Monday, 9 November 1998

Dream Kitchen, Nov 9, 1998

 by Rhonnda Johnson
Universal Theatre 1 until Nov, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Walls the colour of peach cooler: that's what Betty is considering for her dream kitchen colour scheme. Or perhaps she may choose apricot and olive, the same colours as her bridesmaids' outfits forty or so years ago.

Betty is the working class creation of Melbourne playwright, Rhonnda Johnson and is brought to full technicolour life by Toni Lamond in Dream Kitchen, a one-woman play directed slickly by her son, Tony Sheldon. Lamond's years in the Tivoli, musicals and television sketch comedy stand her in good stead as she struts her stuff before an audience of true believers, none under 50.

Betty not only has appalling colour sense but has equally poor taste in husbands. Jack, since retiring, "Gardens, drinks, sleeps". Nor has her fortune in offspring been too hot. Leanne, a recalcitrant daddy's girl as a teenager, is now married to the "Rabbit". Betty's son, Brian, a 34-year-old public servant, still lives at home, trapped in his adolescent CB radio phase.

In the style of Shirley Valentine, the audience is like flies on the wall. Betty asks our advice on colour choice, tells anecdotes about her wedding, parenting, her stale marriage and her humble but happy working life. She slaved at the meatworks on the 'offal table" stuffing sausages.

With a youthful voice, Lamond interpolates songs into Betty's narrative, Moonlight Becomes You and If You Ever Go Across the Sea to Ireland to name a couple. The radio is Betty's companion. She is an avid listener to Frank Lee, an evening talk-show host. Like innumerable other middle-aged lonely, married women, she has a long-distance crush on him and fantasises about calling to talk with Frank about important things, instead of the trivial complaints of all his other fans..

Lamond is engaging, warm and accessible as Betty and captures a naivete and sweet sadness in this cheerfully lonely woman, incarcerated in her kitchen. She relishes Johnson's dialogue which comes thick and fast, riddled with gags. She quips, "Without the Irish we'd just be white lumps of Pom."

But mostly, the humour is cleverly observational. Betty is familiar. Like so many women who battled unsatisfactory marriages in the suburbs she is laconic, good-humoured and easy-going. She cooks, irons, plans her new kitchen or talks back to her lolly-pink radio. She putters about preparing snags for dins, laying the table and entertaining herself. She is strong in her domain and she is not allowing the "Rabbit" and Leanne to move her into a tiny unit. Nobody pushes Betty around.

By Kate Herbert

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