogs amongst the audience. In a gallery show, he required people to pay with a cheque that bounced. He was known on the comedy circuit as "The Comedian's Comedian" for his character Howard Slowly.

The man in the bath-tub pre-empts a later reference to a writer who lived in a woman's bathroom. He attends a job interview - naked - from his tub. He searches for a room, seeks romance with a potential land-lady, marvels at women's legs, their desire to wear trousers and to vote: "Voting so boring!"

He jitters about his ageing and his nervousness. He acknowledges his weirdness. He dresses coyly, behind a striped sheet, adding silk shirt, vest and jacket in his journey from tub to poetic visionary. Walser's words reflect his warmth, his childlike joy, his love of the landscape and, tragically, his own later madness.

This is a must-see show.
By kate Herbert

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