Wednesday, 24 March 1999

Grandma's Dancing Class, 24 March 1999

 by Ian de Lacy at La Mama until April 11, 199
Reviewer: KATE HERBERT on 24 March 1999

The first production of a writer's first play is always going to be a risky affair. The ones that work best are often closest to the writer's own experience. This may account for some of the problems in Ian De Lacy's play, Grandma's Dancing Class, directed by Karen Wakeham.

DeLacy's story is about women exclusively. Grandma, (Esme Melville) her two middle-aged daughters, (Sharon Kershaw, Kate Feldmann), and her teenage granddaughter (Catherine Ryan) are all awaiting the arrival of a young man who may or may not be the grandson. He never arrives so the play is focussed on the women exclusively.

This is the point at which I suspect DeLacy departs from his immediate experience. No women I know behave like this with friends or family. These four bicker, taunt, berate, shame, abuse, yell at each other in a childish and undignified way. They are all intensely dislikeable which does not make good comedy. We must care about them in some way.

I suspect the script is a little better than Wakeham's direction allows it to be It may have been the director's intention to play it as a series of kindergarten squabbles and playground spats between adults to highlight the fact that they have never grown up. Kari Morseth's simple lollypop-coloured design suggests this.

However, the broad style does not work as comedy or clown, it ends up as merely over-acting and face pulling. The characters are already two-dimensional and the performances do not add any depth.

There are gaping pauses and slow cues that do not assist comic timing. DeLacy's dialogue is riddled with platitudes, odd and uncomfortable quotes from famous texts and obvious statements about male-female relationships.

The idea is not a bad one. Theatricalising relationships between women in a family and their perpetual dance of attendance could make good material for a play. It is just that this does not penetrate the drama, the absurdity or the tragedy of such themes.

The title provides us with the best moment of the play. Grandma gets the girls drunk then teaches them to boot-scoot. They are having so much fun together that they do not hear the prodigal son ringing at the door. It is the first time the four actors look comfortable in the space.

K Herbert

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